January 31, 2005

It's not easy being a conservative teen

Kermit the Frog has it easy being green, trust me. If he were a conservative on a college campus, he would know the true meaning of having a hard time.

We live in a country where a clear majority just voted for one of the most reviled Republicans in American history, and we attend a university with a longstanding and prized reputation for free and open discourse, where people pride themselves on staying in touch with the real world. Oftentimes, however, the real world seems to take a break when political discourse finds its way onto this campus, and especially in this paper.

Some recent examples: Ashley White-Stern's assertion in a discussion of campus attitudes toward the Hyde Park community that our "colonial status is ensured by the distrust between temporary settlers"—that's us, the students—"as a precious set of imported individuals, and the native ‘other'… the dark peoples, savage and unknown"—often called community members. This article drew many negative responses from those who have performed community service in the community, including me ("University Benevolence Does Not Compensate for Lasting Inequality," 11/22/04). But I guess that to White-Stern, we're merely condescending imperialists. And God help you if you're a Bush supporter seeking a fair reflection of your views in the Maroon. From Joel Lanceta's hand-wringing after Election Day ("Liberals Must Move On and Forward," 11/5/04) to the recent lead story, "Groups Band Together to Counter Inauguration," (1/21/05) you get the impression that reasoned, fair analysis that accepts contrary views as legitimate and worthy of more than abject dismissal is a dead art on campus.As an advocate of a race-blind society, I'm not a big fan of affirmative action programs, but maybe it's time for the Maroon and the University in general to launch one in pursuit of a semblance of ideological balance. A recent national poll of 1,000 professors found them seven times more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. Here is a fresh area for the Provost's Initiative on Minority Issues (PIMI) to focus on—recruiting more conservative faculty. The problem is that conservatives on campus often don't feel as though their ideas will be accepted in serious discussions.

The uniformity of political thought and expression on college campuses has been drawing a lot of attention lately. David Horowitz has gotten an "Academic Bill of Rights" introduced into the Colorado legislature. Liberals dismiss the data, somehow implying that it means that conservatives aren't as smart. Bruce Bartlett in the National Review writes that, "The truth is that it is very, very hard to get a tenured faculty position at a university. And the hiring process is unlike anything in a private business. In most cases, one needs a unanimous vote of the professors in one's department to get tenure. This puts a high priority on intangibles like collegiality, which often translates into sharing the same politics and ideology." It is disturbing to me that this has not been discussed in the PIMI. It seems to me that this is exactly the type of thing that should be promoted: having people of different backgrounds to bring different ideas to the table. Perhaps Provost Richard Saller should take that into consideration when PIMI next convenes.

But here at the U of C, we don't need that kind of heavy-handed policing. We don't need that sort of political correctness. This is one of the world's best universities, with a deep commitment to truly open intellectual discourse. However, the pages of this paper have often raised the question of whether or not we actually are that forum. Work needs to be done.