Follow The Money
It would make for a catchy lead if I could say I was surprised, shocked or even disappointed by the article "Dartmouth employees open wallets for Kerry" (October 11, The Dartmouth). Those would all be better leads than my actual reaction to that article, which went something along the lines of: "No duh." But I won't lie for the sake of rhetorical effect. Anyone who couldn't predict that "Dartmouth employees open wallets for Kerry" is either entirely unfamiliar with the state of American higher education or conducting a very effective campaign of self-delusion. That the hallowed halls of academia suffer from leftward tilt is self-evident, and last week's article is just another data point to that effect.
According to the article, "Dartmouth employees have dug deep for the Kerry-Edwards campaign." Specifically, 45 people on the Dartmouth payroll have cut checks to the Democratic candidate, dumping a total of $30,500 into Kerry's coffers. In contrast, only one Dartmouth employee has contributed to President Bush's campaign -- that's a grand total of $500 for Bush compared to a full year's tuition for Kerry. (I sincerely hope that the one Bush donor isn't ostracized in the cafeteria now that his horrible secret is out.)
Dartmouth is hardly alone in showering support on John Kerry; employees throughout elite education seem to feel the same impulse. According to Time magazine, 72 percent of the $16.7 million that university employees have contributed this election has gone to Kerry and the Democratic Party. This lopsided political giving is just one of the many natural consequences of the overwhelming concentration of liberals among America's college professors and administrators. Rather than question the basic fact of liberal preponderance within American universities, defenders of the collegiate status quo are left to argue that the net effects of this ideological imbalance are benign. After all, professors and administrators are intelligent professionals who ought to be able to keep their personal politics out of the classroom. In fact, I have little doubt that most try very hard to do just that.
The problem is that personal politics isn't a faucet that can be turned on or off as lecture starts and stops. It is a mindset that colors an entire way of thinking, and -- all too often -- its effects on university discourse are pervasive and pernicious. Any given professor or administrator is likely to be liberal. His colleagues are also liberals. These people are smart and pleasant, and their views seem well reasoned. The net effect of this ideological immersion is that those political views soon cease to seem political. They don't require challenge or explanation, they simply reflect the world as it is.
Opposing viewpoints, though, become odd and illogical, beyond the pale of normal discourse. They are curiosities to be studied and debunked, rather than examined upon their merits. Maybe that's why a president who is supported by half the nation is treated as a fringe lunatic on many college campuses. Maybe it's why a group of professors actually conducted a study to determine the psychological factors "capable of contributing to the adoption of conservative ideological contents," as a 2003 article in the American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin put it. The professors' "elegant and unifying explanation" for conservatism is that it's caused by such mental defects as: "Fear and aggression[,] Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity[,] Uncertainty avoidance[,] Need for cognitive closure[ and] Terror management." According to these professors, "Hitler, Mussolini and former President Ronald Reagan were individuals, but all were right-wing conservatives because they preached a return to an idealized past and condoned inequality in some form." Only among academics would these three be tossed together as victims of some kind of conservatism syndrome; only college professors would think of conservatism as some quasi-pathological condition with underlying causes to be rooted out and understood.
In his convocation address this year, President Wright said that one of the key roles of the college is to foster intellectual discourse and debate, to challenge ideas and beliefs. "Arguments, conclusions, assumptions are tested and tested again," he said. "Ideas need to be challenged ... These years are about challenges to certainty." I could go on, but there's little point -- especially since I agree. My challenge to Wright, though, is to take a good, long, honest look at his institution and others like it, and to ask whether or not such fruitful political discussions can occur while the underlying ideological climate remains so heavily skewed towards one side. If not, President Wright, then I respectfully suggest that your colleagues have work to do.