Diversity at the University?
Colleges pride themselves, as they should, on creating a diverse and well-rounded class of students. Ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and even geography come into play in college admissions as colleges try to create a diverse, interesting class.
Diversity is undoubtedly important—college classes should be melting pots, flled with unique backgrounds and dynamic personalities. This focus on diversity is vital — homogeneity is both boring and detrimental to education—and diversity in all its forms should be celebrated.
Which is why it is so painfully ironic that our country’s best universities are completely homogeneous. Ethnic, social, and geographic diversity, to name a few, are vitally important in creating a representative and interesting class in the dorms and on the quads. This variety is essential to a well-rounded institution. But in the classroom—the ultimate center of collegiate life—no diversity can be more important than diversity of opinion, and not just political opinion. Diversity of identities, cultures, and experiences are still important, but that value comes from the fact that these differences lead to different thoughts and opinions. College is made for the exchanging of ideas and the changing and challenging of personal views. Political diversity—variety of opinion and social worldview, both within a student body and among faculty—is vital for this process. It is crucial for a truly educational experience. Such diversity is, simply put, a necessity.
And it is completely lacking, especially among the college faculty at our country’s best institutions. Over the last two decades, our universities have become increasingly politically one-sided, and this lack of political diversity has become so pronounced as to be the subject of scientifc studies. Last April, Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor at Brooklyn University, released a study of 51 of the top 66 liberal arts colleges, as ranked by US News and World Report. The ratio of liberal or Democratic professors to conservative or Republican professors, taken across the 51 colleges, was 10.4 to 1. Within the top tier of those 51, as ranked by the same publication, the ratio grew to 21.5 to 1, meaning that for every two right-leaning professors at America’s best liberal arts colleges, there are 43 left-leaning ones. At some of our country’s best liberal arts colleges—Wellesley, Williams, and Swarthmore, for example—the ratio of Democratic to Republican professors exceeded 120 to 1. And a full 39% of colleges surveyed had no right-leaning professors at all.
Liberal arts colleges, as the name suggests, tend to lean more to the left than other institutions, but the point remains. Other studies estimate the ratio of liberal to conservative professors across America’s higher-ed campuses to be somewhere between 6:1 and 12:1. Most estimates skew toward the higher end of that spectrum. And these gaps become even larger for college and university administrators. Samuel J. Abrams, a politics professor at Sarah Lawrence College, published a study where 900 college and university administrators were interviewed for their political opinions. 71% of these administrators identifed as “liberal” or “very liberal” and only 6% identifed themselves as “conservative.”
These numbers understandably vary among different areas of study. In STEM fields, the gap between right and left is much smaller— Langbert’s study found that within the field of engineering, the ratio is around 1.5 to 1. But in subjects such as law, psychology, political science, and history, there are considerably more liberal professors than conservative.
College campuses are flled with hopeful, forward-thinking students and are designed for pushing the envelope toward change. College academia will always tend to attract progressive politics, and that is not a bad thing. But what is scary is this disparity in political opinion. As John Stuart Mill said, “It is hardly possible to overrate the value ... of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. Such communication has always been...one of the primary sources of progress.” The exchange of differing ideas should be a defning feature of a college education. College should be a time of debate. It should be a place where opinions get challenged and changed, where we learn how to deal with opposing opinions. Political diversity is indisputably crucial to that process. And, regrettably, that diversity of opinion is becoming ever harder to fnd on American college campuses.