Ideological Conformity on Campus and in American Society

The Civic Discourse Project (2022-2023)

In the 2022-2023 Civic Discourse Project lecture series, we invite you to reflect on the status of open dialogue, dissent, and the pursuit of knowledge today in universities and American society. Throughout the series, we will discuss whether there is room for disagreement and ideological differences in the arts, the media, business, and the academic environment today. The Civic Discourse Project is co-sponsored by the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at ASU.

Idealogical Conformity

Each year, the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL) hosts an annual conference to invite scholars, prominent writers and speakers to come together each spring to discuss the school’s annual speaker series topic.

For the 2022 – 2023 season, the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership’s “Civic Discourse Project” is devoted to the theme of “Idealogical Conformity.” This event invites the ASU community to reflect on the status of open dialogue, dissent, and the pursuit of knowledge today in universities and American society. Throughout the series, guest speakers will discuss whether there is room for disagreement and ideological differences in the arts, the media, business and the academic environment today. The Civic Discourse Project is co-sponsored by the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at ASU.

Matthew Continetti

For years, the Republican Party has been identified with the principles and ideas of President Ronald Reagan. Yet in recent years Reagan's prominence in the GOP and conservative movement has been challenged by a New Right that embraces government power to revitalize American industry and reclaim cultural institutions. What is the future of conservatism and the Republican Party? Historian and author Matthew Continetti will present his appraisal of the state of conservatism and the direction of the American Right. The panel will be moderated by Henry Olsen, Washington Post columnist and SCETL Professor of Practice. 

RSVP today!

Spring Conference Agenda

Friday, February 24, 2023

Breakfast and check-in

8:30 - 9:30 am

Is there Widespread Censorship of Heterodox Ideas at American Universities?

9:30 - 11:00 am

Are the reports of censorship of legitimate expression on college campuses merely anecdotal and the product of a well-orchestrated conservative narrative, or is speech suppression of potentially valuable ideas on certain subjects the norm on campus today? Censorship aside, are there important perspectives that are not expressed on campus? What is the role of mandatory diversity statements? 

Speaker: John McGinnis, Northwestern University Law School 

Moderator: Peter de Marneffe, Philosophy (SHPRS), ASU

Commentator: Ilana Redstone, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Is Idealogical Conformity an Existential Threat to the Academic Purpose of the University?

11:15 am - 12:45 pm

Assuming that there is widespread censorship on campus and due to this and other reasons important views are not expressed, does this undermine the essential purpose of the university to pursue, create and disseminate knowledge? Or is the requirement for ideological conformity confined to such a narrow area of topics that the core mission of the university is not imperiled?


  • Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill, Director, Campus Free Expression Project, Bi-Partisan Policy Center, Bi-Partisan Task Force on Campus Free Expression 
  • Daniel Cullen, Rhodes College, Bi-Partisan Task Force on Campus Free Expression 
  • Wilfred Reilly, Kentucky State University

Moderator: Henry Olsen, Ethics & Public Policy Center; visiting Scholar in SCETL 

Lunch break

12:45 - 1:30 pm

Feminism and Gender Orthodoxy

1:30 - 3:00 pm

How robust is the debate about feminism, sexuality, and sexual identity in America's elite institutions - especially higher education, the national media, and policy institutes? Is there an orthodoxy that paralyzes discourse about the comprehensive meaning and practical consequences of particular beliefs, positions, and policies? If that is the case, what are the consequences of that atmosphere? 


  • Shep Melnick, Boston College, author of a book on the Transformation of Title 9 
  • Abigail Shrier, Journalist/Writer, author of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters
  • Christine Emba, Washington Post, author of Rethinking Sex: A Provocation 

Moderator: Catherine Craig, SCETL, ASU

Righting the Left-Leaning American Professoriate

3:15 - 4:45 pm

What are the causes of having a small percentage of conservatives in academia? Specifically, what evidence is there of discrimination against conservatives in hiring, tenure, and promotion? Conversely, what role does self-selection play in this disparity? Are there other possible causes, including an unwelcoming or hostile environment for conservatives, particularly in certain disciplines?


