October 7, 2004
By Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Tens of millions of Americans are watching
this year's presidential debates. And while the myriad rules
governing these events may be controversial, at least voters have a
chance to hear from both of the men who want to lead this nation
for the next four years.
But imagine if, instead of hearing from both candidates, voters
were exposed only to one, over and over. That would be an
indoctrination, not a debate. Americans wouldn't stand for such a
thing. So why are we allowing it in higher education?
Universities are supposed to be about exploring ideas and
searching for truth. Instead, many schools have become liberal
bastions, where dissenting ideas are all too frequently scoffed at
or even stamped out.
That makes sense when you consider who's doing the teaching.
According to a poll by the Higher Education Institute at UCLA, 48
percent of college faculty members and administrators describe
themselves as "liberal" or "far left." Another 34 percent claim to
be in the middle, with only 18 percent calling themselves
"conservative" or "far right."
Those numbers are quite different from what we see outside the
ivied halls of academe. According to the Pew Research Center, only
20 percent of the general public call themselves liberal, while 33
percent say they're conservative.
Liberal bias on campus manifests itself in many ways, but what's
probably the most dangerous is that students can spend years in
school without hearing from a conservative. "[Students are] not
really exposed to views outside of a radical-leftist perspective,"
self-declared conservative professor James Miller of Smith College
said in The Chronicle of Higher Education. "They have no
idea that there are other views out there." Conservative law
professor Carol Swain of Vanderbilt told the Chronicle,
"Most students will not get the kind of education their parents
would hope they get and will not be exposed to different sides of
When students dare to speak out, they're often threatened. At
Georgia Tech, a student made the mistake of telling her professor
she planned to attend C-PAC, an annual gathering of conservative
leaders. "Then you will probably fail my class," he told her. He
was as good as his word. He failed her on the first test and
frequently blasted conservatives in class. Eventually, she
In another case, a student at Metropolitan State College in Denver
testified before the Colorado legislature that his politics got him
thrown out of a course. "I don't want your right-wing views in my
classroom," the teacher told him.
When the student finished testifying, the professor accosted him,
right there in the hearing room. "I got my Ph.D. at Harvard. I'll
see your [expletive] in court. Then we'll see a chilling
This incident actually spurred university administrators to
action. Under pressure from activist David Horowitz and the
Colorado state legislature (under the leadership of the dynamic
Republican State Senate President John Andrews), the entire
University of Colorado system adopted a provision promising,
"Colorado's institutions of higher education are committed to
valuing and respecting diversity, including respect for diverse
political viewpoints." That wording echoes a key provision of
Horowitz's "Academic Bill of Rights," a document that also aims to
forbid the hiring (or firing) of professors on the basis of their
I applaud the University of Colorado administration for taking this
action. What a shame, though, that it was even necessary.
But since it is, federal lawmakers ought to consider something
similar. Next year, Congress will renew the Higher Education Act,
which regulates federal funding and financial aid to college
students. Instead of simply shoveling out more money, this time
lawmakers also should update the act to ensure it protects all
ideas -- including conservative ones -- in universities.
That doesn't mean the government ought to be assigning texts or
grading tests. But it does mean that teachers and students deserve
to know they can espouse conservative ideas in the academy without
fear of being fired or failed.
After all, don't we deserve at least as robust a debate on
campus as we already have in the political arena?
Ed Feulner is
president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public
policy research institute.
Don't we deserve at least as robust a debate on campus as we already have in the political arena?
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
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