Con­ser­va­tives are sour­ing on col­leges. Blame col­leges.

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Megan McArdle Email Megan McArdle at mm­car­dle3@bloomberg.net. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @asym­metricinfo

De­spite decades of talk ra­dio hosts com­plain­ing about pointy-headed lib­eral aca­demics, Repub­li­cans in 2010 were still pretty fond of higher ed­u­ca­tion. Fifty-eight per­cent of them said that col­leges had a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the coun­try, a num­ber that ticked along in roughly that range in 2011 … 2012 … 2013 …2014 … then, whoa. It started to go off the cliff, hit­ting a mere 36 per­cent in Pew’s most re­cent poll.

Look­ing at this poll, Philip Bump of The Wash­ing­ton Post blames this on the fo­cus “by con­ser­va­tive me­dia on ten­sions at uni­ver­si­ties.”

“Con­ser­va­tive me­dia,” he adds, “fo­cused its at­ten­tion on the idea of ‘safe spa­ces’ on col­lege cam­puses, places where stu­dents would be shel­tered from con­tro­ver­sial or up­set­ting in­for­ma­tion or view­points. This idea quickly spread into a broader cri­tique of left-wing cul­ture, but anec­do­tal ex­am­ples from in­di­vid­ual uni­ver­si­ties, such as ob­jec­tions to sched­uled speak­ers and warn­ings in class­rooms, be­came a fo­cal point.”

It’s the sort of the­ory that may sound plau­si­ble on first read, ex­cept … see the first sen­tence of this col­umn. Con­ser­va­tives in the me­dia have been com­plain­ing about lib­er­als in academia for a very long time — just about as long, in fact, as academia has been trend­ing lib­eral. After all, Wil­liam F. Buck­ley rose to fame, and mid­wifed the mod­ern con­ser­va­tive move­ment, after writ­ing “God and Man at Yale.” As the book’s ti­tle sug­gests, it com­plained that elite ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions were ex­ces­sively sec­u­lar, col­lec­tivist and dis­posed to­ward gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion in the econ­omy. It was first pub­lished in 1951.

Since then, there have been plenty of me­di­a­genic episodes for con­ser­va­tives to get out­raged over. If you’ve for­got­ten, Google “Ward Churchill” or “San­dra Fluke,” to name just two of the many, many stu­dents and pro­fes­sors whose sagas rep­re­sent the lefty ex­cesses of academia.

And none­the­less, Repub­li­cans ap­par­ently kept right on lov­ing their col­leges un­til 2015. After all, many Repub­li­cans can thank col­lege for get­ting them a good job. A team to root for on frosty au­tumn days. Some lovely, hazy mem­o­ries of beer pong tour­na­ments. Heck, maybe they even learned some­thing.

So why, just in the last cou­ple of years, would con­ser­va­tives turn against col­leges with a vengeance?

What’s changed, I sub­mit, is that col­leges have read­ily sup­plied con­ser­va­tives with im­ages of an in­sti­tu­tion that is not merely left-lean­ing, but ac­tively hos­tile to con­ser­va­tives, as con­ser­va­tive speech on cam­pus has in­creas­ingly been threat­ened. It started with stu­dents press­ing for speak­ers to be dis­in­vited from grad­u­a­tion speeches — some­times lib­er­als, but of­ten con­ser­va­tives. Then an­gry mi­nori­ties were al­lowed to shut down con­ser­va­tive speeches with in­creas­ingly rau­cous protests that even­tu­ally turned to vi­o­lence. And when vi­o­lence oc­curred, schools seemed no­tice­ably un­in­ter­ested in iden­ti­fy­ing or pun­ish­ing the peo­ple who com­mit­ted it.

In­deed, schools’ re­sponses to left­ists’ riots have been: to make it max­i­mally in­con­ve­nient for con­ser­va­tives to speak (or be heard); to de­liver a slap on the wrist against vi­o­lent protests; and to al­low stu­dents to corner, bully and im­pre­cate upon pro­fes­sors.

Academia is a left-wing in­sti­tu­tion, and I sus­pect that when the peo­ple in charge of it look at left-wing pro­test­ers, they see ba­si­cally good-hearted kids who are overex­u­ber­ant in their pur­suit of the com­mon good. And who wants to wreck the lives of a nice kid who made a bad mis­take out of the best pos­si­ble mo­tives?

What­ever the rea­son that this has been al­lowed to hap­pen, the pic­ture that emerges from these events is of an academia where or­derly con­ser­va­tives are un­wel­come, but dis­or­derly — even vi­o­lent — left­ists are tol­er­ated. No won­der con­ser­va­tives’ opin­ion of academia is fall­ing.

Schools are go­ing to have to ad­just to the new re­al­i­ties of our panop­ti­con world just as po­lice de­part­ments have. They can­not de­fend the prin­ci­ple of free speech while wink­ing at vi­o­la­tions, be­cause those vi­o­la­tions are apt to be­come na­tional events. When vi­o­lent stu­dents try to shut down dis­course, a quiet slap on the wrist is no longer an op­tion.

Even set­ting aside high-minded ideals, ad­min­is­tra­tors should crack down out of sim­ple self-in­ter­est. Their jobs al­most all ul­ti­mately de­pend on gov­ern­ment fund­ing, ei­ther di­rectly, from state leg­is­la­tures, or in­di­rectly, through sub­si­dized stu­dent loans. They also de­pend on con­tri­bu­tions from alumni who are, as a group, much more con­ser­va­tive than ei­ther the ac­tivists or the ad­min­is­tra­tions. And fi­nally, they de­pend on stu­dents, par­ents and em­ploy­ers to con­tinue to think that a de­gree from their in­sti­tu­tion is valu­able. As the Univer­sity of Mis­souri at Columbia found out, that is not some­thing you can sim­ply take as a given.

If uni­ver­si­ties brand them­selves as ex­plic­itly left-wing in­sti­tu­tions that make no ef­fort to be fair to con­ser­va­tive views — if they al­low left-wing groups to ap­point them­selves as the thought po­lice of what is the­o­ret­i­cally a shared space — then they will open up gap­ing holes in their bud­gets and their en­roll­ments, and the left’s fief­dom will fall to the en­emy. It would be­hoove them to seek a bind­ing peace now, one that of­fers both sides some liv­ing room. That could re­verse the tank­ing pub­lic

sup­port for uni­ver­si­ties. Mac Tully, CEO and Pub­lisher; Justin Mock, Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent of Fi­nance and Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer; Bill Reynolds, Se­nior VP, Cir­cu­la­tion and Pro­duc­tion; Judi Pat­ter­son, Vice Pres­i­dent, Hu­man Re­sources; Bob Kin­ney, Vice Pres­i­dent, In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy

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