  • Jon Shields, Claremont McKenna, co-author, Passing on the Right
  • Joshua Dunn, U of Colorado at Colorado Springs, co-author, Passing on the Right  
  • Heather Mac Donald, Manhattan Institute

Moderator: Henry Thomson, ASU Political Science; SCETL "Keeping it Civil" podcast host

Evening Keynote

5:00 - 6:15 pm

"Purposeful Pluralism: The Future of the University in American Democracy"

Speaker: Ronald Daniels, Johns Hopkins University, President

Moderator: Paul Carrese, Director, SCETL, ASU

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Opinion, Truth, and the Tyranny of the Majority: Plato, Locke, and John Stuart Mill 

9:00 - 10:30 am

It is often the case that a majority opinion takes hold of the public in a way that silences dissent and prevents heterodox arguments. Thinkers both ancient and modern have explored the social challenge of maintaining political stability and the toleration of dissent. Plato's allegory of the cave in The Republic describes the case of the philosopher who challenges the cities to establish opinions about religion and politics through the education of the young. John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville both discuss the tension between dominant public opinion and the freedom of mind necessary for political liberty. This panel will explore the political thought that makes the case for the necessity of freedom of thought for the sake of education, political freedom, and the possibility of discussing ideas and acquiring knowledge that benefits the individual and the common good. 


  • Plato - Jacob Howland, University of Austin 
  • John Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration - Holly Brewer, U of Maryland
  • John Stuart Mill - Peter de Marneffe, Philosophy (SHPRS), ASU

Moderator: Zachary German, SCETL, ASU

What Can Be Done? Where do we go from here? The Case for Liberal Education on Campus, the Truly Free Exchange of Ideas, and Academic Freedom

10:45 am - 12:15 pm

Saul Bellow, in the foreword to Allan Bloom's, The Closing of the American Mind, endorsed Bloom's view that "the university, in a society ruled by public opinion, was to have been an island of intellectual freedom where all views were investigated without restriction." Bellow laments that the debate between "Left and Right has grown so fierce... that the habits of civilized discourse have suffered a scorching." Bloom in turn argues that the university has abandoned one of its chief ends o to expose the young to an education that challenges their received assumptions and opinions. What are the remedies to today's challenges on campus and beyond? Can liberal education promote viewpoint diversity? Is it a remedy for the issue of ideological conformity on campus? In what other ways can universities restore the open exchange of ideas?


  • Susan McWilliams Barndt, Pomona College
  • Jenna Storey, AEI; Research Professor, Furman University
  • John Stinneford, Hamilton Center and Levin College of Law, University of Florida

Moderator: Paul Carrese, Director, SCETL, ASU

Previous lectures of the 2022-23 Civic Discourse Project

"Unchallengable orthodoxy in the arts" with Bion Bartning, Clifton Duncan, Lincoln Jones, Winston Marshall, and Meg Smaker

Unchallengeable Orthodoxy in the Arts

There is a new form of intolerance sweeping the art world today, one that demands conformity of thought and rejects nuance on complicated social issues. Those who question or challenge this new and evolving orthodoxy risk damaging their careers and reputations. Is it worth it to speak up, or is there more to lose by remaining silent? What is the impact on art when artists, whom we count on to use their voices and give them expression, are afraid to speak their minds?

At this roundtable discussion, moderated by the president of The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism, hear from artists who found the courage to speak up in the face of overwhelming social pressure, were targeted for doing so, and weathered the storm. Learn how to navigate these new challenges and why it is important to support excellence and creative freedom in the arts. 

  • Clifton Duncan (Actor)
  • Lincoln Jones (Director and Choreographer)
  • Winston Marshall (Musician)
  • Meg Smaker (Film Maker)
  • Bion Bartning, moderator (President, The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism)

This event is co-sponsored by The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR).

Watch video.

"Is the 'woke newsroom' a danger for American democracy?" with Batya Ungar-Sargon, Megan McArdle, and Jason Nichols

Is the 'woke newsroom' a danger for American democracy? with Batya Ungar-Sargon, Megan McArdle, and Jason Nichols

In this panel discussion, Batya Ungar-Sargon, Megan McArdle, and Jason Nichols discussed whether the mainstream media produce ideological conformity. According to some national commentators, some of the major media outlets are led by a progressive bias which they believe might be anti-democratic and a danger to American Democracy. This lecture was presented on Oct. 24, 2022. 

