Higher Education Needs True Intellectual Diversity

Letter To the Editor
Chronicle of Higher Education:

Oskar Gruenwald, Ph.D., JIS Editor

Published online in Chronicle of Higher Education (10 May 2016): You are to be commended for seeking balanced reporting of diverse viewpoints in U.S. higher education. I read with great interest a brief report about a new program for “visiting scholars in conservative thought and policy” at University of Colorado at Boulder (“After 3 Years, U. of Colorado Deems Its Conservative Scholars Program a Success,The Chronicle, May 6). Alas, it is a conflicted article that mirrors a deeper crisis afflicting U.S. academe. You cite Steven Hayward and unnamed “others” who doubt that the program could work at other colleges since “there is a supply problem. There simply aren’t enough qualified conservatives in higher education for more colleges to try a program like Colorado’s.”

But this assertion is contradicted by Hayward’s admission that: “An awful lot of conservatives in academia practice self-censorship,” confirmed by John A. Shields & Joshua M. Dunn Sr., Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University. Shields and Dunn found that “many conservatives’ careers are spent ‘in the closet,’ often not revealing their political views until after they obtain tenure and sometimes not even then.”

The article mentions “liberal bias” on American campuses, but this is a misnomer for leftist bias, and demeaning to classical liberals. Cf. Kim R. Holmes, The Closing of the Liberal Mind: How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left. What U.S. academe badly needs is not simply political or ideological diversity, but true intellectual diversity.

Oskar Gruenwald

Editor, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies

Institute for Interdisciplinary Research

Contact (click for e-mail).

Redeeming Affirmative Action

Letter To the Editor
Chronicle of Higher Education:

Oskar Gruenwald, Ph.D., JIS Editor

Dear Editor: I read with great interest Richard Kahlenberg’s op ed, “Where Sotomayor and Thomas Agree on Affirmative Action” (Chronicle Review, 1 Feb. 2013: B2). Kahlenberg’s op ed is remarkable for pointing out that liberals and conservatives may agree and/or share a commonality of views, if not interests, even on controversial issues–a felicitous aspiration for both academe and Capitol Hill. Ingenuously, Kahlenberg invokes the stories (memoirs) of two U.S. Supreme Court Justices–Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World and Clarence Thomas’ My Grandfather’s Son–to illustrate that “both justices favor affirmative action for low-income and working-class students of all races–a program that would have helped both . . . irrespective of race or ethnicity.”

In fact, this is what critics of affirmative action–and the overwhelming majority of the American public–have held all along. Kahlenberg cites also Derek Bok and William Bowen’s The Shape of the River, which found that “86 percent of black students at the selective colleges they studied were middle or upper class.” But, this runs counter to the major rationale for affirmative action: to help low-income and working-class students. Regrettably, since its inception in the early 1970s, affirmative action has excluded many a youth–from impoverished Appalachia to the deep South, inner cities, ghost towns–from its purview. Thus, if you were born white and poor, in a place lacking employment, you were simply out of luck! Only recently, in some states, voter initiatives restored what well-meaning but misguided administrators and politicians would not: level the playing field for all students irrespective of race or ethnicity.

Still, one is troubled by Kahlenberg’s analysis, or rather its terminology cast in the “politically correct” category of “class.” It is the “politically correct” categories of race, class, and gender which have skewed not only an impartial analysis of affirmative action but the salience of a genuine liberal arts education. A more accurate gauge of need that avoids condescension is socio-economic status or income. If you are a poor youth, the American Promise to you should be: equal educational opportunity for all. Sotomayor and Thomas are famous success stories, and this is not to diminish their achievements which are the more impressive since they succeeded where others failed. Alas, Kahlenberg overlooks the “collateral damage” affecting the supposed beneficiaries of affirmative action: poor black and Hispanic youth from inner cities and barrios, broken homes, single parents struggling to survive on welfare, minimum wage or unemployment, absentee fathers, lack of positive role models, the lure of gangs, drugs, and crime, abetted by a gutter culture offering a surfeit of raw sex and violence, along with gun-toting super-heroes peddled by the entertainment industry. Such poor minority youth–the intended beneficiaries of affirmative action–are often set up for failure when admitted to selective colleges with high requirements, which many under-prepared youth cannot meet. The predictable “revolving door” policy experienced by minorities–“easy-in,” and just as easily “out”–does little but reinforce old prejudices and further impairs students’ self-confidence. As Milovan Djilas remarked: “Even the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

