The lament over a perceived lack of conservative viewpoints and representation within American higher education is nothing new. William F. Buckley bemoaned the left’s ideological dominance in academia in his 1951 book, God and Man at Yale. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, the de-legitimization of Marxian Communist governance, and the broad acceptance of global capitalism by governments and economies worldwide—developments that conservatives applaud—skepticism and negative opinions regarding higher education have grown among Republicans. I believe that there are certain broad policies and guidelines that can help ameliorate this hostility that those on the political right feel toward academia.

The perception that American colleges and universities lean left on average is not simply a product of unfounded hysteria. A rigorous sociological survey of approximately 3,000 professors from U.S. universities from the early 2000s found that 44 percent of respondents self-identified as liberals, 46 percent as moderates, and only 9 percent as conservatives. Whether or not these findings disturb you is obviously partially dependent on your personal political beliefs, but the resultant mistrust and anti-intellectualism among a large segment of the population are certainly bad developments.

What should be done to mitigate this? I do not believe that it is possible or beneficial for universities generally, or for Columbia specifically, to enforce a strict ideological diversity template for professors, ensuring that their political views are broadly reflective of the general population’s views. However, I believe that it is beneficial for all, regardless of one’s political beliefs, for the University to make some positive effort to hire and give tenure to professors with contrasting political opinions, some of whom hold centrist and conservative positions. However, they must be willing to uphold intellectual honesty, engage in civil discourse, and agree on some caliber of demonstrable fact in order for their presence to be a good thing.

This condition is particularly relevant in the age of Trump, when a large portion of the Republican electorate has turned to fake news and overt conspiracy rather than fact. Pizzagaters and young-earth creationists should not be considered for professorships in our political science and biology departments, just as liberal anti-vaxxers should not be part of the School of Public Health. However, aversion to hiring all those who do not conform to preconceived liberal ideals encourages the stratification of American political thought into the liberal elite and the reactionary, anti-intellectual right, shutting out the much-needed voices of conservative critics of the Trump presidency.

When discussing the subject of ideological diversity on campus, it is important to recognize that there is a broad and diverse intellectual spectrum within what could be broadly categorized as “the left.” There are avowed Marxists studying conflict theory in the sociology department, and there are economic liberals advocating a market-based economy with a social safety net in the economics department.

A particularly relevant example of the diversity of liberal opinion is the debate surrounding free speech. This op-ed endorsing free speech by the board of Columbia University College Democrats, published in the wake of the controversy surrounding Columbia University College Republicans’ recent lineup of speakers, was met with immense opprobrium by other leftists on campus, and was eventually retracted. In the age of Trump, where political polarization is at an all-time high, I agree with the original op-ed’s position that a commitment to free speech and dialogue is indispensable.

A comprehensive free speech policy like Columbia’s encourages dialogue between the two sides of the political spectrum and increases the likelihood for bipartisanship and compromise. While unobtrusive protest, intellectual dissent, and disagreement are good things, I believe that shutting down the speech of those with whom we disagree drives away those who could be persuaded otherwise, inadvertently legitimizes radical, fringe opinions, and promotes reactionary movements like the one that elected Trump. Decrying free speech can also backfire, as speech codes can be used against those who advocate for them. In the classroom, professors should be encouraged to openly debate with and not simply shut down students who hold unpopular or controversial opinions, if they express them in a respectful and open-minded manner.

With these broad guidelines and policies for professors and students in place, Columbia can continue to uphold the classical liberal ideals of debate, conversation, and exposure to the marketplace of ideas upon which the university system was founded. Political conservatives and moderates, while they may continue to make up a minority of students at this institution, will not feel shunned by the institution itself, and tangible progress in the political domain will be made possible.

