Steven F. Hayward: Conservatives & Higher Ed

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A look at what has caused the dearth of conservatives in higher education, and why we should be concerned.

The New Criterion – Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a public lecture delivered to the Center for Western Civilization at the University of Colorado at Boulder last fall upon Steven Hayward’s accession as the inaugural visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy, a three-year pilot project to introduce intellectual diversity to Colorado’s flagship campus.

Steven F. Hayward writes: The social scientist Neil Gross made a splash last year with his book Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?, which, among other things, attempted to refute the claim that conservatives face ideological discrimination in academic hiring. There is some quantitative evidence (with more on the way soon) of ideological discrimination, which Gross grudgingly acknowledges, but he then goes to great lengths to argue that it is vastly overestimated.hayward-book

[Check out Hayward’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents: From Wilson to Obama” at Amazon.com]

Steve-HaywardHe may be partly right, but not for the reasons his data-rich analysis lays out. Furthermore, Gross does not begin to reach the more important dimensions of the ideological shape of today’s humanities and social science departments that come into play before you even reach the fever swamps of race, class, and gender.

Liberals have pushed back against the charge of ideological discrimination in hiring with an entirely valid point: You guys don’t show up! There simply aren’t many conservative graduate students in the humanities and social sciences.neil-gross-book

[Check out Neil Gross‘ book Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care at Amazon.com]

If the top 200 universities set out to hire a conservative for each of their humanities departments, they’d run out after about 75; in some departments, they might run out of qualified conservative job candidates after about two. And if you can’t find newly minted Ph.D.’s for tenure track jobs, you have to poach the thin ranks of conservatives already in academia somewhere, leading to no net increase in conservative presence in universities. But while liberals can’t be blamed wholly for this, they can be blamed for acquiescing in, when not actively causing, the degradation of the humanities and social sciences in ways make academic track jobs repellent to many intellectual conservatives. Understanding what has taken place requires a three-part analysis.

First, it is necessary to take brief note of what so many are calling the “higher education bubble,” that is, the shockingly high cost of colleges and universities today. It is necessary to connect this trend with the precipitous decline in enrollment in humanities and social sciences—a 50 percent decline over the last generation. It is presumed that this decline is a direct result of education’s high cost and increasing job consciousness among students, but the decline in humanities and social science enrollment preceded the worst of higher education cost inflation. In other words, the soaring cost of college may have only aggravated a more important underlying cause.

Second, it is useful to pose a series of questions about what might be learned from the particular places where you do find conservatives in higher education—questions that are susceptible of a range of possible answers, and therefore perhaps more controversial.

Third, there is no escaping or papering over the substantive differences between the way left and right think about education itself. These differences explain a lot of things that have escaped notice, but taking these differences into account might ironically make liberalism more robust on campus.

Everyone knows what has happened to the cost of higher education: a 500 percent increase in college tuition in the last twenty-five years, while the Consumer Price Index rose just 115 percent. By contrast, health care costs have risen just 300 percent. The figure the White House put out to accompany President Obama’s speech last summer on this subject noted that, since 1983, tuition and fees at four-year public colleges have risen by 257 percent, while typical family incomes have advanced 16 percent. What is less well known is the adverse result: Today, only about 7 percent of recent college graduates come from the bottom-income quartile, compared with 12 percent in 1970, when federal aid was scarce. From a liberal egalitarian point of view, we’re going in the wrong direction…(read more)

The New Criterion


One Comment on “Steven F. Hayward: Conservatives & Higher Ed”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet A look at what has caused the dearth of conservatives in higher education, and why we should be […]


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