It is important to set the goal of education for all into a larger context of the American Dream envisioned by countless millions who have been drawn to these shores. That American Dream is encapsulated in the yearnings of all those who sought refuge in America seeking a better life, equal opportunity, the possibility of working their way up the social ladder from humble labor in the field or factory to owning one’s business or becoming a teacher or doctor, escape from political and religious persecution, hoped-for constitutional guarantees of basic human rights and freedoms, human dignity, representative government, democratic processes and institutions, a free press, education rather than indoctrination–in brief, fairness and moral/ethical treatment as human beings created in God’s image (Genesis 1-2). It is puzzling how this American Dream could be set aside for decades pursuing racial/ethnic preferences which elsewhere have led to intensifying racial/ethnic fault lines resulting in non-negotiable conflict, violence, and civil war. Mihajlo Mihajlov, a leading dissident in Tito’s Yugoslavia, “admired America as the first country in the world based on the idea of freedom rather than the atavisms of blood, ethnicity or nationality” (“The Third Revolution: The Quest for an Open Society,” Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies XXIV 2012: p. 51).

The third major aspect not broached by Kahlenberg concerns the increasing politicization of academe in U.S., and the resulting deterioration of the quality and impartiality of higher education. Even liberal educators like Louis Menand admit that: “Fostering a greater diversity of views within the professoriate is a worthy goal . . . . The evidence suggests that American higher education is going in the opposite direction. Professors tend increasingly to think alike because the profession is increasingly self-selected” (The Marketplace of Ideas, 2010: p. 155). In sum, a diverse student body, empowered via universal (income-based) affirmative action, needs to be complemented by intellectual diversity to enhance a truly liberal arts education and avoid a Soviet-style one notorious for indoctrination. To reclaim “The University as Quest for Truth,” cf. Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies XXIII 2011: pp. 1-18.

Beyond the Conflict Model

Letter To the Editor
Chronicle of Higher Education:

Oskar Gruenwald, Ph.D., JIS Editor

Condensed as “Building a Bridge Between Science and Faith” in: Chronicle of Higher Education (22 April 2011): B18. Cf. Full Text: Dear Editor: Elaine Howard Ecklund’s “Science on Faith” (note the pun!) tries hard to open lines of communication between the communities of science and faith (Chronicle Review, 11 Feb. 2011: B9-10). It is shrewd in that it argues for the need for scientists to become better acquainted with religion, ethics, and values in order to be able to communicate better with students and also to make science more acceptable to the public. However, such a proposal faces a two-fold dilemma:

(1) In what some call a post-Christian era, religious faith has waned, and academics in general, and scientists in particular, think it backward, illogical, illegitimate, reactionary, and “unscientific” to bring up religion or morals for discussion. The popular culture seems to counter appeals to either morality or religion with the commercialized mantra: “If it feels good, do it.” The postmodern aversion to absolutes or any fixed moral/ethical standards for judging individual behavior or social action begs the question of how one can then discern or condemn such evils as the Nazi-caused Holocaust, the Soviet Gulag, or the Chinese laogai? Yet, admitting that one takes religion or ethics seriously immediately casts doubt in academic quarters regarding one’s objectivity, fair-mindedness, political correctness, and scholarly credentials, if not one’s sanity.

(2) The second major barrier for scientists taking religion, values, or ethics seriously is embedded deeply in academic culture regarding the compartmentalization of knowledge into disciplines, fields and subfields. There is a giant gulf separating natural sciences from social sciences and humanities. The natural sciences claim objective, factual knowledge via the allegedly value-free “scientific method.” The social sciences have tried to emulate the natural sciences’ empiricism, with mixed success. The humanities have been confined to the realm of personal opinion, some would say irrelevance, reflected in various schools of thought in philosophy and a great diversity of ethical, aesthetic, and religious persuasions seen as merely subjective. This led C.P. Snow to lament the division between scientists and humanists in The Two Cultures.

What Dr. Ecklund’s research report tends to overlook are efforts at bridge-building across all disciplines, reconnecting knowledge, ethics and faith, aspiring to integrate scientific facts, values, ethics, and religious worldviews in the quest for a more holistic understanding of the promise and the challenge of being human. One such pathbreaking educational endeavor is the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research, the International Christian Studies Association, and the co-sponsored Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies: An International Journal of Interdisciplinary and Interfaith Dialogue, a refereed trilingual thematic annual, which still await acknowledgment in the Chronicle. Thus, sceptics would be encouraged to learn about the prospects of redeeming the academe’s future via a Third Culture, a culture of cultures, re-envisioning all disciplines, theory and practice: cf. O. Gruenwald, “The Third Culture: An Integral Vision of the Human Condition,” JIS XVII 2005: 139-160. Sceptics on both sides of the evolution-creation controversy, which undermines both science education and faith commitments, would be even more amazed at the possibility of a conceptual/theoretical breakthrough bridging Darwinism and Intelligent Design, a new paradigm in Thomas Kuhn’s sense–a Copernican revolution in evolution: cf. O. Gruenwald, “Progress in Science,” JIS XXII 2010: 1-31.