The lament over a perceived lack of conservative viewpoints and representation within American higher education is nothing new. William F. Buckley bemoaned the left’s ideological dominance in academia in his 1951 book, God and Man at Yale. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, the de-legitimization of Marxian Communist governance, and the broad acceptance of global capitalism by governments and economies worldwide—developments that conservatives applaud—skepticism and negative opinions regarding higher education have grown among Republicans. I believe that there are certain broad policies and guidelines that can help ameliorate this hostility that those on the political right feel toward academia.

The perception that American colleges and universities lean left on average is not simply a product of unfounded hysteria. A rigorous sociological survey of approximately 3,000 professors from U.S. universities from the early 2000s found that 44 percent of respondents self-identified as liberals, 46 percent as moderates, and only 9 percent as conservatives. Whether or not these findings disturb you is obviously partially dependent on your personal political beliefs, but the resultant mistrust and anti-intellectualism among a large segment of the population are certainly bad developments.

What should be done to mitigate this? I do not believe that it is possible or beneficial for universities generally, or for Columbia specifically, to enforce a strict ideological diversity template for professors, ensuring that their political views are broadly reflective of the general population’s views. However, I believe that it is beneficial for all, regardless of one’s political beliefs, for the University to make some positive effort to hire and give tenure to professors with contrasting political opinions, some of whom hold centrist and conservative positions. However, they must be willing to uphold intellectual honesty, engage in civil discourse, and agree on some caliber of demonstrable fact in order for their presence to be a good thing.

Ethan Hastings is a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and (apparently) a Bachelor of Science in economics. His hobbies include not waking up for his 1 p.m. classes and amassing a fan base in the Spectator comments section. You can reach out to him at ehh2133@columbia.edu to solicit his opinion (but not his money).

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By ETHAN HASTINGS
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Vera Wang / Columbia Daily Spectator

Discourse & Debate: Negative opinions of higher education

Reports suggest that opinions on higher education are growing increasingly negative among conservative Americans. What can the University do to counteract this? Should it be concerned at all about this polarization? Has the University strayed far enough from its intended mission that it is now unrecognizable for many? Is there a way to appease populations that increasingly reject the foundational tenets of the University?

Conservatives have sought to and succeeded at historically oppressing various groups, including black people, women, poor citizens, immigrants, etc. (So have liberals, so don’t think liberals are off the hook.) They make up the group that idolizes Mr. Let’s-demonize-and-lock-up-minorities-for-life Ronald Reagan. They make up the group that believes women should not be in control of their own bodies. They make up the group that believes members of the LGBTQIA+ community should not have basic fundamental rights.

Conservatives have become disillusioned to institutions that aim to critique historical power structures and foster the inclusion of historically marginalized individuals because they stand to benefit from old inequitable systems. They wish to go back to the good old days when they could openly call minorities slurs to their faces and strip them of their rights with impunity. Yes, there are conservatives who are minorities, but I’m focusing on the white conservative majority, which masquerades its hateful views as intellectual diversity.

Modern-day conservatives have branded themselves as agitators against politically correct culture. Think Tomi Lahren, Ben Shapiro, Milo Yiannopoulos, and countless others, whose whole ideological framework is built upon demonizing anything that is enjoyed by minorities, including rap music, Black Panther, and basic human rights.

The disillusionment of conservatives stems from their sense of entitlement. Since white people’s Founding Fathers told them that rich white men were the only people worthy of positions in elite institutions, equality feels like oppression to them. Conservatives falsely perpetuate the narrative that their ideologies are under attack by the University. Comparing the lack of representation of marginalized minorities to the lack of representation of conservative individuals creates a false equivalence. Universities should not make it their duty to implement some sort of affirmative action programs to groups that are not in any way oppressed.

There have not been any systems put into place to silence conservatives on college campuses, especially at Columbia. The University allowed Columbia University College Republicans to bring white supremacists to campus and promised to sponsor their security fees. Just because conservative students get shot down by their classmates for defending Aristotle’s ideas regarding natural slavery—I can personally assure you this has happened—does not mean that they are oppressed. Let’s not compare hurt egos with actual oppression.

