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When college presidents ‘libsplain’ to conservative students

It is an article of faith at this point that conservative college students are by-and-large anomalies on their campuses; modern academia is overwhelmingly majority progressive. Some college officials, aware of this discrepancy, have begun making attempts to reach out to the right-leaning students in their midst—sometimes with hilarious and uncomfortable results.

“Despite constant assurances that campus bias is a figment of the right-wing imagination, nothing better illuminates where things stand than the awkward efforts of big-hearted college presidents to connect with their resident ideological aliens,” write Frederick Hess and Grant Addison at the American Enterprise Institute.

Citing a “puff piece” at Inside Higher Ed which “fawningly profiled two college presidents’ outreach to conservative students,” Hess and Addison examine the “preemptive ‘faith-rebuilding’ strategy of face-to-face interaction” that the presidents have undertaken (noting, also, that “sitting down with conservative students is such a novel approach that it merits media attention”).

“Even more telling is how these bridge-building efforts have unfolded,” Hess writes. Jonathan Veitch, the president of Occidental College, sat down with some of his conservative students and learned that “they favored a libertarian approach with more of a stress on a free market than true conservatism, based in tradition with individualism being a minor point.” In response to this, Veitch assigned his students some “required reading.”

“Just imagine, if you will,” Hess and Addison write,

a college president orchestrating a meeting with a campus Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ group, listening briefly, deciding they don’t really understand the issue that animates them, and assigning them homework.

The book that Veitch assigned the Occidental College Republicans was Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, which, the reporter explains, “would walk them through the work of some of the most recognizable conservative figures, including John Henry Newman and William F. Buckley Jr.” It’s worth noting here that The Conservative Mind, while seminal, is also a ponderous, orotund volume first published in 1953 and spanning more than 500 pages; even a thoughtful college student might not regard it as a particularly enjoyable extracurricular read. According to the reporter, “Veitch would read the book alongside them and then they would talk it over, which he said did generate some goodwill among the group.” (Oddly enough, the students who received Veitch’s ministrations “did not respond to multiple requests for comment.”)

“Even presupposing that conservative students do indeed appreciate being tutored in their beliefs and values by a university president who doesn’t share them,” Hess and Addison write, “one is tempted to wonder whether Veitch feels similarly obliged to school other politically oriented student groups on campus.”

“Has he chatted with students from Occidental’s United for Black Liberation group to check whether they require supplementary tutoring in critical race theory? Has he instructed the Occidental College Democrats to bone up on their John Stuart Mill or William Jennings Bryan?”

“We’d surely be intrigued,” Hess and Addison write, “to see the reading he chose to assign the Occidental College Students for Justice in Palestine.”

Read the whole piece here, originally published in National Review.

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