Qu: The Need for Conservative Faculty

It pays to take classes with professors of different viewpoints.

by Dorothy Qu | 2/24/17 12:15am

I cannot distinguish the political stances of great professors, and I’m lucky enough to still not really know. However, it is no lie or exaggeration that conservative students are drawn to certain courses that reaffirm their views over others and vice versa.

Almost a year ago, my favorite opinion writer for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof, published “A Confession of Liberal Intolerance.” In this piece, he noted that there existed a dearth of conservative professors on college campuses. While I did not completely agree with his explanation of this phenomenon, I was immediately drawn to his message. As a seasoned STEM student and current government major, I recognize the importance of self-doubt and ideological flexibility. Since my exposure to Kristof’s article, I have attempted to purposefully select courses that may challenge my worldview.

This thought experiment peaked the day following the 2016 presidential election. After attending, Government 64.01, “Liberalism and its Critics,” taught by government professor Lucas Swaine, in which President Donald Trump’s supporters pledged their allegiance and trust to our then-president-elect, I attended Government 20.01, “Women and Politics”, taught by government professor Deborah Brooks. I believe the course title itself is enough for you to infer the atmosphere in the lecture hall that day.

I was not automatically more intelligent for taking Swaine’s course — which I enjoyed greatly but was ideologically challenged by. However, I was able to better develop my views on current events as they appeared before me through trustworthy sources of media. Additionally, my own understanding of and argument for my standpoint was solidified by class discussions with students of dissimilar political backgrounds. Not only did this increase my own intellectual prowess, but it created successful discourse. Was branching out not my primary reason for choosing to attend a liberal arts college?

While I hope my experiences might encourage students to take politically stimulating courses, my personal experiences have little to say about the lack of conservative professors on college campuses. In fact, New England’s shift toward liberal and progressive professors has been drastic. While the national ratio of center-left to center-right professors was two to one in 1989, in New England, it was five to one. Now, the national ratio is six to one, while the figure soared to 28 to one for New England.

Liberals like Kristof have called for higher awareness for this trend and have attributed the fact to hiring discrimination. Some conservatives, on the other hand, argue that this is the effect of their rightful disdain for the “bubbles” of college campuses, likening brilliant conservative thinkers to Socrates, unrestrained by institutions. These were the very bubbles that were completely shocked by the recent election. If these areas were sufficiently exposed to conservatism, we in liberal “archipelagos” may be better equipped to communicate with conservative “landmasses.”

Furthermore, I find analogies that conservative professors make about “being in the closet” as a conservative and “coming out” after tenure to be melodramatic and, to put it lightly, in poor taste. In “Passing on the Right” by Jon Shields and Joshua Dunn, the authors argue that most conservative professors believed that their colleges were significantly more tolerant than assumed by right-wing communities.

Dartmouth has been trapped in a paradoxical struggle with its faculty. It has struggled to retain professors of color, and this itself is driven by a negative feedback loop; a lack of diversity and geographic isolation increased problems with diversity, deterring professors of color from staying in Hanover. On the contrary, Dartmouth’s left-right professor ratio mirrors the rest of New England’s.

Academics from both ends of the spectrum frown upon “affirmative action” for hiring conservative faculty members and students have little say in the decisions of the administration. Therefore, all I can do is urge my fellow peers to take courses that may challenge their worldviews. Only then can we better our own understanding of whatever belief systems we hold and create a more cohesive channel of discussion between the left and the right. And, if and when we attain power in academia, our generation should be more aware of this disparity and encourage conservative colleagues to participate in this dialogue.

Correction appended (Feb. 24, 2017):

The original version of this column referred to the Government course "Women in Politics" as course number 70.01. The article should have stated that the course is number 20.01. This column has been updated to reflect this correction.