Roth on Scalia, “Political Diversity”

Roth: Scalia talk “will increase our capacity to combat the idiot wind of know-nothing anti-intellectualism that is all too prevalent in our political culture.”

If you’re old enough to remember Mytheos Holt 10’s “Mytheology” column, you might also remember the columnist’s most scathing (at least coherently so, behind whatever layers of trolling persisted) critique: that Wesleyan, in its boundless quest for all varieties of diversity (racial, socioeconomic, sexual, what-have you), had severely left behind the value of ideological diversity on a campus hostile to all views to the right of, say, Dennis Kucinich. In more recent writing, Holt rails against Wesleyan for honoring Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards P’13 with an honorary degree. Such, Holt claims, reflects “the utter lack of intellectual seriousness” among the Left at Wesleyan.

Not so, argues President Roth in a new column for Huff Post. After all, Antonin Scalia is coming.

More specifically, Roth suggests that the loud buzz of interest over Scalia’s upcoming lecture is refreshing evidence of student interest in cultivating political diversity on campus. Do you really think all those freaks on line in Usdan agree with Scalia on, say, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services? According to Roth, what they (you? we?) are really seeking is “an educational environment” in which to consider Scalia’s views—“a choice, not an echo,” in the words of Phyllis Schlafly:

Predictably, some faculty and students have objected to inviting to campus a public figure with whom they fiercely disagree. Less predictably, hundreds of Wesleyan students lined up to get tickets to the event. I suspect that this doesn’t mean they want to hear views they will find congenial. They want to hear a powerful advocate for a point of view that is having a decisive impact on the country. They want argument and disagreement—not an echo of their own thoughts. They want an educational environment.

A bit more earnestly, Roth acknowledges that this sort of “vigorous debate” is what we need more of on campus—“debate that does not just feature different views from the same sector of the ideological spectrum.” As refreshing as it may be to see Wesleyan students lining up at 7 am to schmooze with a Reagan appointee, it’s also refreshing to read Roth’s gentle critique of political homogeneity at “selective universities” (he’s careful not to indict Wesleyan specifically):

One of our trustees, himself a libertarian activist and free market advocate, asks me from time to time how we can achieve more political diversity on campus. I haven’t found a good answer for him. It seems to many conservative observers that we at selective universities are pretty homogeneous politically, and I can’t say they’re wrong. We don’t seek out historians, critics, economists or scientists of one political persuasion or another, but we should be more aware of prejudices that might lead us to hire people whose political views reinforce our own. A certain amount of political prejudice is part of the culture of the campus—many take for granted that with education comes political commitment associated with the Left. This is a mistake. If we don’t recognize this mistake and try to correct it, we ourselves will be guilty of intolerance.

So “we should not welcome those who cannot tolerate difference,” the president staunchly concludes; “we should welcome dissent.” Scalia, then, has his work set out for him: not just to provide a titillating discussion of the originalist approach to the First Amendment, but also to “combat the idiot wind of know-nothing anti-intellectualism” that leftist academic culture might permit.

The big irony, of course, is that Roth is posting this reflection on Huffington Post of all places. And a slew of linger questions still remain. How to bring intellectual diversity to campus in the form of students instead of high-profile speakers? What if student interest in the Scalia lecture is driven more by the prestige of his name and position rather than sincere interest in considering his views? And will we be able to tell the difference when that Q&A session begins?

I guess we’ll see.

[Huff Post]