The rise of the alt-right, fueled by populist nationalism and the growing threat of immigrants, has left many Americans frustrated, bewildered and fearful about their own ability to relate to others.
In response, academics and other voices are beginning to discuss what it means to be intellectual.
The stakes are high.
Academic engagement is central to the academic mission of the University of Virginia.
But the university is also grappling with the ways in which its student body can no longer function without having access to a vibrant community of intellectual voices.
And the university has become increasingly dependent on the support of its community, many of whom are white and male.
As the academic community grapples with this challenge, we are confronted with the question of whether the university can even survive as a place for the study of ideas and ideas of all kinds.
If the university remains a safe space for white male students to express their racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and transphobic views, then the university must be open to a diversity of ideas.
If, on the other hand, it remains a place where people of color and other marginalized groups feel that they have no voice in a university that treats them as if they are second-class citizens, then it is no longer a place that can be a place to learn.
The university’s new dean of undergraduate studies, J.M. Berger, was hired to restore the academic spirit.
His job was to make sure the university was inclusive.
He will be tasked with ensuring that its new faculty, staff and students are able to think in a way that allows them to engage in critical thought and explore ideas without fear of being labeled as racist, misogynist, xenophobic or racist.
His new role will also involve making sure that the university’s social justice curriculum is grounded in evidence-based research and that its intellectual diversity policies are rigorously enforced.
The new dean’s mission is a bold step.
It is also a stark contrast to the recent tenure-track shakeup at the University to Equal Opportunity, a school that was once a place of extraordinary academic freedom.
That change occurred because the school was struggling to find a way to address what Berger and the university leadership had to admit was a deeply problematic climate for academic freedom and diversity.
In the years leading up to the shakeup, U.
Va. was under scrutiny from a host of academic groups for the way it treated its students.
Students were being denied classes, and their professors were not given a fair hearing.
The school was failing to address a host