2022 Constitution Day Lecture | "1776 and Us: Finding the Founding in a Foundering Democracy" with Dr. Jane Kamensky

2022 ASU Constitution Day Lecture Dr. Jane Kamensky

From the very beginning, the history and study of the American Revolution has been bound up with the national identity of the United States, and thus with the country’s present needs. In recent years, the competing imperatives of activists and journalists at both edges of our ideological spectrum have produced warring narratives of the American founding: slavery versus liberty, original sin versus germinal gift, a conclave of villains versus garden of heroes. Both of these approaches owe more to politics than to history. As we approach the quarter-millennium mark, how can we equip ourselves and our students with an understanding of the revolutionary era that is rigorous, complex, and above all, true to the evidence?

Dr. Jane Kamensky is Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University.

The fifth Constitution Day Lecture was hosted on Sept. 19, 2022, and sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Design at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at ASU and by The Jack Miller Center.

"Ideological conformity and censorship: existential threats to the university and liberal democracy?" with Eric Kaufmann

In the kickoff event of the 2022-23 Civic Discourse Project lecture series, Eric Kaufmann - Professor and Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange and Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London - discussed ideological conformity on campus and what he refers to as "cultural socialism" as a dominant in western higher education and in elite culture. This lecture was presented on Sept. 12, 2022.

Through our Civic Discourse Project, the school is able to bring in top minds in civics, academics and public thought for in-person dialogues. Not only are all of these public talks free and open to the public, but they are also available for viewing on our website. To be informed when new videos are available, sign up for our newsletter and subscribe to our Youtube channel

Go to the video catalog. 

Previous seasons of the Civic Discourse Project

2021-2022: Renewing America's Civic Compact

Can Americans find a path on which we can move together with a sense of purpose to rebuild the public and private institutions through which we sustain our civic, communal, and professional lives? How can we engage civilly amidst competing perspectives in the face of the many trials we face in politics and governance, at home and abroad? With these questions in mind, the 2021-2022 Civic Discourse Project offered an assessment of what the challenges are to American civic life and its institutions—including the university—and discussed how to rebuild the institutions and unity of our civil society.

Watch the series.

2020-2019: Race, Justice, and Leadership in America

In response to Arizona State University President Michael Crow's call to address recent events across America and the civic crisis of conscience they provoked, the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership proposes to lead a program of discussion, learning, and action for a renewal of our common pledge to respect and protect the equal rights of all Americans to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To this end, the theme of this year's "The Civic Discourse Project" will address Race, Justice, and Leadership in America in a virtual series. 

Watch the series.

Civic Discourse Project

2019-2020: Citizenship and Civic Leadership in America

Mark Twain once said that “[c]itizenship is what makes a republic.” The primary purpose of civic education, as envisioned by the Founders, was to instill in our population the civic virtues, basic principles and practices of citizenship that would sustain a republic. What are the characteristics, advantages, duties, and responsibilities of a citizen today? Speakers include Robert Putnam, Yascha Mounk, David Leonhardt, Rich Lowry, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Shikha Dalmia.

Watch the series.

Civic Discourse Project

2018-2019: Polarization and Civil Disagreement: Confronting America's Civic Crisis

Political and intellectual polarization are a significant contributing factor to America’s civic crisis. By providing forums for civil disagreement, we hope to engage in the intellectual and civic work necessary to overcome the political divide and to renew and enhance America’s capacity for self-governance. Speakers include Jonah Goldberg, Arthur Brooks, and Kristen Soltis Anderson.  

Watch the series.

Civic Discourse Project

2017-2018: Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education and American Society

The school's inaugural lecture series took on the theme of free speech and intellectual diversity on college campuses and in American society as a whole. The school assembled high profile speakers from a range of viewpoints to discuss the meaning of intellectual diversity in education; the new challenges facing freedom of discourse; and the implications of this campus crisis for America’s civic order. Speakers include Jonathan Haidt, Steven Pinker, Allison Stanger, and Harvey Mansfield.

Watch the series.