Beginning in the late 18th century, post-secondary education was restructured across Europe—in part under the auspices of accelerating the transition to an envisioned rational and secular age. In order to enroll the broadest swath of the public in this enterprise, institutions and curricula were rendered more accessible, inclusive, and professionally-oriented. At the time, Nietzsche condemned the “ubiquitous encouragement of everyone’s so-called ‘individual personality’” and the growing trend to curb “serious and unrelenting critical habits and opinions” at universities—discerning as astutely in his own time as Jonathan Haidt today that the use of educational institutions for promoting a particular social vision is fundamentally incompatible with the pursuit of the truth wherever it leads.
Yet across Western societies, and especially in elite circles, the 18th Century faith persists that a proliferation of education, science, and technology will help usher in a more rational and secular age—one governed by expertise, and defined by worldwide peace and prosperity. Among adherents of this vision, universities are held in particularly high regard, as incubators of that better tomorrow—where our best and brightest hone the character, skills and knowledge to solve the world’s ills in an environment that promotes reasoned and civil debate, the free exchange of ideas, and an unflinching commitment to truth. However, contemporary research in the cognitive and behavioral sciences suggests a much bleaker picture:
For instance, rather than serving as an objective base upon which agreements can be built, evoking scientific studies or statistics in the context of socio-political arguments tends to further polarize interlocutors. Both conservatives and progressives politicize science and evaluate its findings on an ideological basis: exaggerating conclusions when convenient while findings ways to ignore, discredit, defund or suppress research which seems to threaten one’s identity or perceived interests. Rather than contributing to open-mindedness or intellectual humility, greater cognitive sophistication or knowledge often renders people less flexible in their beliefs by enhancing their abilities to critique and dismiss challenges, or advance counter-arguments, regardless of “the facts”—thereby exacerbating people’s natural inclinations towards motivated reasoning.
That is, if one wanted to create an environment which actually promoted closed-mindedness, dogmatism and polarization, contemporary research suggests the following prescription: consolidate societies’ most intelligent, knowledgeable and charismatic people, at a time in their lives when their identities are just taking shape (which increases the perceived urgency of protecting and validating said identities), and place them in a competitive environment focused largely (and increasingly) on the sciences.  In a word: universities.
Perhaps then, it should not be surprising that the long leftward trajectory of U.S. institutions of higher learning seems to have culminated with conservative faculty, students and perspectives almost completely absent from many fields, while dissent from progressive ideology is met with increasing sanctions and scandal—from which even historical figures are not immune.
However one may feel about these developments from a moral or political point of view, they are harmful for the practice and profession of science–especially for the social and behavioral sciences.