It’s a one-party system on campus, writes The Economist.
Academia is simultaneously both the part of America that is most obsessed with diversity, and the least diverse part of the country. On the one hand, colleges bend over backwards to hire minority professors and recruit minority students, aided by an ever-burgeoning bureaucracy of “diversity officers.” Yet, when it comes to politics, they are not just indifferent to diversity, but downright allergic to it.
. . . the current situation makes a mockery of the very legal opinion that underpins the diversity fad. In 1978, Justice Lewis Powell argued that diversity is vital to a university’s educational mission, to promote the atmosphere of “speculation, experiment and creation” that is essential to their identities. The more diverse the body, the more robust the exchange of ideas. Why apply that argument so rigorously to, say, sexual orientation, where you have campus groups that proudly call themselves GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning), but ignore it when it comes to political beliefs?
This is profoundly unhealthy per se. Debating chambers are becoming echo chambers. Students hear only one side of the story on everything from abortion (good) to the rise of the West (bad). It is notable that the surveys show far more conservatives in the more rigorous disciplines such as economics than in the vaguer 1960s “ologies.” Yet, as George Will pointed out in the Washington Post this week, this monotheism is also limiting universities’ ability to influence the wider intellectual culture.
“The Republican business elite doesn’t give a fig about silly academic fads in the humanities so long as American universities remain on the cutting edge of science and technology,” The Economist writes.
For instance, nearly half said that their professors “frequently comment on politics in class even though it has nothing to do with the course” or use the classroom to present their personal political views. In answers to other questions, the majority acknowledged that liberal views predominate. Most troubling, however, were the responses to the survey item “On my campus, there are courses in which students feel they have to agree with the professor’s political or social views in order to get a good grade” — 29% agreed.
Jonathan Last thinks profs preaching politics could backfire: College students look up to professors like Cinderella looked up to her wicked stepmother, he writes.
Update: Ellen Goodman dismisses the complaints of campus bias, arguing that conservatives run everything else in the country and should leave academia as one last bastion of the left-liberals.
The only ones who take universities as seriously as universities take themselves are activists on the right. When Harvey Mansfield, a Harvard conservative, was asked about the difficulty conservatives had getting tenure, he sighed ironically, “Well, I guess they’ll have to go to Washington and run the country.”
Still, it’s very hard for universities to be centers of free-wheeling debate if discussion is limited to those on the blue side of the spectrum.