Conservative students and professors have long felt the need to downplay, disguise or hide their true political leanings
We have long known that the university campus and large parts of the academy are a hostile environment – an unsafe space, if you will – for those of a conservative mindset, student and professor alike.
One recent study identified just eight right-leaning academics in the field of social psychology and a ratio of 36 liberal to 1 conservative-leaning professors.
Emma Green at The Atlantic introduces an interesting conversation with the authors of “Passing On The Right”, a book about the difficulties faced by conservative university professors who find themselves very much in the minority on campus:
The assumption that most college campuses lean left is so widespread in American culture that it has almost become a caricature: intellectuals in thick-rimmed glasses preaching Marxism on idyllic grassy quads; students protesting minor infractions against political correctness; raging professors trying to prove that God is, in fact, dead. Studies about professors’ political beliefs and voting behavior suggest this assumption is at least somewhat correct. But Shields and Dunn set out to investigate a more nuanced question: For the minority of professors who are cultural and political conservatives, what’s life actually like?
Finding out wasn’t easy, in part because so many conservative professors are—as they put it—closeted. Some of the people they interviewed explicitly said they identify with the experience of gays and lesbians in having to hide who they are. One tenure-track sociology professor even asked to meet Shields and Dunn in a park a mile away from his university. “When the sound of footsteps intruded on our sanctuary, he stopped talking altogether, his eyes darting about,” they write. “Given the drama of this encounter, one might think that he is concealing something scandalous. In truth, this professor is hiding the fact that he is a Republican.”
These professors – the vanishingly small number of conservatives who even bother pursuing careers in the social sciences – are not only scared of their students. That much is a relatively new development. They are also scared of their peers in academia, and their bosses in university leadership roles.
A historian at an elite research university, for example, said he was initially denied tenure on account of his political views. He discovered that a colleague had in a letter referred to him as an “appalling Eurocentric conservative” for suggesting to students that North Korea should be blamed for the Korean War. Another extremely productive sociologist was voted down for tenure by his colleagues and dean, only to have the vote reversed by a provost — due in part to some liberal colleagues who cried foul at the process. One such colleague reportedly told the sociologist in question, “Your religion, your politics, entered into the discussion for tenure and basically a lot of extraneous things were not relevant to [your] performance were questioned.” That professor and others with similar experiences said they initially — and perhaps naïvely — thought that their research, teaching and service records would speak for themselves come tenure time, and that writing occasional essays for conservative publications or otherwise “showing” their views wouldn’t matter.
So this is the famous liberal tolerance. And now, compounding this hostile environment, we have the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics to contend with.
The Right cannot afford to continue surrendering the academy to their opponents. Neither it is in the interests of the Left to wield such dominance, for their ability to debate and innovate sensible new policy is already starting to atrophy through lack of a conservative counterpoint.
It’s time for a fightback.
More Tales From The Safe Space here.
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Sam, I do think you have a serious point here. Its a bit like the ‘shy conservatives’ before the last election.
I can understand the phenomenon. Amongst my friends, I tend to keep quiet about my views on the junior doctors’ strike/ the refugee crisis/ the NHS etc etc etc. When it comes to talking about the EU, I just cant help putting my view….. (LEAVE!!!! the sooner the better, before its too late) but nobody seems that bothered. My friends and I are expats, in France, and most of them worry about medical treatment etc. although I do try to reassure them.
One of my daughters is a student (and BOY, do I identify with your safe spaces blogs…….) and she will not even discuss the matter, as she says I am bullying her! She is for Remain, natch. The other daughter is not that fussed, but I think will vote to Leave. (I myself am disenfranchised, having lived in France for more than 15 years…..)
My 2 sisters cant really be bothered with the whole thing. Sigh. One brother in law didnt even bother to vote in the Scottish Independance referendum……. can you imagine????
So, if my job relied on being right-on in every way, I suppose I would be right-on……. until I got into the voting booth!
Thank you so much for your wonderful blog.
Many thanks as always for reading and sharing your own experiences – it must be incredibly frustrating that your university-age daughter has been swept up into this culture of identity politics and social justice – though one hopes that most will grow out of it as they leave university and are forced to live in the real world. When I was at university my own political views were quite different to my mother’s, but we were always able to debate these things. Sadly, for many people this debate is no longer possible for the reasons you cite – any disagreement is taken as “bullying”.
I also feel your pain re. talking politics with friends. I frequently find myself having to make judgement calls – is it worth speaking up and stating my disagreement, or is it easier to stay silent and let the left-wing ranting continue over my head. The answer on any given day depends on my mood, and how willing I am to spend the rest of whatever social event I am attending being looked at like I keep a basement full of Nazi memorabilia or something, simply for holding fairly unexciting conservative views.
Thanks again for your interesting contribution!