I would like to offer a response to an article published Feb. 6, 2019 entitled "The silent war on the diversity of thought," written by my colleague Michael Bourgeois.
First off, I want to thank him for writing the article and commend him on freely and unashamedly expressing his opinion. Shortly after being hired as an opinion writer myself, I reached out to conservative groups on campus in order to encourage a diversity of opinions, believing right-wing views were underrepresented in the paper at the time.
Needless to say, I welcome the difference in opinion because I believe it leads to productive and thoughtful discussions. Although I may disagree with Bourgeois in many fundamental areas of our respective personal philosophies, I do agree with him on two very important points: 1. constructive argumentation stimulates learning and critical thinking, and 2. protecting and valuing free speech is what makes us uniquely American. In the same way he has the freedom to voice his views in the public sphere, I have the freedom to refute them.
To start, I want to point out what I believe to be potentially problematic logic contained within the aforementioned article. The first issue is the inconsistent subjective assessment of the general college environment. The author begins the article stating, "college campuses are the most accepting places on the planet for personal expression."
It is unclear whether this only refers to free expression of certain ideas, or perhaps more specifically certain viewpoints, because he continues on writing and says, "Diversity of thought, the freedom to express dissenting viewpoints intelligently is under fire inside the modern college campus."
This claim, wholly unsubstantiated by examples throughout his article, seems to be in contrast with the first statement he makes. Furthermore, to back up the claim that conservative students are an oppressed minority on campus, he states, "It is no secret that the majority of college students believe in left-wing ideology," but then proceeds to cite a study stating that only 35.5 percent of college students identify as liberal or left-leaning (with 42.3 percent identifying as moderate and 22.2 percent identifying as conservative.)
He reinforces this belief later in the article saying, "Students are lured into a logical trap, constructed by a liberal conformation bias and perpetuated by the fact that left-wing beliefs are the norm on college campuses."
As we have just seen, the majority of students self-identify as moderate, with presumably some aligning more with right-wing values and some aligning more with left-wing values. These inconsistencies in the author’s perspective and the quantitative reality point to a certain amount of cognitive dissonance at work.
In contrast to the previous article, I would like to present my own narrative concerning the state of college campuses across the country. My viewpoint is more nuanced, understanding differences in factors such as urbanization, demography and socioeconomic status affect the political beliefs of the administration, faculty and students of every university. These views then create, by extension, the political culture of the university itself.
To exemplify this contrast, let us look at five different schools: Mississippi State University, Yale, Tuskegee University, the University of California at Berkeley and Liberty University. Two of these schools are public institutions (MSU and UC Berkeley), and three are private (Yale, Tuskegee and Liberty). They are located all across the country, with two in rural areas (MSU, Tuskegee) and three in urban areas (Yale, UC Berkeley, Liberty University). In terms of self-reported ethnic demography, one of these schools is predominantly African-American (Tuskegee),three predominantly white (MSU,Liberty, and Yale), and one predominantly Asian (UC Berkeley), as stated by College Factual.
We can make pretty solid predictions about a school’s political culture based on these factors alone. Generally speaking, more urban populations will lean left, while more rural populations will lean right. Primarily white populations will lean right, while non-white populations will lean left.
Public versus private institutions are a bit harder to quantify, but because private institutions are so much smaller, they tend to be either really conservative (Liberty) or really liberal (Mills College, for example).
Public universities, with their comparatively larger populations, tend to have a more representative diversity of opinions. The last qualitative factor to consider is geographic location, which has a high correlation with political identification (i.e. schools in California and the Northeast are generally more liberal, while schools in the South and Midwest are generally more conservative).
With these definitions in mind, we can consider our example schools. MSU is a public university located in the rural South with a predominantly white population. This would lead us to assume the majority of the population will lean right.
UC Berkeley, in contrast, is a public university located in urban California with a predominantly Asian population, which would lead us to assume the majority of the population will lean left.
If we apply this litmus test to the other schools above, we get a pretty good idea of what we can expect in terms of political affiliation within the student body population. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of factors affecting the average political affiliation at a university, nor is this to say that all of these qualitative factors are weighted equally. I present this argument as a contrast to the belief that all higher education centers are brainwashing factories where students are indoctrinated by the liberal faculty and administration.
I want to address a couple of more issues I have with the article before I close. The first are the (absolutely inane) quotes from former Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. In the previous article, Jindal said, "Many universities are moving away from a search for truth and towards promoting their vision of social justice."
Not only is this quote both vague and functionally meaningless, but Jindal uses dichotomous thinking to contrast his idea of "truth" with what he calls "social justice." Clearly, his perspective of "truth" does not contain any components of modern "social justice." We have no idea what he means by that, of course, because even he does not know what he means. Jindal does not explain how or why universities are “moving away from a search for truth,” or how it affects the students within that environment.
A second quote from Jindal is used later in the article, stating, "For today’s students, who come to campus already believing in inherent bias, systemic racism, gender fluidity, and the need for drastic government action to mitigate global warming, I would argue they are better served by being forced to consider the world from the perspective of smart professors and students who disagree with them." I am not entirely sure here, but it seems Jindal is implying systemic racism does not exist, or perhaps does not exist anymore. If this is indeed the implication he is making, Jindal is truly living in a bubble.
Jindal also attacks global warming, or at least “drastic government action” in response to it, by implying students should ignore the validity of overwhelming scientific evidence concerning the average increase of global temperatures and the disastrous outcome of not addressing the issue soon. However, according to Patrick Galey and Kerry Sheridan of Phys.org, the last four years have successively been the hottest on record, leading to an increase in the number of extreme weather events such as droughts, wildfires and hurricanes.
Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of our unlimited access to information is the creation of echo chambers. Anyone who wants their beliefs validated can find a group of people online who think the same way they do. This access to information can certainly lead to good things, such as increased political and social awareness and an overall higher-educated population, but it can also have disastrous consequences, like the rise of the anti-vaccine movement.
Climate change denial has many of the same characteristics as the anti-vax movement, encouraging people to "think for themselves," and to not trust “the experts/academia/media." By making climate change, for example, a primarily political issue instead of a scientific one, belief in the scientific community is constantly undermined, allowing progressively dumber and more dangerous ideas to take root (re: anti-vax movement).
As a disclaimer, this is obviously not to say people should not think for themselves, but instead it is to say the theories posited by people who have spent their whole lives studying a specific topic or phenomenon and subjecting themselves to rigorous academic requirements are most likely correct, especially when a near consensus on a topic is reached, like with climate change.
To close my article, I would like to pose a few questions to proponents of the perspective embraced by the previous article. First, what is your proposed solution for removing "irrelevant politics" from college so that "objectivity can be restored to higher education"? Surely you are not advocating for some sort of oversight committee to judge the validity or appropriateness of every comment a professor makes concerning politics, right?
Next, what is objectivity in higher education and who determines what that standard is? It is important to understand every area of science (especially the soft sciences), from economics to political science, are heavily dependent on nuanced models and near-constant argumentation within the field.
Finally, I would love to see any source claiming "academia believe conservative ideas are meritless," as I think many of my more libertarian economics and finance professors would be more than happy to explain why the government should not be involved in the business sector.
The world is not all black and white, and it surely is not a constant battle between left and right. If we engage in meaningful conversations with one another, intently listening and trying to understand the alternate viewpoint, perhaps we will come to see things differently than before; and who knows, maybe one day we will even change our mind.