National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Fall 2003


Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 4:2, Fall/Winter 2003. Copyright © 2003 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


The modern university has, at best, an ambivalent relation to multiperspectivism. In the seventeenth century, when European universities finalized the break with their medieval past, a century and a half of religious wars had made multiperspectivism a pressing intellectual and social problem, one that, it was argued, could be overcome only with rigorous intellectual method (Toulmin 69-80, Stout 46-47). In our own day, the academy widely celebrates multiperspectivism as a means to achieve the legitimate ends of higher education or, in some cases, as one of those ends itself. Contemporary reflection on academic practice routinely cites notions of diversity, pluralism, or multiculturalism in justifying or modifying curricula, establishing new programs of study, hiring faculty, or admitting students. Furthermore, the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action in the University of Michigan’s Law School admissions policy grants legal sanction to these practices. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor argued that both the university and the state have “a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body,” benefits which clearly include the ready availability of a multiplicity of perspectives to inform and animate classroom discussion (Grutter v. Bollinger). Ironically, the Supreme Court’s ruling simultaneously indicates how far the modern university has evolved since the historical moment of its birth and how deeply problematic the practice of pluralism has been and continues to be for higher education.