The insanity on America’s college campuses appears to have abated somewhat. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE) database, university speaker disinvitations peaked in 2016 and have slowly declined since. The Niskanen Center declared that “the campus free speech crisis” ended in 2018, and Commentary magazine reported that things were “looking up on campus” in 2019. The latest education scandals often involve elementary and high schools more than college campuses.
Yet this comparative decrease in campus outrage does not mean conservatives have made any headway in academia. In fact, an exhaustive survey of bias in academia paints a horrifying picture of systemic leftist orthodoxy and demonization of conservative dissent.
Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at the University of London’s Birkbeck College and a board member at the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, insisted that despite the relative placidity of campus news, “Academic freedom is in crisis on American campuses.”
Kaufmann noted that the National Association of Scholars recorded 65 instances of professors getting disciplined or fired for protected speech in 2020, a fivefold increase from 2019. He also reported the results of his exhaustive new study from the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology. In the study, he analyzed eight comprehensive surveys of academic and graduate-student opinion across the U.S., Canada, and Britain — and the results paint an ugly picture of academic groupthink.
“High-profile activist excesses are mere symptoms of a much wider problem of progressive authoritarianism,” Kaufmann argued. His study found that roughly 1 in 3 conservative academics and graduate students have faced discipline or threats of disciplinary action. “A progressive monoculture empowers radical activist staff and students to violate the freedom of political minorities like conservatives or ‘gender-critical’ feminists, who believe in the biological basis of womanhood—all in the name of emotional safety or social justice.”
Kaufmann’s report found that political discrimination pervades academia. Four in ten American academics said they would not hire a known Trump supporter for a job. In Canada, 45 percent said so. One in three British academics said they wouldn’t hire a Brexit supporter.
Between 20 percent and 50 percent of academics and graduate students have said they would discriminate against right-leaning grant applications, journal submissions, and promotion cases. Kaufmann noted that this “virtually guarantees” conservatives will face discrimination from any four-person panel.
Pro-transgender bias seems particularly virulent. Only 28 percent of American academics said they would be comfortable sitting with a gender-critical scholar over lunch, even fewer than the 41 percent said they would sit with a Trump-voting colleague. This preference isolates academics from millions of Americans who accept the truth of biological sex over the nebulous concept of gender identity.
About 75 percent of conservative academics in the social sciences and humanities in the United States and Britain said their departments have a climate hostile to their beliefs. Nearly 40 percent of faculty members who describe themselves as centrist agree.
According to Kaufmann, only 9 percent of Trump-supporting academics said they would feel comfortable expressing their political beliefs to a colleague. Only 14 percent of U.S. academics said a Trump supporter would feel comfortable expressing his beliefs at their college or university. Seventy percent of conservative U.S. academics said they self-censor in their teaching, research, or academic discussions.
Kaufmann’s studies have found that only 5 percent of American scholars in the social sciences and humanities identify as conservative and that academics on the Left outnumber those on the right by 14 to 1 in the U.S. and Canada.
Only one in ten academics support “canceling” controversial right-wing professors by firing them from their jobs, but younger academics and doctoral candidates are more likely to support this ideological enforcement. Even without high support for outright “canceling” conservatives, the hostile ideological climate exiles right-leaning academics from the outset.
Conservative and centrist students learn that if they want a future on campus, they have to self-censor — or, more likely, they decide academia is not right for them. As Kaufmann noted, “Conservatives who think their politics wouldn’t fit are significantly less likely than others to be interested in pursing an academic career.”
“In effect, there is a feedback loop: Low viewpoint diversity reproduces the hostile climate that sustains the progressive monoculture that has developed in many faculties over the past four decades,” Kaufmann explained.
Colleges and universities don’t have to engage in controversial “cancelations.” Their leftist orthodoxy is self-perpetuating and without reform, the situation will only get worse.
Tragically, this leftist stranglehold on academia often translates to claims that conservative ideas are unscientific or false, because many of the authorities automatically exclude them from discussion.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.