Here are some empirical claims about higher education in the United States. In comparison to 100 years ago:
- There are fewer or weaker institutional, social, and material obstacles to non-white-male people entering academia.
- Academics today regularly and with institutional approval study a greater number of topics, including topics previously thought taboo or unworthy of study.
- Academics today regularly and with institutional approval employ a greater variety of research methods.
- Academics today regularly and with institutional approval teach a greater variety of topics using a greater variety of source material.
- Academics today may, without any kind of formal or informal institutional sanction, entertain and defend a greater variety of theses.
These claims are obviously true. That is: there has been an increase in the kinds of people who have the liberty to become academics, an increase in number and types of areas of inquiry academics are at liberty to investigate, an increase in the kinds of methods academics are at liberty to use in their research, an increase in the topics they are at liberty to teach, and an increase in the diversity of ideas academics are at liberty to defend. Call this collection of claims the Great Academic Absorption.
The Great Academic Absorption might help us put in context the complaints we’ve been hearing so much of lately: complaints about universities being places today in which students aren’t exposed to a range of unfamiliar ideas some of which they might find unsettling, and complaints about universities being places in which faculty with unpopular ideas live in fear.
At the very least, it might lead us to ask this: which ideas? Which ideas has the Great Academic Absorption left unabsorbed, or squeezed out?
Since this is a blog largely for academic philosophers, let’s limit answers to our area of expertise: philosophy (as broadly construed as you’d like). Which philosophical or philosophy-related ideas are students not being exposed to but should? Which philosophical or philosophy-related ideas do faculty fear being discovered entertaining or believing?
(There is a related issue, not concerning philosophical ideas, but ideas about the philosophy profession, what it is like, and what it should be like, and so on, that faculty might have. For now, let’s leave aside those matters, along with broader political matters. We can turn to them another time.)
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