Campuses failing to encompass intellectual diversity

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is author of 10 books on international and American politics, including the forthcoming “New Warfare:  Rethinking Rules for An Unruly World.”  In addition to teaching courses in international politics, international organization and law, and U.S. foreign policy, he has served as Chairperson of the Political Science Dept. at UM-St. Louis.

By Marty Rochester

First there was the vote by the American Studies Association to support a boycott of Israeli academic institutions in protest against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Then a Modern Language Association resolution censuring Israel for its discrimination against scholars working in the West Bank received majority support from the voting membership. The ASA and MLA actions, which targeted Israel and ignored far worse human rights and academic freedom violators such as Cuba and China (not to mention Hamas), were merely a manifestation of a larger problem that plagues American academia, namely the lack of commitment of many faculty members, as well as students, to true intellectual diversity.

I am referring here to the lack of diversity of ideas – in particular, the dominance of liberal ideology. All of us should be concerned about what Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish at Harvard University, recently called “the closing of the collegiate mind” and what former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his May 29 Harvard commencement address, called a form of McCarthyism.

Both were referring to the intolerance shown during the recent commencement season, when several invited speakers and honorary-degree recipients were forced to withdraw due to pressure from the left. 

These included Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state in President George W. Bush’s administration (at Rutgers University, in protest of the Iraq War); Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund (at Smith College, in protest of an “imperialistic and patriarchal” organization); Robert Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California-Berkeley (at Haverford College, in protest of his forceful handling of Occupy Wall Street campus demonstrations); and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, best-selling author of “Infidel” (in protest of her offending Muslims). 

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Never mind that Rice was the first black female ever to serve as secretary of state (yet Rutgers saw fit to pay “Jersey Shore” star Snooki $32,000 to speak in 2011), Lagarde was one of the most respected United Nations officials on the planet, Birgeneau was known as a champion of immigrant rights, and Ali had been a fierce critic of Islam’s treatment of women. 

 All had committed the sin of being perceived as too conservative. 

I recognize the importance of racial, ethnic and gender diversity, which is the usual way the term is used. Such diversity certainly enriches campus life. But arguably the most important type of diversity a university should promote is diversity of ideas. 

Many studies have shown that there tends to be a liberal hegemony that privileges left-leaning views on campus, especially in the very departments that preach the most about diversity: the humanities and social sciences, schools of education and social work. There are exceptions (for example, business schools along with the hard sciences), but universities in general suffer from a subtle “institutional liberalism” that limits the hiring of conservative professors in many fields. 

The statistics evidencing the liberal bias of the professoriate are well known. In a July 2012 article in the American Political Science Association’s journal PS: Political Science and Politics, Robert Maranto and Matthew Woessner write, “Parents who send their freshmen off to college can find comfort in knowing that their children will be exposed to all manner of experiences and viewpoints – except conservative or libertarian ideas. In much of American higher education, conservative professors have long been an endangered species.” 

The book “The Politically Correct University,” edited by Maranto, Richard E. Redding and Frederick M. Hess, states  that “Democrats and Marxists outnumber Republicans and libertarians by 3 to 1 in economics, more than 5 to 1 in political science, 10 to 1 in history and English, and well over 20 to 1 in anthropology and sociology.” 

Jonathan Zimmerman of New York University, a self-described “devout Democrat,” in an article entitled “U.S. Colleges Need Affirmative Action for Conservative Professors,” candidly notes that at the eight Ivy League schools, 96 percent of the faculty who made campaign donations in the 2012 presidential election gave to President Barack Obama. At Brown University, for example, 129 faculty members gave to Obama and just one donated to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. 

Zimmerman says it is not just an Ivy League thing – at the University of Wisconsin, only 4 percent of faculty donations since 2011 have gone to Republicans, who, after all, represent roughly half of the country. Does anyone seriously want to defend this as democracy in action?

Let me give just a couple concrete examples of how this problem plays out on my own campus, University of Missouri-St. Louis, which, thanks to Chancellor Thomas George, at least has attempted to include these concerns on its “diversity” agenda. 

Last spring, there was a conference on re-examining “American Exceptionalism,” the notion that the United States is a special country that has had a special mission in the world. It was an excellent conference that brought world-class scholars to campus, except for the fact that only one side of the argument was presented – that the U.S. is unexceptional or, to the extent we are exceptional, we have been exceptionally bad (imperialist). The opinions ranged from far left to, at best, centrist, with virtually no conservative perspective presented, even though there are several respected conservative scholars writing on this subject. 

Then there was our school of education, which a few years ago, following the lead of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, pushed a “social justice disposition” requirement on all their graduates. One can only imagine the howls from the University Senate if the business school tried to insist on a “capitalist disposition” for all its majors. The double standard here is palpable. 

No, I am not in favor of affirmative action for conservative professors. I do not like bean counting in general, but especially when it comes to establishing quotas to ensure we have a certain number of professors with a particular viewpoint. Nobody should be bringing their personal political agendas into the classroom anyway, whether left or right.

 I just want folks to be more sensitive to the need to include intellectual diversity in the “diversity” project. 

And to accord Condi with at least as much respect as Snooki.