CON­SER­VA­TIVE PROFS CAM­PUS OUT­CASTS

IN­TEL­LEC­TUAL CONFORMITY A KEY DRIVER OF SUC­CESS IN ACA­DEMIC COM­MU­NI­TIES

National Post (Latest Edition) - - ISSUES & IDEAS - Arthur C. Brooks Arthur C. Brooks is the pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute and a con­tribut­ing opin­ion writer.

These days, the news is full of sen­sa­tional sto­ries of vi­o­lent cam­pus mobs shut­ting down con­ser­va­tive speak­ers and freaked- out col­lege ad­min­is­tra­tors treat­ing ri­ot­ers with kid gloves. Such sto­ries of­fer ex­cel­lent fod­der for crit­ics who are ea­ger to con­demn uni­ver­sity cul­ture. But I be­lieve they dis­tract from a deeper, sub­tler in­tel­lec­tual prob­lem on the mod­ern cam­pus: the pro­found alien­ation of pro­fes­sors who don’t hold the main­stream po­lit­i­cal views and are treated as out­siders as a re­sult.

This is the ar­gu­ment of an im­por­tant book ti­tled Pass­ing on the Right: Con­ser­va­tive Pro­fes­sors in the Pro­gres­sive Uni­ver­sity. Writ­ten by the po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr., it gives a glimpse into the lonely lives of ide­o­log­i­cal strangers on the mod­ern cam­pus. While con­ser­va­tives rep­re­sent Amer­ica’s largest ide­o­log­i­cal group, at 36 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, they con­sti­tute less than 10 per cent of fac­ulty in the so­cial sciences and hu­man­i­ties— and a small frac­tion of that at elite pri­vate schools. Many re­port feel­ing like odd­balls who never quite fit in.

Gen­er­ally, these pro­fes­sors fear they have lit­tle hope for ad­vance­ment to lead­er­ship roles. Re­search backs up this fear, sug­gest­ing that in­tel­lec­tual conformity is still a key driver of per­sonal suc­cess in aca­demic com­mu­ni­ties. In a study pub­lished in 2012 in the Jour­nal of Ex­per­i­men­tal So­cial Psy­chol­ogy, re­searchers asked stu­dents to eval­u­ate can­di­dates vy­ing to rep­re­sent them with the fac­ulty. In some cases, the can­di­date iden­ti­fied him- or her­self as a “typ­i­cal stu­dent at this col­lege”; other sub­jects were given a can­di­date who was “a rel­a­tively un­typ­i­cal stu­dent at this col­lege.” Even though both pledged to rep­re­sent the stu­dents faith­fully, in the same lan­guage, the un­typ­i­cal stu­dent con­sis­tently re­ceived sig­nif­i­cantly less sup­port.

Some might ar­gue that it doesn’t mat­ter — or is even a good thing — that con­ser­va­tives on cam­pus are marginal­ized. Af­ter all, there are many or­ga­ni­za­tions in which philo­soph­i­cal dif­fer­ences are le­git­i­mately dis­qual­i­fy­ing. No one be­lieves that there is any­thing strange about a Chris­tian church seek­ing as clergy mem­bers only those who share the con­gre­ga­tion’s faith and the­ol­ogy. Bud­dhists may be won­der­ful peo­ple, but they still need not ap­ply for the job.

But such dis­crim­i­na­tion is le­git­i­mate only when it per­tains to the core mis­sion of an or­ga­ni­za­tion. It would be less sen­si­ble and ac­cept­able for a con­gre­ga­tion to re­ject the best- qual­i­fied the­olo­gian and preacher be­cause of how he or she voted in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. That church would be pri­or­i­tiz­ing ephemeral po­lit­i­cal bat­tles ahead of its deep­est spir­i­tual con­cerns. That’s a pretty bad trade.

Sim­i­larly, academia is right to rank can­di­dates based on their ex­per­tise and in­tel­lec­tual com­mit­ment. But should pro­fes­sors’ po­lit­i­cal philoso­phies fac­tor into how wel­come they are or the like­li­hood of their lead­ing de­part­ments and in­sti­tu­tions? Only if the fun­da­men­tal goal of the uni­ver­sity is more po­lit­i­cal than schol­arly.

So what is the pri­mary goal of uni­ver­si­ties to­day? They are in the process of de­cid­ing. If they de­cide the an­swer is schol­ar­ship, they must work harder to form com­mu­ni­ties that do not just tol­er­ate con­ser­va­tives but ac­tively em­brace ide­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity. They must be will­ing to see con­ser­va­tive fac­ulty mem­bers not as in­ter­lop­ers to be tol­er­ated but as val­ued col- leagues, wor­thy of pro­mo­tion and ap­point­ments to lead­er­ship roles when mer­ited. For­tu­nately, this prob­lem is not in­sol­u­ble. It wasn’t that long ago that women were sim­i­larly iso­lated in academia, that it was un­usual in many de­part­ments to have a fe­male pro­fes­sor and prac­ti­cally un­think­able that a woman be a uni­ver­sity pres­i­dent. To be sure, there is still gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion, but a huge amount of head­way has been made in in­te­grat­ing de­part­ments and el­e­vat­ing women to po­si­tions of aca­demic lead­er­ship. Why? Be­cause the com­mu­nity has come to see that gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion is in­con­sis­tent with a good uni­ver­sity’s mis­sion. That’s true progress.

There are nascent ef­forts un­der­way to do the same with ide­ol­ogy. Sev­eral top- tier pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties — no­tably, Prince­ton, Har­vard, Stan­ford and Chicago — have made im­por­tant com­mit­ments to pro­tect in­tel­lec­tual di­ver­sity on cam­pus. And a new coali­tion of aca­demics called Hetero­dox Academy, di­rected by the New York Uni­ver­sity psy­chol­o­gist Jonathan Haidt, has formed to foster this move­ment.

No­tably, more than 40 per cent of the mem­bers of Hetero­dox Academy are lib­er­als or cen­trists. And this brings me to a point I want to make to pro­gres­sive aca­demics: It is up to you to make cam­puses more open to de­bate and the un­con­strained pur­suit of truth. This is partly be­cause lib­er­als are the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity on cam­puses. But more im­por­tant, the task per­fectly fits the pro­gres­sive move­ment’s eth­i­cal pat­ri­mony. Amer­i­can lib­er­al­ism has al­ways in­sisted it is the duty of the ma­jor­ity to fight for the mi­nor­ity, whether or not it suits one’s own pri­vate in­ter­ests.

Wel­com­ing the stranger is ar­guably the great­est moral tra­di­tion that lib­er­als have. As we start a new school year, there is a golden op­por­tu­nity to demon­strate this.

LONELY LIVES OF IDE­O­LOG­I­CAL STRANGERS ON THE MOD­ERN CAM­PUS.

JOSH EDELSON / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pro­test­ers shout be­fore a speak­ing en­gage­ment by con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Ben Shapiro on the cam­pus of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Berke­ley on Thurs­day.

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