Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Conservatives in the academy

Over at The Corner there is a conversation about conservative professors on college campuses. The conversation, in part, is brought about by the Ward Churchill flap (which John Moser notes below), but the issues in fact has been around for a long time. Note Steve Hayward’s comments at The Corner (and click down for more). Hayward rightly states this:

I went to Claremont for political science 25 years ago because it was one of the few graduate programs that had more than one conservative on the faculty, and had a curriculum that covered serious instead of frivolous subjects. About one-fourth to one-third of the relevant faculty, and roughly half of the graduate students in the department, were conservatives, which meant that we totally dominated the place. This is what liberals really fear: they may tolerate one conservative in isolation, but get two and you have a critical mass that takes over the place. Allow three conservatives on campus and it is all over for them. At Claremont it drove the new lefties crazy that they had do few students doing dissertations with them. To their great credit, some of the old New Deal liberals on the faculty (such people are downright right-wing on today’s campus) recognized that their best students were the conservatives who came to study with Harry Jaffa, Bill Allen, Jim Nichols, Harold Rood, etc and spilled over to their courses. That made some of the old liberals our allies in the academic fights. It is a long sad story, but Claremont Graduate University (not yet Claremont Mckenna College, but watch out) mostly succumbed to political correctness and trendiness.

The main points are two: First, the old New Deal liberals were actually allies of conservative students for the most part because they either recognized that their best students were conservatives and/or they recognized that the post-1960’s New Left were really quite off the mark and even dangerous; and the conservatives on campus were helping the old-fashioned liberals defend themselves from the New Left attacks. (This is a pregnant point: Why couldn’t the Old Liberals defend their own liberal principles from the New Left? Oddly, so-called conservatives had to do it for them; this proved the downfall of the Old Liberals. I say in passing that I have never met an old fashioned liberal with whom I couldn’t work, nor have I met a post-1960’s so-called liberal with whom I could work.) Second, Hayward is right in saying that when you get more than one conservative on a campus (especially in the same department) an intellectual tidal wave starts that is very hard to stop and the new liberals get angry. Why is this? It is partly the result of the fact that the so-called conservatives are more reasonable, more open, and more prone to allow for dissent in the classroom; and this is apprecaited by students. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, because of the students. The intellectual and moral disposition of most students (at least in the non-ivy league institutions) is rather more conservative than most people think. They are not disposed to think that the U.S. is a bad regime, or that there is no isness to is, or that God is dead, or that so called literary criticism should replace reading Shakespeare. This latter really irritates liberal professors on campuses: they have lost the students; they can no longer energize them, move them in their direction as they once did.

What to do about the liberal domination? That is a big question, of course. But, given the institutional arrangements, I can understand why so-called conservative graduate students go into something else than teaching. Life can be rough in the academy if you are a conservative. The march through the academic institutions by conservatives will take about fifty more years, and this is partly due to the structure of a university. I can also understand why people get impatient and want to pass laws, like the one proposed by Ohio State Senator Larry Mumper, that would (at least at state institutions) that would legislate that professors have to include diverse opinions in the classroom. The AP story on this states: "The proposal in Ohio to create an academic ’bill of rights’ would prohibit public and private college professors from presenting opinions as fact or penalizing students for expressing their views. Professors would not be allowed to introduce controversial material unrelated to the course." State Senator Mumper calls this an "academic bill of rights." This is a bad idea for a number of reasons (one is that it cannot be done, the other is that it should not be done). And I don’t think it will get anywhere, by the way. I understand the temptation to have an easy legislative solution to such a problem; the problem is much deeper than that, however.

Discussions - 4 Comments


Would be interested in seeing a post that explains exactly why the Ohio bill is a bad idea. Perhaps it could be amended constructively?

In response to Professor Schramm’s comment dismissing an "easy legislative solution" to the problem of liberal tyranny in academe:

I wonder if this comment takes full account of the nature of politics.
Political moves such as this bill are not only valuable for the concrete results that they may or may not attain. They also help to shape the public awareness -- they help to frame the debate.

Much of the left’s success in just about every area of public policy for the last 70 years has been built on their dominance of the public debate. They have always, always, always succeeded in getting their point of view across. Much of that is accomplished by making proposals, year after year, and getting the public used to their ideas.

It seems to me that this bill can serve the same purpose: Heightening public awareness of the problem, delegitimizing the academy as now administered, breaking up the left’s monopoly on "mainstream" discourse about university issues, and preparing the ground for reforms and activism against the academic establishment that may have a better chance of succeeding.

In short: Don’t just evaluate this proposal instrumentally in narrow "public policy" terms. Think in broad political and educational terms, and I think you get a different picture of its merits.

Unfortunately, seeking liberal wisdom, I enrolled at Columbia University believing I would graduate with a wiser, humanitarian view of the world. Instead, I gradually developed a distaste for leftist polemics and half-baked lectures that too often overlooked the real events for the sake of substantiating worn out Marxian philosophies. Though deeply disappointed by my "education" I was turned rightside up and became an enlightened conservative. Hooray for Capitalism and right wing constituencies.

50 years to turn around the academy? I guess I think that’s right IF we allow nature to take its course. Personally, I think what’s needed is to start conservative "brain trusts" on college campuses (such as the Ashbrook Center!) -- a gathering and mobilizing place for conservatives from across the various disciplines. We need an ideological beachhead on many campuses, and a beachhead is all that’s really needed. The power of conservative ideas will win the day...in about 25 years.

I agree that the current bill in the Ohio legislature is wrong-headed. But I also agree with a commentor above that asserts its symobolic and strategic value. Continual pressure is needed to balance the academy.

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