Intellectual Diversity

By Chris Lowery, Jeffrey Wankel

Macalester students love talking about diversity. As the linchpin of Macalester’s alleged edge over other colleges, it consequently does and should take center stage in campus discourse. This discourse should constantly challenge definitions and types of diversity, but in our opinion some kinds of diversity have not been adequately addressed at Macalester— namely, intellectual diversity.

Over the past few weeks, as part of a project being completed for a Democratic Engagement course, we have distributed surveys regarding political diversity, tolerance, and intellectual diversity at Macalester. The survey was distributed exclusively to Political Science students both because of feasibility and the departmental focus of the survey. However, just because we chose to limit our research to the department does not mean it does not need to be extended to the rest of campus. We decided to do this survey because, in discussing problems that face the Macalester community in class, the subject of intellectual diversity (particularly in political discourse) kept coming up. Before those who identified lack of political intellectual diversity as a problem at Mac, we wanted to get the opinions of our peers: hence the survey.

We would like to share the results of our survey in hope that students will digest the information and engage in dialogue about the value of intellectual diversity both in and outside the classroom. It should be noted that the results of this survey are in’¨ no way meant to be presented as statistically authoritative (we asked very direct, yet open-ended questions), rather to serve as a basis from which to further question and discuss the strong trends that arose in our survey responses.

We found in the survey that the very definition of intellectual diversity was open to interpretation. Within our focus of political science, we define intellectual diversity as the intellectual/educational representation of multiple political perspectives. We see this diversity as not only valuable, but essential to political science students in that it develops critical thinking and argumentation skills as well as strengthens political discourse.

As we all know, the political composition on campus is lop-sided to the left—- which is not in itself a bad thing. However, a problem does arise when students are not adequately exposed to differing perspectives, as they don’t need to defend their views, and they aren’t forced to recognize the legitimacy of differing viewpoints. A lack of political diversity need not preclude intellectual diversity, but it makes a lack of intellectual diversity possible.

Over two—thirds of students surveyed (out of 102) believe that Macalester students are intolerant of opposing political views, and even more expressed that this kind of intolerance is a problem. 61 percent (62) of students believe that the political composition of the student body breeds a one-sided quality to campus and/or classroom political discussions, and 43% percent(44) of students believe that political discourse on campus lacks intellectual diversity. 15 percent (16) stated that there is not a one-sided quality to campus discourse, and 23% believe that political discourse on campus does not lack intellectual diversity.

Of those who identified a lack of political intellectual diversity at Mac, many expressed concern that this has affected their experience as a student. One student noted, “In many of my classroom experiences, debate and discussion have been very one-sided and I feel as though we are all missing out on something. Political diversity has an intellectual value for everyone. I feel that Mac students may be unprepared for life and people in the real world.”

Yet other students stated that either students or professors adequately represent and consider alternate viewpoints in class or that this representation is not necessary. “There are still many different viewpoints that people can argue about. Because people come from different backgrounds, they can see the same issue from different angles…If there was more conservative thought on campus, we liberals would have to make better arguments. However, we all chose to come here, just as people choose to go to a historically black college with little racial diversity.”

There were also mixed reviews about how to address a problem of political intellectual diversity, if it could be addressed at all: some thought it was the responsibility of professors to present diverse intellectual opinions, while others cited The Mac Weekly, Admissions, and student organizations as parties capable of addressing the problem.

It became abundantly clear that Macalester students are extremely passionate and opinionated on this matter, and would likely contribute to a campus-wide discussion. We have hit on a huge amount of contentious and complicated issues in little space. We know we may have hit a hornet’s nest with our results, opinions, and questions, and we’re glad. We hope that the resulting discussion will be a passionate and heated one, but guided by respect and genuine understanding.