In brief, there is hope that academic culture may yet come to address student needs for relevance, meaning, ethical engagement, and the spiritual quest, as well as the widespread public distrust of science. This could happen sooner if pioneering educational initiatives like that of the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies were discovered by those who would benefit most: teachers, students, parents, administrators, and, in general, readers of Chronicle’s broad coverage of issues in higher education. Cf. feedback re JIS XXII 2010 on: “Intelligent Design & Artificial Intelligence: The Ghost in the Machine?”

Rethinking Higher Education

Letter To the Editor
New York Tines (30 April 2009):

Oskar Gruenwald, Ph.D., JIS Editor

Dear Editor: Congrats on publishing the iconoclastic op ed, “End the University as We Know It,” by Mark C. Taylor, Chair, Religion Dept., Columbia University (26 April 2009). It is indeed refreshing to hear from a distinguished academic the rationale for restructuring the university. Yet, the brief op ed overlooks significant efforts to rethink the nature of higher education, research, teaching, and thus the purposes and goals of a university. This is precisely what a group of creative scholars have attempted during the past quarter century via the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and the International Christian Studies Association which co-sponsor the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies: An International Journal of Interdisciplinary and Interfaith Dialogue, a refereed trilingual thematic annual (on a shoestring budget). Info on the web at: www.JIS3.org. In its 20 thematic volumes (ca. 4480 pages) thus far, this Journal has endeavored to interconnect all disciplines in dialogue as well as reconnect once more knowledge with ethics and faith. We have done this via a great deal of mentoring and teaching academics why it is important to draw on insights in various disciplines, fields, and subfields. Prof. Taylor surmises correctly that most academics have no clue what is meant by “interdisciplinary” research. Alas, the term has become somewhat of a pejorative, associated often with extended or remedial education, while purists perceive it somehow below their dignity since “interdisciplinary” appears to be an excuse by some for not doing their homework. An important admission of the relevance of interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge and problem-solving in the 21st century is the report by the National Academy of Sciences, Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research (2004). However, to restructure the contemporary university would be equivalent to 1776! A free sample article is on the JIS web at: www.JIS3.org/samplearticle featuring my essay on: “The Globalization Paradox,” published in JIS XX 2008: 1-20. Sincerely, Oskar Gruenwald, Ph.D., JIS Editor, Institute for Interdisciplinary Research, 1065 Pine Bluff Dr., Pasadena, CA 91107, USA.

Irrational Reason vs. Rational Faith

Letter To the Editor
Chronicle of Higher Education:

Oskar Gruenwald, Ph.D., JIS Editor

Condensed in: Chronicle of Higher Education (16 February 2007): B17. Cf. Full Text: Dear Editor: It is tempting to dismiss oversimplifications regarding either science or religion, except for the fact that they misrepresent both–-as in Lawrence M. Krauss’ op ed, “Reason, Unfettered by Faith” (Chronicle Review, 12 January 2007: B20). While Harvard University may have missed an important momentum in terms of curricular innovation, i.e., rediscovering the interconnections between reason and faith, Krauss’ dismissal of such a project rests on questionable assumptions. Absent from Krauss’ account is the historical context where such eminent scientists as Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, and Francis Bacon were devout believers. Equally missing is the present context of the science-religion dialogue which has bourgeoned especially during the past two decades, and whose participants include prominent scientists, philosophers, and theologians, even a Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, numerous conferences, institutes, and publications, including the refereed Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies: An International Journal of Interdisciplinary and Interfaith Dialogue (www.JIS3.org), which takes both scholarship and faith seriously.

What is anomalous in Krauss’ assessment re the imputed incompatibility of reason and faith is his curious melding of a 19th-century, positivist, reductionist conception of science with a 20th-century disdain for religious faith. Yet, actual 21st-century science, a splendid yet fallible intellectual adventure fraught with promises and pitfalls–-a continuing saga of man’s quest to decipher the intricate workings of the cosmos–is far from such a narrow, deterministic, positivist, reductionist construction. Rather, contemporary science poses increasingly metaphysical and meta-scientific questions which reach well beyond science’s capacity to answer. As Stephen W. Hawking–-who is often compared to Albert Einstein–-intimates regarding the puzzle of the ultimate meaning of the cosmos:

“What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence or does it need a creator, and, if so, does he have any other effect on the universe? And who created him?”