No, we do not have to respect the harmful ideas of conservatives for the sake of “intellectual diversity.” Some conservatives are lucky that we choose to spend precious oxygen on their often ignorant and ill-intentioned comments. They’re lucky we don’t bark them out of the room like the Jabari tribe in Black Panther.

If conservatives want to have a conversation about increasing representation of those from Appalachia who are rarely in contact with the minorities they seem to hate so much, then so be it. Trump built his campaign upon the historical divide of working class white Americans and minorities. Dialogue between working class whites and minorities on college campuses has the opportunity to foster progress. All I know is that it is not my job to advocate for an ideology which endangers my future through its tolerance of hatred.

Even the Mike Pence brand of so-called respectable conservatism is sinister. Just because these Republicans utilize policy instead of tweets to espouse bigotry does not mean we have to respect their views. Remember, Mike Pence supports conversion therapy and opposed “legislation aimed at supporting women and minorities.”

Maybe conservative arguments cannot hold up in the classroom because they just aren’t strong enough. Personally, as long as conservatives do not interfere with my own and other people’s civil liberties, then they can say and do what they want. In a world that allows me to consume art such as Black Panther and anything Beyoncé puts out, I refuse to waste my time worrying about the feelings of entitled conservatives. It’s time that conservatism either evolves to be less hateful or finally breathes its last breath.

Conservatives have sought to and succeeded at historically oppressing various groups, including black people, women, poor citizens, immigrants, etc. (So have liberals, so don’t think liberals are off the hook.) They make up the group that idolizes Mr. Let’s-demonize-and-lock-up-minorities-for-life Ronald Reagan. They make up the group that believes women should not be in control of their own bodies. They make up the group that believes members of the LGBTQIA+ community should not have basic fundamental rights.

Conservatives have become disillusioned to institutions that aim to critique historical power structures and foster the inclusion of historically marginalized individuals because they stand to benefit from old inequitable systems. They wish to go back to the good old days when they could openly call minorities slurs to their faces and strip them of their rights with impunity. Yes, there are conservatives who are minorities, but I’m focusing on the white conservative majority, which masquerades its hateful views as intellectual diversity.

Modern-day conservatives have branded themselves as agitators against politically correct culture. Think Tomi Lahren, Ben Shapiro, Milo Yiannopoulos, and countless others, whose whole ideological framework is built upon demonizing anything that is enjoyed by minorities, including rap music, Black Panther, and basic human rights.

Heven Haile is a first-year in Columbia College studying political science and African-American history. She is a first-year representative for the Black Students’ Organization and a member of the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association. Her hobbies include blissfully listening to Frank Ocean and Solange in a dark room, destroying oppressive systems, and stanning black women on Twitter.

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By HEVEN HAILE
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The general public attitude towards conservatism is surely in decline. Consider the most visible figures whom we associate with the philosophy. The president, in keeping with his role as everyone’s cretinous uncle, thinks with little regard for fact and a parodic sort of bigotry. Purveyors of ill-founded conservative opinion, even after having expressed and amply demonstrated an indifference toward reading, are treated as public intellectuals. Perhaps most dire, conspiracy theorists hold an inimical sway over the political right which exceeds that of the John Birch Society in its prime, with their influence extending all the way to the aformentioned president.

The other side of the doxastic fence hardly looks more appealing. Though progressives offer much to criticize, for our purpose it will suffice to turn our attention to our own University’s reactions to conservatism, most evident when an event scandalous enough to warrant news coverage occurs there. We will see that student activists too often favor violence and obstruction; that genuine attempts at discussion are met with clamorous obloquy; that the scope of acceptable debate risks being profoundly straitened; and that things burn and break when the wrong speaker is invited to campus.

A conservative might look at universities and regard them as vectors for progressive orthodoxy of a coercive nature and strident timbre. And the image of conservatism that a progressive might glean from the media depicts a fearsomely arrayed coalition of bigots and simpletons.

