Growing up, I was told that college wasn’t just where the best and brightest should go, but also anyone who didn’t want to be a massive loser. While colleges tended to foster liberal ideas, conservatives certainly could find their place at many institutions of higher learning. Even most liberal professors would engage in intellectual debate with conservative students without rancor.
Of course, those days are long over. Today, colleges are actively hostile toward right-leaning students. Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle — noting that conservative support for the college experience has cratered from 58 percent to 36 percent in just a few years — addresses the situation:
Looking at this poll, Philip Bump of the Washington Post blames this on the focus “by conservative media on tensions at universities.”
“Conservative media,” he adds, “focused its attention on the idea of ‘safe spaces’ on college campuses, places where students would be sheltered from controversial or upsetting information or viewpoints. This idea quickly spread into a broader critique of left-wing culture, but anecdotal examples from individual universities, such as objections to scheduled speakers and warnings in classrooms, became a focal point.”
It’s the sort of theory that may sound plausible on first read, except … see the first sentence of this column. Conservatives in the media have been complaining about liberals in academia for a very long time — just about as long, in fact, as academia has been trending liberal. After all, William F. Buckley rose to fame, and midwifed the modern conservative movement, after writing “God and Man at Yale.” As the book’s title suggests, it complained that elite educational institutions were excessively secular, collectivist and disposed toward government intervention in the economy. It was first published in 1951.
So what changed?
Well, McArdle argues — and I completely agree — that colleges went from being places with a simple liberal bent to becoming dangerously hostile towards any right-of-center thought. We’ve seen riots because of right-leaning speakers at Berkeley and Middlebury. College campuses have made it clear that conservative and libertarian thinkers are persona non grata.
That’s not all, however:
Indeed, schools’ responses to leftists’ riots have been: to make it maximally inconvenient for conservatives to speak (or be heard); to deliver a slap on the wrist against violent protests; and to allow students to corner, bully and imprecate upon professors.
Academia is a left-wing institution, and I suspect that when the people in charge of it look at left-wing protesters, they see basically good-hearted kids who are overexuberant in their pursuit of the common good. And who wants to wreck the lives of a nice kid who made a bad mistake out of the best possible motives?
Whatever the reason that this has been allowed to happen, the picture that emerges from these events is of an academia where orderly conservatives are unwelcome, but disorderly — even violent — leftists are tolerated. No wonder conservatives’ opinion of academia is falling.
There has also been targeted violence against right-leaning students. I’ve lost count of how many stories I’ve written regarding violence and threats of violence against conservative college kids, yet these cases appear to be routinely ignored by college administrations.
It’s unlikely that conservatives and libertarians will completely ignore college as a viable pathway following high school — but only because so many careers require it. My son’s desire to design and build robotic prosthesis for amputees requires a minimum of four years of college, which means I’ll have to send him off into academia’s “loving” embrace. There’s no way around it.
However, conservatives with different interests are taking a new look at trade schools as viable alternatives. The lack of progressive silliness infesting every aspect of those institutions, and the solid preparation for the working world, makes them a wise choice. Leftism has destroyed much of academia — let it die financially on its own.