However, the basic flaw in Krauss’ argument is the assumption that reason and science are always rational, whereas faith and religion are always irrational. This is simply not so. Recall that in the 20th century it was atheistic totalitarian dictatorships–-Nazism and communism–-which accounted for the Holocaust and genocides whose millions of victims vastly outnumber the carnage of all the previous centuries. Both Nazism and communism invoked “reason” and “Science,” in their corrupted forms of Aryan racial supremacy, social Darwinism, eugenics, Lysenkoism, historical and dialectical materialism, and moral-ethical relativism, unfettered by rational faith, in denying basic human rights and freedoms, and indeed incarcerating in concentration camps and Gulags and exterminating millions belonging to the “wrong” race or class and “wrong” social, political, philosophical, and religious persuasions.

In brief, “reason,” uninformed by morality and faith, can be just as irrational as religious faith unaided by reason. Moreover, science and technology badly need ethics, lest they be used to imperil rather than enrich human life and dignity on a fragile planet. Einstein himself admitted that: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” More pointedly, John Paul II suggested that: “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.” The conclusion follows that unless scientists, philosophers, and theologians learn once again to talk to each other, the results are likely to be more misunderstanding, conflict, and a Hobbesian world where life is “nasty, brutish, and short.”

Despite Krauss’ objection, religious and theological doctrines can evolve, humans can grow intellectually and spiritually, and, most important, men and women are gifted with the divine capacities of free will, a moral sense (the Tao), and conscience, which bears the Creator’s imprint–-the teleological imperative to fulfill their potential as caring and loving beings created in the image of God (Genesis 1: 26-27). Clearly, a new vision for higher education is called for in the Third Millennium, as reflected in my essay on: “The Third Culture: An Integral Vision of the Human Condition,” Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies XII (2005).

C. P. Snow and the Third Culture

Letter To the Editor
Chronicle of Higher Education:

Oskar Gruenwald, Ph.D., JIS Editor

Condensed in: Chronicle of Higher Education (20 January 2006): B17. Cf. Full Text: Dear Editor: I read with some puzzlement David P. Barash’s op ed on “C. P. Snow: Bridging the Two-Cultures Divide” (Chronicle Review, 25 November 2005: B10-11). Barash’s major point is well-taken that today science and the humanities seem as far apart as in Snow’s day, and that specialization and compartmentalization of knowledge have progressed even further. What Barash underestimates, however, is the considerable bridge-building which has taken place, especially over the last two decades: the growth of interdisciplinary scholarship, and even interdisciplinary scholarly societies, centers, and institutes, which are slowly, but surely, reshaping the academic landscape.

There are by now many promising efforts in the U.S. and abroad toward bridging the gulf between science and the humanities. These include the American Scientific Affiliation, the Association for Integrative Studies, the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology, the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, the Metanexus Institute on Religion and Science, the Canyon Institute for Advanced Studies, the Pascal Centre for Advanced Studies in Faith and Science (Canada), the Karl Heim Society and Institute for Faith and Science (Germany), interdisciplinary centers at the University of Cambridge, Paris and Vienna, the International Christian Studies Association, and the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research, among others. By 2004, even the National Academy of Sciences has endorsed interdisciplinary approaches in both the natural and social sciences in its comprehensive report, Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research.

While the 2004 NAS Report comes some two decades after the founding of IIR-ICSA in 1983, it nonetheless confirms the rationale and the need for interdisciplinary research due to a growing recognition of the complexity and interdependence of all phenomena. Thus, IIR-ICSA co-sponsor the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies: An International Journal of Interdisciplinary and Interfaith Dialogue (1989–), a refereed trilingual thematic annual, which seeks to connect all disciplines in dialogue, and re-connect once more knowledge, ethics and faith. JIS has appeared thus far in 17 volumes (ca. 3,808 pages), with the 2005 double issue on “Science and Religion: The Missing Link.” In fact, the entire 2005 volume is dedicated not only to revisiting C. P. Snow and the major venues in science-theology dialogue, but building bridges across Snow’s purported divide.

