Cocooning yourself with like-minded people doesn’t always work out
The Yale Daily News commissioned a study recently that revealed a rather startling figure: of the faculty at Yale, a mere seven percent identify as conservative. To the more cynical among us, “seven percent” seems like an abnormally high number: one gets the impression that, on most college campuses these days, the one or two conservatives still remaining have taken up permanent residence in an out-of-the-way broom closet or forgotten adjunct office. Given the climate at your average American university, seven percent seems almost generous.
Our campuses have an ideology problem. It’s not simply that more and more colleges have begun kowtowing to the absurdist, shrieking demands of hysterical student mobs (though that is a problem, and a significant one); it is, rather, than progressive professors and administrators increasingly have nobody with which to disagree, and nobody who will disagree with them. We all experience this in our lives to certain degrees: most people have family, or friends, or both, with whom they are more or less ideologically aligned. But a too-homogenous network of friends and family can be, in the end, intellectually poisonous, sort of like a vaccination in reverse. You can very easily forget that there are other people with other opinions out there, individuals who might not see the world in just the same way you do. And such political insularity can be intellectually and philosophically dangerous.
We saw this in the case of Evergreen College last spring: when a lone professor, Bret Weinstein, dissented from one small aspect of radical campus orthodoxy, his fellow faculty members turned on him, demanding the college make an example out of him because of his dissent. The cowardly administration at Evergreen was no better, essentially abandoning the professor to the snarling wolves of campus progressive activism. Weinstein was a self-identified liberal, someone who was more or less on board with the progressive agenda—except for one small, limited aspect of progressive racial politics. His faculty and his superiors were not used to even the tiniest shred of political dissent and independent thought—and so they turned on him.
In the end, hysterical, parochial liberalism is not just bad optics, it’s bad finance: Evergreen ended up paying Weinstein and his wife, Heather Heying, half a million bucks for their troubles—all because campus progressives couldn’t deal with a little intellectual disagreement.
It can be comforting to be surrounded by people who share the same views as you. We all do it, and it is necessary in certain amounts and certain contexts. But the political uniformity of modern American colleges is a bad and dangerous thing. It has weakened the intellectual rigor of the campus, and turned what should be a diverse and challenging environment into a staid, boring, viciously conformist day camp. Colleges should work harder to hire conservative faculty. Barring that, liberal faculty members should at least work to familiarize themselves with conservative thought, so that they are not flummoxed when they find out that, yes, it actually exists.