November 1, 2005
By Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
one word any college student knows, it's "diversity." Every
university, it seems, is "committed" to diversity -- or at least
says it is. For example, Arizona State says on its Web site that it
"champions diversity." But the reality is sometimes a bit
At the start of the year, ASU offered two English classes, ENG 101
and 102, taught by Professor G. Lynn Nelson. His Web page claimed,
"My classes seek to help people discover within themselves the
intertwined power of literacy and peace." Apparently they do that
through segregation. You see those classes were, "For Native
Americans only," as the site put it.
The university says it's fixed the problem, and that the classes
are, in fact, open to everyone. "ASU promotes equal opportunity in
educational programs and promotes respect for diversity," Executive
Vice President Milton D. Glick wrote in a letter to the Foundation
for Individual Rights in Education.
Sadly, even if this particular example has been fixed, it's
symptomatic of a larger problem. When it comes to political
philosophy, the modern American academy presents a grim front of
uniformity -- an almost religious orthodoxy. That ought to trouble
thoughtful people on both the right and the left.
Professor Stanley Rothman of Smith College examined the politics
of more than 1,600 college faculty at almost 200 schools. He found
that in "all faculty departments, including business and
engineering, academics were over five times as likely to be
liberals as conservatives." In fact, he determined that a leftist
political viewpoint was almost as important a factor in hiring
decisions as tangible academic achievements, such as publications
In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Professor Mark Bauerlein of
Emory University points to three factors that explain why the
academic world tends to exclude conservatives:
1. The Common Assumption. "The assumption is that all the strangers
in the room at professional gatherings are liberals," he writes.
"There is no joy in breaking up fellowship feeling, and the awkward
pause that accompanies the moment when someone comes out of the
conservative closet marks a quarantine that only the
institutionally secure are willing to endure."
2. The False Consensus Effect. "That effect occurs when people
think that the collective opinion of their own group matches that
of the larger population." Bauerlein gives as an example the
infamous statement ascribed to a New York Times film critic: "I
don't know how Richard Nixon could have won. I don't know anybody
who voted for him." The same thing was certainly said in many
academic halls after the 2004 election.
3. The Law of Group Polarization. "When like-minded people
deliberate as an organized group, the general opinion shifts toward
extreme versions of their common beliefs," Bauerlein writes. In old
left circles, this meant racing to embrace Stalin. Nowadays, the
far left does not simply oppose the war in Iraq. Instead it argues,
"BUSH LIED!" or asserts that neoconservative Israeli loyalists have
hijacked our government.
Since they operate in an environment where their prejudices are
supported and dissent has been thoroughly demonized, most teachers
and administrators really do not understand what conservatives are
so upset about.
There will, however, be consequences. As the radical polarization
of the academy continues, more people will turn away from academic
life, which will only make the problem worse.
What type of diversity does our higher educational system really
Our free, self-governing society requires the open exchange of
ideas, which in turn requires a certain level of civility rooted in
mutual respect for each other's opinions and viewpoints.
Liberals need to accept that conservatives deserve a place at the
table and that we have productive ideas to discuss. That would be a
critical step toward starting a real dialogue. But it won't happen
until America's higher education community reaches out to include
conservatives, instead of locking us out like so many non-Native
American ASU students.
Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation
(heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research
If there's one word any college student knows, it's "diversity." Every university, it seems, is "committed" to diversity -- or at least says it is. For example, Arizona State says on its Web site that it "champions diversity."
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
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