August 30, 2017

Anti-Conservative Bias in Academe is Real

To the Editor:

I have been a faculty member in higher education for over 40 years, and I am stunned by the ideological misrepresentation of the academy and the fallacious claims presented and utilized respectively by writers Robert Maranto and Matthew Woessner (“Why Conservative Fears of Campus Indoctrination Are Overblown,” July 31).

The progressive control of higher education along with its anti-conservatism is almost wholly throughout public higher education in the social sciences and humanities.

Let’s start with hiring: as I wrote in a column in The Baltimore Sun (“Discrimination against conservatives in higher education is ‘a mile wide and a mile deep“), “Several years ago in a survey by the University of California at Los Angeles Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), it was found that at New England universities progressive professors outnumber conservative professors by 28 to 1. Yes, that’s 28 to 1. Various other studies have found large humanities departments in major universities without a single conservative. A 2014 HERI report found that 60 percent of professors nationwide identified as left leaning and that they outnumbered right-leaning educators by 5 to 1.” The discussions and curriculum vitae of candidates reveal ideological predilections, and faculty hiring committees recognize who is politically acceptable. Add to that the applicants’ reputations, and few “mistakes” are made.

“Promotion and tenure,” ostensibly a function of publication and service and teaching evaluations, also kneels to the demands of the ideological left. It is true that some schools are worse than others – my Towson University is quite liberal but does not discriminate profoundly against conservatives or conservative points of view. Revealingly, though, I have been threatened by media people at Towson to stop providing conservative commentary or they would not help me going forward. Moreover, there was an ongoing political phenomenon of “syllabus control” at the university which was eliminated by its University Senate, but it took 3 years.

My national organization, the National Communication Association has a profound liberal dominance which slightly ebbs and flows in ideological anti-conservative domination with its leadership – it is now in a decidedly “flow” period. My list-serv of conservative academics supplies a never-ending list of horror stories of how they have to be “in the closet,” as do their even slightly conservative students in the social sciences and humanities.

The students who mostly come from left-wing high school teachers are mostly to the left, and student governments in universities are without many exceptions dominated by progressives. At my university, there has not been a conservative student leader for years.

Authors Maranto and Woessner claim, “One of the right’s main worries about campus culture is that the left’s dominance of academe is so widespread and powerful that it leads to leftist indoctrination or conservative alienation.” They claim that their Republican roots lead them to dispute without bias shutting down of conservative speakers is unrepresentative. Maybe, but as I have shown, the widespread indoctrination is largely unabated, and there are few public universities that have conservative speakers to even eliminate.

The authors claim that “undergraduates can readily identify individual professors’ ideological leanings, which helps them to be skeptical of what they are being taught.” I can only ask what world Maranto and Woessner are living in. The premise is utterly unfounded that students can readily identify all but the grossest ideological professors’ political leanings, and the argument that this leads them to be “skeptical of what they are being taught” is utterly without foundation. The great majority of students are low intensity liberal with sufficient pliability that many become more conservative when they experience the post-graduation lessons of the workaday life.

Articles from seemingly reluctant sources reassuring the academy that it is doing little wrong are a travesty. I hope the majority of discerning Chronicle readers does not fall for it.

Richard Vatz
Professor of rhetoric and communication
Towson University