Contact Bonnie Driscoll ’07 at [email protected]; Chris Lowery at [email protected]; and Jeffrey Wankel at [email protected]

Climate of global change: starting here

Timothy Den Herder-Thomas ’08, contributing writer

In the past few weeks, I’ve gotten the sense that campus environmentalism has become a peripheral, yet ever-present part of campus life. While not as widely discussed as multiculturalism or the Coke ban, it is continually present, if only tangentially. The Mac Weekly has featured environmentalism with increasing frequency, to varying degrees of success. During the recent MCSG candidate debate, I heard one candidate argue that student action in the dorms needs to be augmented by work with administrators, while two other candidates cited the current work between students and administrators around environmentalism as an example of how they would bring change to campus. Everybody knows something is happening, but most are not really sure what.

By the time you pick up this paper, Mac Conservation and Renewable Energy Society’s (MacCARES) green roof will be finished on the Fishbowl, covering a black tar roof with green, as the Mac website so eloquently put it. Earlier this semester, we wrote a $10,000 P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) grant proposal to design and research a larger roof for next year on Kagin; Helen Warren from the Development Office (grant work) says she expects we will get it, especially with support from city government and college administration, such as Facilities Management.

We worked throughout the year to secure an investor in a 2.1 mega-watt wind turbine (in comparison, our existing turbine is 10 kilo-watts). While we have a great alternative, plans have been stalled not by a lack of feasibility, as may have been suggested (turbines are a booming business), but by a lack of supply due to high demand. Except for existing projects, turbines will probably be unavailable to us until 2008.

A general lack of political commitment to renewable energy on the state and federal level has discouraged wind energy developers from investing in the Midwest. Minnesota has enough economically recoverable wind to power ten times its needs or 15 percent of the nation. Yet, it is the nation’s third largest energy importer including coal, nuclear, and culturally and ecologically destructive Canadian large hydropower while generating less than 3 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Through MacCARES and Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), we organized a rally in a scant three weeks that brought around 80 Mac stude
nts, many by bike, to the capitol on March 27 for the 20 percent Renewable Electricity by 2020 Standard. Passage of this state bill would mean a long-term freeze on new coal or nuclear power in Minnesota and the rise of a renewable energy future.

Instead of getting Mac a turbine immediately, we’re pushing for a Community-Based Energy Development (C-BED) project, which entails investing as a community partner in a portion of a turbine, and gaining near 100 percent ownership of the turbine after 10 years. This would be the seed project for a much larger proposal: the Clean Energy Revolving Fund (CERF) which would finance sustainability initiatives through the savings of previous initiatives, a method that has yielded stunning 25%+ annual returns.

As the Minnesota coordinator, I helped launch the Minnesota College Energy Coalition through the Midwest Student Energy Conference, the first meeting of approximately 300 student activists from across the Midwest. The coalition met to confront the global challenges of climate disruptions and the energy crisis. A similar Northeast coalition established three years ago led to eight northeastern states implementing a carbon cap and trade programs that are much stronger than the Kyoto Protocol. While action is stalled federally, states, local communities, and everyday people worldwide are taking charge of the energy revolution.

That’s the ultimate goal for much of what we do: to demonstrate, promote, and inspire personal initiative towards the multi-level solutions to the global climate and energy crises which will unavoidably rock our personal, cultural, and ecological future. We are only plumbing the edges of the vast array of personal, cultural, technological, economic, and political strategies we must use. In addition to those mentioned, we work to improve heating and lighting, generate bio-diesel from cafeteria waste oil, install geothermal heating in the new athletics facility, increase bike use and reduce car dependency, reform Macalester’s waste management, sponsor the on-going Dorm Wars, educate, inspire, and network a local and regional environmental community, put on events including Earth Week, and more.

Who is this we' I keep referring to? I'm spear-heading some of this, so feel free to contact me, but the environmental community growing here is broad, deep, and diverse. It's on all kinds of decision levels, from flipping the light switch attached to a coal plant to designing the next green building to forging regional legislation.We’ at Macalester are students, faculty, administrators, staff, and off-campus community groups, businesses, organizations, and politicians; it’s community leaders across the globe. It’s us Macalester students-yep, you’re part of a roiling web of power-sharing interactions that will shape the world’s future and with it, your own.

Contact Timothy Den Herder-Thomas ’09 at [email protected]