RILEY PARR: Universities need intellectual parity

April 13, 2018

There is a book display case at the law school that takes on a different theme each month. Some months are predictable, like during Black History Month or Women’s History Month; others are more casual and fun, like Halloween. Usually, I give it a casual perusal for anything particularly interesting or out of the ordinary. The other day, I walked by and noticed the theme for April: the income tax.

The income tax—after five months of cloudy days, long Indiana winter nights, and not being able to do anything outside. In the weeks leading up to finals, I’m not sure people want to walk by and see a tribute to the constitutional amendment that paved the way for Uncle Sam to cut a huge hole in the pockets of Americans. Particularly right after they filed their taxes.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. I would guess most of the law school’s administration and faculty subscribe to some version of ideology that posits it is the beneficent government that allows the taxpayers to retain some of the money they earned. How generous.

Last fall, I sat next to an individual at an event who is in a significant position of authority at Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Our conversation was engaging, polite and enjoyable. We differed on many things, but he mostly seemed genuinely interested in facilitating an actual debate of ideas, something that certainly cannot be said for others in higher academia around the country. Which is perhaps why I was not too terribly surprised when he told me he “didn’t know a single Trump voter.”

In fairness, that probably does not mean he is unfamiliar with conservatives. I know plenty of conservatives who, rightly or wrongly, fall into the “never Trump” camp. And I know there are several conservative professors at the law school (actually, they are technically adjuncts, so whether that counts is up to somebody else). But that misses the larger point.

What is lost when one perspective exercises such domineering control over the institutions that confer diplomas and are supposed to cultivate critical skills for success in life? Undoubtedly, something. Or, perhaps, something is never communicated to begin with. That is particularly unfortunate in today’s world, when exposure to ideas and concepts with which one disagrees is chastised and castigated as antiquated and unfit for today’s enlightened standards. And that goes for those on both the left and the right.

So, what is to be done? Maybe it is simply the case that academia disproportionally attracts those who are left of center. It might also be a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum: Because conservatives see so few fellow believers in the professorial class, they write it off as a potential life calling.

There’s a distinction between a professor or administrator who vigorously advocates for a certain point of view in day-to-day activities, and someone who, though they hold strong beliefs, presents issues in a neutral manner and fosters open debate. I used to think the latter by itself was sufficient, and I probably still do. But that premise is worthy of re-examination, if for no other reason than professors at research schools do much more than teach. For some, research on a specific topic, or perhaps a particular dogma, is the reason they became professors.

Much like what should go on within the walls of a law school, the utter lack of ideological parity is a topic that merits discussion.•

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Parr is a student at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis and is treasurer of the Indiana Young Republicans. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


Recent Articles by Riley Parr / Special to IBJ

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