January 11, 2005

Campus Conservatism...Growing?

Marc Comtois
Much has written, including by me, of liberal bias within the Academy. The main argument against those within the Ivory Tower is by now familiar. Essentially, liberal academics champion a "diversity" that is does not include the expression of non-liberal ideas. To resolve this disparity, some, such as David Horowitz and Students for Academic freedom, have been advocating for a way to enforce a sort of ideological affirmative action. However, to this effort, Steven Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University, offers a retort to the idea of such enforced affirmative action:
These are unexpected arguments to hear from conservatives, since they usually deny that disproportionate statistics can be taken as proof of discrimination. When it comes to employment discrimination or affirmative action, conservatives will blithely insist that the absence of minorities (in a work force or student body) simply means that there were too few "qualified applicants." And don't bother talking to them about a "glass ceiling" or "mommy track" that impedes women's careers. That's not discrimination, they say, it's "self-selection."

Conservatives abandon these arguments, however, when it comes to their own prospects in academe. Then the relative scarcity of Republican professors is widely asserted as proof of willful prejudice.
In fact, according to Lubet, conservatives are engaging in a bit of self-selection of their own by not selecting a career in academia.
Perhaps fewer conservatives than liberals are willing to endure the many years of poverty-stricken graduate study necessary to qualify for a faculty position. Perhaps conservatives are smarter than liberals, and recognize that graduate school is a poor investment, given the scant job opportunities that await new Ph.D.s. Or perhaps studious conservatives are more attracted to the greater financial rewards of industry and commerce.
I would say that he is correct, but would emphasize that, in his attempt to hoist conservatives on their own petards, he has managed to skewer the assumptions held by himself and his fellow liberals concerning affirmative action, hasn't he? However, be that as it may, it is this classically liberal elitist bit that both illustrates and confirms the attitudes of so many liberal academics:
It is completely reasonable for conservatives to flock to jobs that reward competition, aggression, self-interest and victory. So it should not be surprising that liberals gravitate to professions -- such as academics, journalism, social work and the arts -- that emphasize inquiry, objectivity and the free exchange of ideas. After all, teachers at all levels -- from nursery school to graduate school -- tend to be Democrats.
So you see, conservatives simply don't care about anyone but themselves. It is too bad that those virtues that Lubet ascribes to liberals, "inquiry, objectivity and the free exchange of ideas," are too-often quashed, either aggressively or passively (or passive-aggressively?) within so many ivy-covered walls. To be fair, Lubet recognizes that the stifling of debate is not good for his profession, but to me he comes across as only luke-warm to the idea. It is also predictable how he attempts to assign a negative connotation to "competition" and "victory" by lumping them in with "aggression" and "self-interest," the latter two having lost any sense of the "positive" in today's English language.

Besides the more organized conservative movements, there are indications that change may be affected "from the bottom up." A new book, God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America by Naomi Schaefer Riley (who was recently interviewed by National Review), surveys the state of conservatism, particularly of the religious sort, in our colleges. Riley cleverly tags the current batch of conservative college students with the label "Generation M" (M is for Missionary) and states that they
participate in the typical model of college behavior. They don't spend their college years experimenting with sex or drugs. They marry early and plan ahead for family life. They oppose sex outside of marriage, as well as homosexual relationships. Most dress modestly and don't drink, use drugs, or smoke. While they would disagree among themselves about what it means to be a religious person, they all assume that trying to live by a set of rules, generally laid down in scripture, is the prerequisite for a healthy, productive, and moral life.
Riley focused on traditionally religious institutions, including many that have purposely set themselves up to be "conservative" academic institutions. While the graduates of these schools, at least as portrayed by Riley, appear to be proactive in wanting to take the conservative message to the "un-enlightened" (ie, that's their "mission") in the blue states, the same willingness to engage liberals can't be said for many of the academic bastions from which the "Gen-Mers" come.

For conservatives a more heartening picture is provided by a recent piece in City Journal by Brian C. Anderson. Surveying more "traditional" universities, Anderson details how a more secular conservatism is spreading, even into the halls of the Ivy League.
The number of College Republicans, for instance, has almost tripled, from 400 or so campus chapters six years ago, to 1,148 today, with 120,000-plus members (compared with the College Democrats’ 900 or so chapters and 100,000 members). And College Republicans are thriving even on elite campuses. “We’ve doubled in size over the last few years, to more than 400 students,” reports Evan Baehr, the square-jawed future pol heading the Princeton chapter. The number of College Republicans at Penn has also rocketed upward, says chapter president Stephanie Steward, from 25 or so members a couple of years ago to 700 members today. Same story at Harvard. These young Republican activists, trudging into battleground states this fall in get-out-the vote efforts, helped George W. Bush win.
Anderson notes how today's college conservative is not much different from his liberal counterpart: both tend to like the same music, the same movies, and the same pop-culture. In short, politics is the only discernable difference, specifically, the War on Terror. Other dividing lines are affirmative action policy and "family values," with conservative students against abortion and for more women having kids within a traditional family: in short, the Ozzie and Harriet ideal. However, according to Anderson, most young conservatives agree wtih their liberal peers, rather than their ideological elders, that gay marriage is acceptable. (Perhaps when Generation M, at least the secular version, begins to marry, this attitude may change).

Students have become conservative for a variety of reasons. Some have reflexively come to reject the demonization of the Western Culture with which they identify and from which they sprang. Others reject the liberal ideology that has been proven wrong on communism and various other subjects, especially when said ideology is being "rammed down" their throats. Finally, some simply enjoy being a campus rebel. Thus, we are left with a bitter irony for liberals. The liberal professoriat of today's colleges, those who comprised the very 60's counter-culture that challenged and eventually took over the academy, is now itself being challenged by a conservative counter-culture. In essence, liberals have become "the man." How funny is that.