The more objectionable the right appears, the more extreme the left will become, and in turn the right’s perception of institutions with which the left is associated will worsen. The data, which shows Republican sentiment toward higher education deteriorating after 2015, bear out this cycle. Donald Trump’s rise has been equated by many to a loosening of the valves of prejudice and authoritarianism, and it is reasonable to suppose that this has intensified the outlook of progressive students. As a result, progressive students are more likely to engage in behavior that dismays or inflames the right and disposes them against higher education.

Because perception is central to this problem, our solutions should aim to improve impressions across the political spectrum. Individually, this means that thoughtful conservatives and progressives should criticize their allies when they go wrong. Critiques from those who are ideologically closer to the erring party not only have a better chance of being heard, but they also convey to outsiders that the political group in question is motivated by a search for the truth rather than partisan sympathies.

Institutions have a sizable role to play as well. Along with maintaining hiring practices that value ideological diversity, schools should consider forming task forces to help foster understanding among students of different political leanings. This would be accomplished partly through conversations facilitated by nonpartisan leaders. The aim of these conversations would not be to convert others to one’s political viewpoint, but to understand why people think the way they do and to see that those we disagree with are not morally irredeemable.

Improving the political right’s notion of higher education is vital. By welcoming and cultivating thinkers of various creeds, the University exposes its students to opinions that differ from their own. This is necessary for intellectual progression, and students will benefit from classmates and instructors who can present disparate arguments. The grimmest alternative is to live submerged in the murk of dogma, never broaching to see the light contained in viewpoints we have not considered. With the hostile partisanism of our current political climate, this alternative is inching menacingly nearer to reality.

The general public attitude towards conservatism is surely in decline. Consider the most visible figures whom we associate with the philosophy. The president, in keeping with his role as everyone’s cretinous uncle, thinks with little regard for fact and a parodic sort of bigotry. Purveyors of ill-founded conservative opinion, even after having expressed and amply demonstrated an indifference toward reading, are treated as public intellectuals. Perhaps most dire, conspiracy theorists hold an inimical sway over the political right which exceeds that of the John Birch Society in its prime, with their influence extending all the way to the aformentioned president.

The other side of the doxastic fence hardly looks more appealing. Though progressives offer much to criticize, for our purpose it will suffice to turn our attention to our own University’s reactions to conservatism, most evident when an event scandalous enough to warrant news coverage occurs there. We will see that student activists too often favor violence and obstruction; that genuine attempts at discussion are met with clamorous obloquy; that the scope of acceptable debate risks being profoundly straitened; and that things burn and break when the wrong speaker is invited to campus.

Shane Brasil-Wadsworth is a junior in Columbia College who is studying philosophy and history. His other policy proposals include the commissioning of a task force to restore tortilla chips of an acceptable consistency to John Jay Dining Hall.

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By SHANE BRASIL-WADSWORTH

In a country that is becoming increasingly politically polarized, where everyone can seek out the comfort of their own echo chambers, universities are meant to be one of the last places where different perspectives are actively sought. In order for society to progress, this diversity of thought must be championed, even by those in the ideological majority. If conservatives cannot workshop their ideas in the relatively safe space of the classroom, how can we expect them to participate in productive dialogues or reevaluate their viewpoints?

Much of the right’s antipathy toward higher education rests on a fundamental assumption: Columbia University—and the Ivy League in general—is an inherently liberal institution. Yet there is plenty of evidence that Columbia supports the rights of its right-leaning students. The University has continued to accommodate Columbia University College Republicans’ right to free speech, though the club has increasingly chosen to invite incendiary speakers. And the University’s refusal to bargain with the graduate student union, just months after the National Labor Relations Board became markedly more Republican, suggests that administrators do more than merely tolerate conservative principles.

The perception that most college students are liberals is also unfounded. A 2017 UCLA study found that over 40 percent of college first-years consider themselves non-partisan. At Columbia, we are quick to label and deride each other as either Marxists or members of the alt-right, but the reality is much more nuanced. During our D&D debate on this very topic, a majority of contributors were hesitant to label themselves as either “Democrat” or “Republican.”

