May 28, 2021 - 10:35am

Trust in universities has nosedived in America since 2015 among Republican voters, and the Right-wing media’s focus on the excesses of Left-modernist ideology on campus — from diversity statements to activist dismissal campaigns to no-platformings — is arguably a major reason. A growing number of red states are now legislating to reform or cut the budgets of their state universities.

Meawhile, the progressive Left is continuing to stick its fingers in its ears, doubling down on the narrative that this is a Right-wing moral panic designed to divide and conquer the electorate, while denying the overwhelming reality of Left-wing domination on campus. “The right is not underrepresented in higher education; in fact, the opposite is true,” is the astounding claim made by Asheesh Kapur Siddique in Teen Vogue this week. “The modern American university,’ he claims, “is a Right-wing institution”!

He baldly asserts that the political preferences of academics have “little to do with the production of academic knowledge or the day-to-day workings of the university — including what happens in classrooms.” While survey evidence suggests academics are generally fair in class, their politics most certainly does shape what research questions they ask, the range of answers they report, the orthodoxies they uphold, and the classes they offer to teach. How else can we explain the surge in academic output on race and gender since the late 1980s, and especially since 2015?

Siddique’s gambit involves redefining the university as its top layers, rather than its faculty or students. The campus, we are told, is actually shaped by trustees from the corporate world whose Right-wing outlook informs hiring decisions. ‘Right’ here is redefined in 1980s terms to mean capitalist while the anti-white male cultural radicalism that encompasses ‘woke’ corporate America escapes her materialist definition of ‘Left’. Eschewing systematic evidence, Siddique’s one data point is the denial of tenure to Nikole Hannah Jones, author of the New York Times’ much-criticised 1619 Project.

University managers shouldn’t have meddled with the Jones decision and do sometimes exercise influence. Figures from the business world do sit on boards of trustees. Yet managerialism is more of a problem in lower-ranked, less influential, universities. Moreover, academics often move into university administration, where they take key operational decisions. Departments usually determine who gets hired even if a management rep has a seat at the table. All a far cry from the corporate world.

Meanwhile, teaching and research in social science and humanities subjects leans heavily Left. The university sector’s failure to increase viewpoint diversity or control progressive authoritarianism is eroding trust in universities and fuelling populist resentment. The sooner universities and other elite cultural institutions get their head out of the sand the better their chance of instituting the reforms that are needed to dampen a growing and justifiable backlash.

Eric Kaufmann is Professor at the University of Buckingham, and author of the upcoming Taboo: Why Making Race Sacred Led to a Cultural Revolution (Forum Press UK, June 6)/The Third Awokening: A 12-Point Plan for Rolling Back Progressive Extremism (Bombardier Books USA, May 14).