Politics & Policy

Not So Diverse

The secret lives of campus conservatives.

In Monday’s University of Michigan rulings, the Supreme Court found that campus diversity was so important that it justified suspending the equal-protection clause of the Constitution to allow racial preferences. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — writing for the majority — said, “The Court endorses Justice Powell’s view that student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify using race in university admissions. The Court defers to the law school’s educational judgment that diversity is essential to its educational mission.”

Diversity is the religion of academia. It is in diversity that they place their faith and the hopes. But it is an empty faith, largely because most elite academics have no interest in the kinds of diversity that matter most. Justice Clarence Thomas, the courts lone African American, clearly understood this in his dissent. He argued that the University of Michigan is not really interested in the educational benefits of diversity, but is instead pursuing an “aesthetic” of racial mixing.

Affirmative action is hardly a new issue. The debate over racial preferences was just as loud when I was editor of my college newspaper during the ’80s. I editorialized against it back then in what I thought was a perfectly fair and balanced essay. I cited facts and figures, arguing not only that it was unfair but also that it was ultimately impractical.

But then something interesting happened that changed my understanding of the debate completely. A few days after my editorial appeared, a college administrator whom I scarcely recognized approached me in the campus coffee shop. “Are you Gabe Neville?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, not sure why he was asking.

“Having identified me, he glanced furtively around and said, “Good editorial” — and quickly walked away. I never spoke with him again.

I was a little stunned. I had never had an encounter like that one. He had the demeanor of a mole passing classified information on to an enemy agent. Thinking for a moment, I realized why. The man was scared. A man like that, an employee without the protection of tenure, wasn’t allowed to have opinions of his own.

That encounter was nearly 15 years ago, but I still think about it from time to time. The lesson I learned that day is that the freewheeling debate this is supposed to happen on college campuses is not so freewheeling at all. The marketplace of ideas has been cornered.


Harvard University’s Harvey Mansfield, one of America’s best conservative scholars of politics, was interviewed not long ago on C-SPAN’s Booknotes about translation of Democracy in America. More than once, the host, Brian Lamb, allowed him to speak about his life among the cream of modern academics.

“How many other conservative professors have you met at Harvard?” Mansfield was asked.

“About a half-dozen out of 750, say, that I know of,” was his reply.

Mansfield quickly added, “And there may be some others who are — who vote Republican in the privacy of the voting booth, when nobody’s watching you, except God. But for the most part, it’s a very liberal institution. It’s quite changed from when I first got there. It’s much more diverse in the sense of many more blacks and Hispanics and a lot more foreigners. And, of course, women are now half-and-half with men at Harvard. But as to diversity of opinion, that has gone way, way down.”

Mansfield’s wife, Delba Winthrop, collaborated with him on the Democracy in America translation. He spoke glowingly of her. Lamb asked him, “What does she do full time?”

“She teaches,” replied Mansfield, “at Harvard in the Extension School, which is a night school. She teaches a course on the same sort of thing that I do. And she also administers a program that…she and I run called the Program on Constitutional Government, which we use to bring people to Harvard who otherwise wouldn’t be invited.”

“What does that mean?” Lamb asked.

“Well, people who are not PC, people like Allan Bloom or Miss Manners or Ward Connerly…. Most of them are conservatives or are literary people like Tom Wolfe who have a — perhaps a conservative bent. But not all of them — and the, as I say, the common characteristic is that no one else will invite them.”

Lamb then asked, “Why wouldn’t they be invited if you weren’t doing this?”

“Because for most of Harvard, the Republican party or the conservative belief simply doesn’t exist.”

Harvard is by no means unique. The American Enterprise Institute recently surveyed eight academic departments at Cornell University. One hundred sixty-six professors were registered in the Democratic party or another party of the left, with just six registered in the Republican party or another party of the right. There was similar imbalance at 19 other universities in the study.

This imbalance surely can’t do much to prepare students to deal with the diversity of opinion that exists in the “real world.” Yet, while the numbers themselves are worrisome, the fervor that guards this hegemony is still more worrisome. Anyone who has the temerity to question the liberal orthodoxy, particularly on social issues, is made to feel as unwelcome as a crow in a cornfield. He will likely be accused of “insensitivity” and implications of racism and, perhaps, a few other “isms.” In the context of modern academia, being called “racially insensitive” has roughly the same import that being called a heretic had in 15th-century Spain.

It is indeed fascinating how obsessed modern academics are with race. Race, gender, and sexuality seem to be the three bases for all academic arguments today, and almost always in the context of oppression. But race is king. Accusations of male chauvinism and homophobia (a contrived word that makes no etymological sense) still do not have the sting that a charge of racism has. Rightly so, perhaps, given our national history. But academia has taken it much too far.

The result is that those who disagree with liberal orthodoxy have been effectively silenced. Conservatives are not welcome at the table, so they generally choose not to come to dinner. Those who do enter academic professions are often miserable and, like that administrator who whispered his words to me in the coffee shop, too scared to speak out loud.

In the absence of any argument from conservatives, the liberals who remain have come to believe that there is no argument. As Harvey Mansfield said, for most of academia, “the conservative belief simply doesn’t exist.” Truth be told, they are aware of conservatism. But they regard it as a relic, filed away between Alchemy and Zoroastrianism. They move about their profession, thinking very few original thoughts and arguing not about matters of substance but about matters of degree. Departments of sociology and political science are full of professors who are eager to quantify the extent of our national sins. Their immediate goal is to somehow prove just how evil and malevolent mainstream America is. Their ultimate goal is to being the rest of us troglodytes to the enlightened realization that we were wrong all along and that we should now begin to think the way they do. Self-flagellation will earn us extra credit.

They are no longer interested in the great questions of politics, culture, and philosophy that their forebears explored. All of those questions were answered for them about the same time they burned their draft cards. The question for them now is how to enlighten the rest of us. They are not dispassionate scholars. They are political activists.

In September, one of Washington’s NPR stations aired a program on political correctness and academic freedom on college campuses. Among the guests was Steve Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars. Balch cited a Carnegie Endowment for the Advancement of Teaching survey that indicated that professors of the humanities and social sciences were self-identified liberals at a ration of seven to one.

A caller from Harrisonburg, Virginia then called in to say, “I’m a tenured faculty member at a campus in Virginia. I don’t know if those data necessarily speak to the faculty that I’m around, but the larger question that I’m really interested in is: “Why?” Why would it be that all these doctoral-level people all over the county tend to lean to the left? Is it something about the process of going through a long period of education and questioning one’s own beliefs and views, and those of those around them, that leads people to having those kinds of opinions? And if so, maybe it’s not necessarily all those Left-leaning professors who are off base, but something about the political base of society as a whole. So I’m just interested in any comments on that.”

It’s hard to imagine a more arrogant statement. The host, Kojo Nnamdi, replied, “Well, I have one for you by way of E-mail from ‘Ron’ in Bethesda, who says: ‘On the issue of imbalance of academics on the left, another explanation occurs. Perhaps those who have studied social and political issues professionally have a more sophisticated grasp of these issues than laypersons. In other words, they may be right.’

The caller from Harrisonburg responded, “I would endorse that view entirely.”

And thus was formed an apparent consensus that conservatives are conservative because they are stupid. And, therefore not worthy of existing, perhaps?

Those who are so diversity-minded might take the time to look around and see the population marginalized on so many campuses. It’s not by skin color or gender that they are excluded from the mosaic, but simply because they think differently. You think they’d consider quotas for conservatives?

Gabe Neville lives and works in Washington, D.C.


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