For example, my essay, “The Third Culture: An Integral Vision of the Human Condition” (JIS XVII 2005: 139-160), posits what Barash tends to bracket or dismiss: That both science and the humanities are pathways to knowledge, reflecting the incarnational dimension of man created in the image of God-–imago Dei (Genesis 1:26-27)-–as a living soul, gifted with the capacities of reason, free will, the moral imperative (the Tao), consciousness, and self-consciousness. The essay recaps briefly Snow’s The Two Cultures, including his “A Second Look” (1963), pointing out both strengths and weaknesses, and then explores the challenge of science and technology in the Third Millennium, why science needs ethics, and that ethics implicates metaphysics. The essay concludes that man is “the missing link” in the science-theology dialogue as well as the bridge that connects science and the humanities. The essay thus calls for nurturing a Third Culture, understood as a sapiential, existential, and eschatological challenge of unity in diversity, a truly human culture, that is, a culture of cultures.

What might surprise C. P. Snow today is that, unlike Barash, even the American Association for the Advancement of Science takes religion and faith-based research seriously, featuring a lively Program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion. Sir Francis Bacon-–father of the modern scientific method–along with many great scientists, philosophers, humanists, and those whom Barash calls “faith based zealots,” would be pleased. Indeed, Daniel Yankelovich counsels in “Ferment and Change: Higher Education in 2015” (B6-9) that a major challenge for U.S. higher education in the next decade is to address the popular quest for “other ways of knowing and finding truth-–particularly religious belief,” as well as enhance cross-cultural understanding, foreign language and area studies. Meanwhile, readers of this Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies are enjoying a preview of what research, integrative learning, and college curricula might look like in the twenty-first century.

A New Christian Ecumene

Oskar Gruenwald, Ph.D., JIS Editor

Thomas Albert Howard, director of the Jerusalem and Athens Forum, organized a dialogue between Mark A. Noll and James Turner at Gordon College on 25 September 2006, and edited and contributed to the resulting volume entitled The Future of Christian Learning: An Evangelical and Catholic Dialogue (2008). It is a remarkable little book on a crucial subject. Yet it begs the question whether there indeed can be meaningful dialogue which can transcend denominational trenches. Noll and Turner teach history at the University of Notre Dame. Previously, Noll, an evangelical, taught at Wheaton College. Notre Dame did not require Noll to become a Catholic when joining its faculty. In contrast, Wheaton requires all of its faculty to be Evangelicals.

This slight volume is remarkable for the spirit of charity between the interlocutors who are accomplished academic historians. Noll and Turner, along with Howard, recount the long and tortured history of denominational divisiveness in Western Christianity since the Reformation, while expressing the hope that evangelicals and Catholics can learn from each other. Alas, they ultimately fail to bridge the divide by focusing on the traditional differences rather than the supracultural absolutes–the ties that bind the faithful together in Christ.

The second aspect, emphasized by Turner, is that both Catholic and evangelical colleges have given up “any serious attempt to demonstrate and exemplify the unity of knowledge” (91). Turner further points out that: “Christianity does not come in generic form–pace C. S. Lewis’ ‘mere Christianity'” (124). Lewis scholars are likely to demur. Did not Lewis submit his manuscript to clergy of three different denominations, each agreeing that they could live with that kind of Christianity? The authors are in search of “a new intellectual tradition” which evangelicals and Catholics may share with each other and even with nonbelievers (94-95).  Yet Turner concludes that: “No one today can conceive what such a tradition might look like . . .” (95).

The Good News is: We do! The Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies: An International Journal of Interdisciplinary and Interfaith Dialogue (ISSN 0890-0132) pursues a vision of a new ecumene welcoming all those who would call themselves Christian via an educational paideia to reclaim both the academy and a secular culture for Christ, epitomizing the aspiration for Christian learning to interconnect all disciplines in dialogue, and re-connect once more knowledge, ethics and faith.  Proof: 21 thematic volumes (ca. 4704 pages) of a first-rate, refereed, Christian academic journal.  JIS thematic volumes encourage a Renaissance of Christian learning inspired by C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio.  Cf. O. Gruenwald, “Renewing the Liberal Arts: C. S. Lewis’ Essential Christianity,” JIS XIV 2002: 1-24, a thematic volume on “Re-Inventing Liberal Arts Education.”  Guided by the Holy Spirit, this educational ministry is building a new Christian ecumene which Sander Griffionen (Vrije University, Amsterdam, Holland) sees as a much-needed “catholicity of the body of Christ” in an era of globalization (IAPCHE Contact, Sept. 2008, Insert, p. 2).  Cf. Gruenwald, “A Call for Christian Unity” (2008-9).

Published in: ICSA Newsletter XXVII (Fall/Winter 2009-2010), p. 2.