The misconception probably arises from class discussions, in which a combination of self-fulfilling prophecies and vicious cycles stifles debate. Students believe that the majority of their peers are liberals, so they feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts that align with Democratic values; this in turn makes the class seem even more liberal. But, if only liberal viewpoints are being espoused in class, two-thirds of the class could feel alienated from the discussion.

Part of Columbia College’s mission statement describes the Core’s seminar-style classes as an opportunity in which students ought to develop “the essential ability for engagement in an increasingly diverse and rapidly changing world.” Dialogue is a fundamental aspect of engagement. How many times have we held our tongues in a Lit Hum or CC class when we had a dissenting opinion because we felt that a productive dialogue was impossible? It’s time that we stop assuming that the “other side” is incapable of rational debate. This kind of groupthink is dangerous because it breeds both complacency and resentment.

Therefore, the impetus falls not on the University, but on the students themselves to create a more respectful learning environment for people across the political spectrum. Students in the ideological majority must wield their influence judiciously during discussions, remembering that universities are a democratic institution, and one of the tenets of democracy is majority rule, minority rights. Viewpoints from conservative and even far-right classmates should be heard. Instead of rolling your eyes and immediately tuning out your MAGA-hat wearing classmate, try actually listening to what he’s saying. Of course, these views can be critiqued, but they should not be rejected merely because they represent a traditionally “right” or “left” position.

I’m not optimistic that this polarization can be changed through programming, i.e. student-organization-sponsored forums or events. Dozens of politicians and political theorists give talks at CU every semester, but they mostly preach to the choir—or worse, perpetuate an “us versus them” mentality. Change isn’t going to happen if we keep giving a platform to media stars who’ve made their brand out of being firebrands and who provoke controversy because it’s the only way they can stay relevant. It’s going to come from engaging with our peers, who are much more open-minded and nuanced than most pundits think.

That’s why stifling the voices of conservative and independent students isn’t just wrong, it’s short-sighted. College is a place where our beliefs and opinions about the world are still in flux. We aren’t all Republicans and Democrats, and if we want to alter the outside world’s perspective, we have to be open to changing our own.

In a country that is becoming increasingly politically polarized, where everyone can seek out the comfort of their own echo chambers, universities are meant to be one of the last places where different perspectives are actively sought. In order for society to progress, this diversity of thought must be championed, even by those in the ideological majority. If conservatives cannot workshop their ideas in the relatively safe space of the classroom, how can we expect them to participate in productive dialogues or reevaluate their viewpoints?

Much of the right’s antipathy toward higher education rests on a fundamental assumption: Columbia University—and the Ivy League in general—is an inherently liberal institution. Yet there is plenty of evidence that Columbia supports the rights of its right-leaning students. The University has continued to accommodate Columbia University College Republicans’ right to free speech, though the club has increasingly chosen to invite incendiary speakers. And the University’s refusal to bargain with the graduate student union, just months after the National Labor Relations Board became markedly more Republican, suggests that administrators do more than merely tolerate conservative principles.

Mimi is a junior in Columbia College studying creative writing. She likes to write opinion pieces, satire, and thinly-veiled autobiographies. Love letters can be sent to mae2160@columbia.edu.

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By MIMI EVANS

I grew up in South Carolina, a red state, and attended a college preparatory school where college—regardless of whatever political ideology it supposedly represents—was the obvious next step after high school. Although, that was not necessarily the prevailing mindset of those in my area. In fact, my parents once told a colleague that I would be attending Columbia, and the lady responded with, “You’re really going to let her go to that liberal school?” I assume that to her, the protesting and advocacy in which many Columbia students partake would somehow poison my impressionable, 17-year-old mind. And while my parents and I laugh about that interaction now, the woman’s genuine aversion to a university like Columbia alludes to a deeper, general distrust that many have for institutions of higher learning.

