Scott Brown and the Liberal Campus

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Tufts JoeBehrSoCal flickr.jpg
Another surprise from the Massachusetts senatorial race: the paradoxical power of professorial politics. Many conservatives resent what they consider the hold of tenured, indoctrinating radicals on the college curriculum. But Tufts University, the alma mater of the victor, Scott Brown, is one of America's most politically liberal colleges, edging out Martha Coakley's Williams, and clearly beating Harvard and Yale, according to the Web site myplan.com. Of course Mr. Brown studied at Tufts 30 years ago, but even then it was starting to soar under the new leadership of the distinguished French-born nutritionist and World War II hero Jean Mayer, who had long been on record as favoring (according to his 1993 New York Times obituary):

a nationwide extension of food-assistance programs for the poor, a minimum annual income of $5,500 for a family of four, a national system for health and disability insurance, increased nutrition education, a 50 percent increase in Social Security benefits and mandatory enrichment of basic foods.

Whatever these convictions meant to Tufts students at the time, Brown hasn't been talking to the press about them. The rescue efforts of the National Guard during the Blizzard of 1978 made a much bigger impression on him.

Liberal campus hegemony has in fact been a godsend for conservatives. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was leftist students who rebelled against well-meaning centrist liberals like the University of California chancellor Clark Kerr. And the protesters' tactics, in turn, energized the Right, student and adult. An official University of California Web page (don't miss the great cartoons!) on Ronald Reagan's legacy credits the uproar with Reagan's election as governor in 1966. Earl Cheit, executive vice chancellor under Kerr, declares, echoing Kerr's own view:

Reagan's political career owed a lot to the people who used the campus as a radical base for political activity. It is an irony that helped elect him.

Mr. Brown is not the first conservative paladin from a liberal academy. Who knows where the movement would have gone if William F. Buckley, Jr. had been comfortable with his university's values in the early 1950s and never written God and Man at Yale. Exposures of Ivy League ways have since become initiation rites for such top-tier tories as John LeBoutillier (who still proudly lists Harvard Hates America on his Web site masthead), Dinesh D'Souza (a Dartmouth grad who once ran Princeton's dissident alumni magazine), Terry Eastland, and Ross Douthat.The last actually found not indoctrination but an even worse passive, careerist liberalism, of the kind that many left liberals have also deplored:

There were times at Harvard when I actually longed to hang out with a few more Trotskyists, rather than yet another set of future consultants and investment bankers. At least the Trotskyists cared about the important stuff.

Imbalances are good for conservatives at liberal schools (and naturally vice versa) by pressuring them to support their values. And the tendency of even those who excel in the humanities, like Chief Justice John Roberts, a Harvard summa and serial prizewinner in history, to choose the J.D. over the Ph.D., means that a larger proportion of conservative talent is channeled into positions of real political and economic power as opposed to doubtful influence.

Photo credit: JoeBehrSoCal/flickr
 


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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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