New nationwide network promotes viewpoint diversity on college campuses

23 colleges and universities launched the inaugural programs for Heterodox Academy Campus Communities, which convene students, faculty, and staff to promote viewpoint diversity.

Heterodox Academy cofounder Jonathan Haidt is a well-known critic of policies and practices, such as trigger warnings and safe spaces, that have a chilling effect on campus speech.

Students, faculty, and staff committed to viewpoint diversity now have a way to convene on college and university campuses. 

Heterodox Academy (HxA) recently launched the Campus Community Network, with 23 universities participating in its inaugural program. Each community receives $3,000 to host meetings and events and advance policies that fulfill HxA’s mission of “open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in higher education,” according to its website

“The Campus Communities initiative is a faculty initiative. We expect that the faculty in those groups will be putting on events, and hosting discussions and meals, with students and student groups,” HxA co-founder Jonathan Haidt told Campus Reform

Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University (NYU), said that Campus Communities could have “a multiplicative effect, connecting those in the large majority, including left and right, who want a more open speech climate.”

Campus Communities will also have the option to administer HxA’s campus expression survey, receive additional funding, and host programs at HxA’s annual conference. In 2022, academic and media luminaries such as Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, and Batya Ungar-Sargon headlined the conference, sharing tips on how faculty, journalists, university administrators, and others can have constructive conversations. 

An HxA spokesperson told Campus Reform that Campus Communities belong to a nationwide network. HxA “will be hosting network-wide events to foster collaborative learning across the Network,” the spokesperson said. 

HxA began in 2015 when Haidt and two other professors reacted “to their observations about the negative impact a lack of ideological diversity has had on the quality of research within their disciplines,” according to its website. Around the same time, Haidt drew attention to the evolving free speech climate on college campuses in an article that he co-wrote with Greg Lukianoff, the President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).

“The Coddling of the American Mind,” which became a book in 2018, argued that policies and practices such as trigger warnings and safe spaces do not safeguard students’ emotional wellbeing. Instead, Haidt and Lukianoff wrote, these policies worsen anxiety and depression and have a chilling effect on speech. 

[RELATED: Student newspaper no longer publishing opinion pieces that do not contribute to a ‘safe space’]

They also alluded to the notion of “concept creep,” or redefining words such as “trauma” and “harm” to include students’ exposure to ideas. Haidt revisited the hostility towards ideas in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal. As Campus Reform reported, the interview suggested that “Gen Z has been set up for failure due to a confluence of social media, bad parenting, and a political ideology that emphasizes victimhood.” 

Haidt told Campus Reform that “[m]ost students and most professors want a more open speech climate. Nobody wants to feel intimidated.”

”As long as people feel alone, they are easily discouraged from speaking,” he continued. “But as soon as you know that you have a community, you are not alone, people become much more courageous.”

Some of the inaugural campus communities belong to universities that recently made headlines for pursuing the same policies and practices criticized by Haidt and Lukianoff. A department head at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) canceled a presentation by University of Chicago geophysicist Dorian Abbot over reactions to his “disturbing” op-ed. 

The op-ed in question appeared in Newsweek and argued that merit–not diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)–should inform college admissions. 

[RELATED: MIT reinstates SAT/ACT requirement, argues the tests help promote diversity on campus]

In the aftermath of Abbot’s cancellation, faculty, students, and alumni formed the MIT Free Speech Alliance, according to Campus Reform. MIT faculty recently voted to adopt a Free Expression Statement modeled after the Chicago Statement, which recognizes free inquiry as central to higher education’s mission. 

Campus Reform contacted Abbot, MIT, and the MIT Free Speech Alliance for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.