The belief among the majority of Republicans that higher education may somehow be detrimental to the trajectory of this nation is undoubtedly biased. The “negative” trajectory could be referring to the election of the nation’s first black president or the growing societal acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community or other progressive reforms. Regardless of interpretation, this mindset—perpetuated by conservative media—derives from a general prejudice to dissenting ideologies; and instead of attacking the ideas, conservatives wrongfully attack institutions of learning.

While institutions such as Columbia tend to be left-leaning, the understanding of universities as liberal indoctrination centers is extremely flawed. However, this perception was not created in a vacuum, and may reflect a flawed representation and participation of the conservative minority on liberal arts campuses. Universities, including Columbia, should create a more politically integrated community that does not necessarily cater to the greater prejudices this belief may suggest, but allows for the development of a politically diverse culture through the propagation of structured, ideologically diverse discourse.

Reports have shown that Republicans who have graduated from college hold a more negative view of higher education than those who never attended or dropped out; and from my observation of the political dynamics at Columbia, it is not surprising. With the majority of professors and college-aged students reporting as left-leaning, Republicans are in the minority on college campuses. For many of these students, this may be their first experience in a situation in which they lack social influence. Often, these conservative students serve as an oppositionary voice in class discussions or an antagonistic (and sometimes offensive) presence on campus, as is the case at Columbia.

Existing as one of these students in an environment so ideologically disparate from your own views may create a sense of resentment, which then translates into enmity regarding universities in general. However, divergent thought need not be purely reactionary, and the hatred espoused from such a dynamic is regressive to the overall culture of institutions of higher education. And while University administrations may not play a large role in the social aspects of these students’ lives, events and initiatives should be held to promote substantive political discussion.

But, despite the hope for more ideologically diverse college campuses, the idea that any form of education is somehow frivolous is dangerous and promotes insular thinking that should be repudiated. Republicans’ disdain for higher education directly contradicts their ideals for a better America, as education is a key element that ensures our nation’s success. One of our most revered Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, even affirmed that acquiring knowledge is essential to our government, stating: “An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.” While he alluded to the necessity for the mass public education of American citizens, he indubitably would have rejected the notion that education in any capacity impairs the nation’s trajectory. One could even claim that such a belief is not only woefully uninformed, but also un-American.

No university, including Columbia, should seek to appease those who disavow the value of higher education. These institutions should instead advocate for ideological exchange through intellectual discussion among political parties. I recognize the confounding factors that may prevent such a phenomenon from presently succeeding, but perhaps, with continued effort from both sides of the political spectrum, the dissent for higher education will one day be abated into irrelevancy.

I grew up in South Carolina, a red state, and attended a college preparatory school where college—regardless of whatever political ideology it supposedly represents—was the obvious next step after high school. Although, that was not necessarily the prevailing mindset of those in my area. In fact, my parents once told a colleague that I would be attending Columbia, and the lady responded with, “You’re really going to let her go to that liberal school?” I assume that to her, the protesting and advocacy in which many Columbia students partake would somehow poison my impressionable, 17-year-old mind. And while my parents and I laugh about that interaction now, the woman’s genuine aversion to a university like Columbia alludes to a deeper, general distrust that many have for institutions of higher learning.

The belief among the majority of Republicans that higher education may somehow be detrimental to the trajectory of this nation is undoubtedly biased. The “negative” trajectory could be referring to the election of the nation’s first black president or the growing societal acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community or other progressive reforms. Regardless of interpretation, this mindset—perpetuated by conservative media—derives from a general prejudice to dissenting ideologies; and instead of attacking the ideas, conservatives wrongfully attack institutions of learning.

Avah Toomer is a sophomore in Columbia College majoring in medicine, literature, and society and concentrating in Francophone studies. She hopes that she broached this subject respectfully, without presuming or invalidating anyone’s experiences. She urges you to email her at ast2166@columbia.edu about any and all issues you may find with her piece.

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By AVAH TOOMER

To respond to this installment of Discourse & Debate, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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