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Forget politics: To save conservative values, fund universities instead

To nurture intellectual diversity, Conservatives need to plant the seeds of change. Julian Stratenschulte/DPA/PA Images

To nurture intellectual diversity, Conservatives need to plant the seeds of change. Julian Stratenschulte/DPA/PA Images

October 4, 2017   3 mins

Charles Murray, Germaine Greer, Milo Yiannopoulos. What do they have in common? Not a lot, apart from being subject to campaigns to stop them speaking at universities either in Britain or America.

Actions of this kind get a lot of attention – especially when protesters resort to violence and intimidation – but writing in the New York Times, Arthur C Brooks believes there is a “deeper, subtler intellectual problem on the modern campus…”:

“…the profound alienation of professors who don’t hold the mainstream political views and are treated as outsiders as a result.

“This is the argument of an important book titled ‘Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University.’ Written by the political scientists Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr., it gives a glimpse into the lonely lives of ideological strangers on the modern campus. While conservatives represent America’s largest ideological group, at 36 percent of the population, they constitute less than 10 percent of faculty in the social sciences and humanities — and a small fraction of that at elite private schools. Many report feeling like oddballs who never quite fit in.”

It should be added that “social sciences and humanities” is a broad category, with some disciplines – such as economics – still encompassing a wide range of ideological outlooks. However, other disciplines have become monocultural (unless you count the varieties of leftism as diversity).

As Brooks points out, there are some institutions where uniformity of belief is not a problem:

“No one believes that there is anything strange about a Christian church seeking as clergy members only those who share the congregation’s faith and theology. Buddhists may be wonderful people, but they still need not apply for the job.”

A political party might be another example. But shouldn’t academics be scholars and experimenters – and thus open to different starting positions – not preachers or campaigners? Brooks sees academia at a fork in the road:

“…which is the primary goal of universities today? They are in the process of deciding. If they decide the answer is scholarship, they must work harder to form communities that do not just tolerate conservatives but actively embrace ideological diversity. They must be willing to see conservative faculty members not as interlopers to be tolerated but as valued colleagues, worthy of promotion and appointments to leadership roles when merited.”

Brooks is optimistic that academic pluralism will win the day. Let’s hope he’s right, but if he’s not then conservatives, centrists and everyone who believes in genuine scholarship must be ready to walk away.

Funding think tanks, campaign groups and political parties is all very well, but never forget that politics is downstream of culture. Universities across the western world are being turned into leftist madrassas by people who see no distinction between teaching and indoctrination, scholarship and propaganda.

What, then, are the best principles on which to found a new university? Here are three to begin with:

  • The first and most obvious is intellectual diversity. There is no point in setting up one political ghetto against another. Rather we need campuses where philosophical pluralism is encouraged and respected.
  • The second is academic rigour – so no grade inflation, no ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees and no political programmes masquerading as academic disciplines.
  • The third is financial responsibility. We live in an age where the cost of transmitting knowledge has plummeted, often to the point of post-scarcity. Academia is the big exception. Costs have spiralled as universities exploit the gullibility of governments and employers to demand an ever higher price for the signalling function of the degrees they award. The leftwing content of the teaching provides the perfect distraction. It’s time for new institutions to use new technology to disrupt a thoroughly rotten industry.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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