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Columnists: Colleges should ‘reemphasize academics’ to end campus craziness

There’s no disputing that college professors lean left, and there’s proof to back up that claim.

For instance, a study published in 2016 found that Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 12 to 1 in the social sciences. Meanwhile, a 2017 survey at Yale University found that just 7 percent of the school’s professors said they are conservative.

So are these lefty professors the reason so many young people today gravitate toward liberalism? The answer is no, according to two conservative columnists.

In a recent op-ed published by USA Today, James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley argue professors aren’t making students more radical.

“It is demonstrably true that professors are overwhelmingly liberal and have become more so in the past three decades. But it is far from clear that classroom indoctrination is driving students to the far left,” the two write.

However, they don’t excuse colleges of being partly responsible for the leftward tilt of young Americans. In addition, Riley, a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, and Piereson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, argue that the political opinions of students may be more moderate if they spent additional time with their professors.

From the column:

In a study published in 2009 of 7,000 students at 38 institutions across the U.S., professors Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner found that students’ political beliefs did not change much during their college years. Even in cases where students’ opinions changed, there was little correlation between the direction of the change and the political leanings of their professors. When contacted about these conclusions, Woessner confirmed that although campuses today might seem more radical, his current research suggests that those earlier conclusions are still true.

Given these findings, Riley and Piereson wonder what has made college students and young Americans “more sympathetic to socialism and less tolerant of conservative views about free markets and limited government.” They point to what they describe as the “unholy alliance of students, diversity administrators and faculty members representing multicultural programs.”

As such programs and alliances have formed, research identified by the columnists shows that time spent on traditional academics has decreased.

“It is thus not surprising to find that professors have little influence on student political beliefs compared with the enormous sway of peers, ‘student life’ administrators and activists who are in charge of campus extracurricular activities,” Piereson and Riley argue.

The columnists write that students might be more moderate politically if they spent more time in the classroom with their professors and if colleges took steps to “reemphasize academics” on their campuses. Doing so, they argue, would scale back the widespread campus craziness:

This should be a wake-up call for faculty and administrators who still believe that a college education should involve classroom learning and the exposure of students to important ideas. As faculty have stepped back from their roles as the primary intellectual guides for students — teaching fewer hours, spending more time on research and publishing for their colleagues in the field, requiring students to take fewer general education requirements — other adults and peers have stepped in to fill the void, much to the detriment of academic learning and liberal ideals on campus.

If moderate and liberal professors want to take back the campus from illiberal activists who reject open debate and a marketplace of ideas, then a good place to start would be to reemphasize academics as the raison d’etre of university life. “Student life” should first and foremost be the life of the mind.

Read the entire column.

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