Higher education—dominated by left-leaning faculty—has become, in many instances, a politically charged arena that stifles free exchange of ideas and should be made more ideologically diverse with new academic programs and departments, argued scholars attending a panel discussion hosted by the American Enterprise Institute this week.
They presented essays Wednesday at the daylong conference, “Reforming the Politically Correct University,” which will be collected into a book, due out in August.
“There clearly is a problem,” said Robert Maranto, a political science professor at Villanova University who is leading the book project. He said that although most academics are “good, well-meaning people” and some schools such as Villanova are fine, many schools “limit conservative and libertarian thought” on campus.
“The two things you need is some diversity of ideological views and more tolerance for those with alternative views,” he said.
Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said that if faculty and administrators don’t act, “trustees and alumni can and should step in” to bring change. She praised several new academic programs aimed at diversifying thought on campus, such as Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions and University of Illinois at Urbana and Champaign’s new Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government. The goal, she said, isn’t to produce more Republicans but to produce educated citizens who can contemplate both sides of an issue.
Stephen Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, said programs that challenge majority opinion should be turned into actual departments. Mr. Maranto predict the first campus to create a regular faculty debate program would see “a 30 percent jump in [student] applications.”
Among the research presented, Daniel B. Klein of George Mason University and Charlotta Stern of the Swedish Institute for Social Research reviewed several studies and found that in the 1960s and 1970s, Democratic faculty outnumbered Republican faculty on college campuses by ratios ranging from 1.3 to 1, to 2.6 to 1.
“Nowadays, faculty surveys on voting report 4.5:1, 2.9:1, and 3.6;1,” their paper stated, with Democrat dominance more severe in history and sociology.
Meanwhile, a yet-to-be-released report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reviewed 346 universities and colleges and found 259, or 75 percent, have a highly restrictive free-speech code.
FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said speech codes result in students “punished for having the wrong opinion,” a trend that he said is “a threat to our democracy.”
He particularly criticized harassment policies such as those at Western Michigan University, which bans “sexism,” defined as “the perception and treatment of any person, not as an individual, but as a member of a category based on sex.”
Jeremy Mayer, director of the master’s program in public policy at George Mason University, criticized some scholars for offering little or no proof of their claims.
John Curtis, research director at the American Association of University Professors, said the presenters failed to prove that having left-leaning professors manifests in the classroom and negatively influences students’ learning.
“It’s mostly anecdotes, and I feel there’s a fair amount of overgeneralization,” he said.