“Academics, on average, lean to the left. A survey being released today suggests that they are moving even more in that direction,” began a study released in 2012. By 2014, another study reported, the ratio of liberals to conservatives among American college and university faculty was 6 to 1 nationwide, and 28 to 1 in New England. Still more recent research suggests that the overall national trend may be moving further to the left. As Samuel J. Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College recently learned, even just pointing out these tendencies can land you in trouble with students and peers.
So if you’re a conservative scholar who cares about the American academy and wants to participate in it, what are you to do? One recent suggestion: Start your own university.
In National Affairs, Frederick M. Hess and Brendan Bell make the case for a new university hospitable to conservative thought:
What is needed, then, is a place where serious scholars can have the space to pursue questions and subjects that don’t fit the progressive orthodoxy at today’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning. We need an incubator where promising young intellectuals could pursue their research without being forced to conform to the prevailing ideology, and where they can find the scaffolding—employment, funding, networks, and publication outlets—to enable them to achieve independent viability. What is needed is an ivory tower of our own.
Hess and Bell frame their proposal in largely constructive and unresentful ways. We might note that their express concern is not to enforce a conservative orthodoxy, but to free scholars from obeisance to a progressive one (“without being forced to conform to the prevailing ideology”). Later in the essay, they write, “Though there is no doubt that conservative thought is unwelcome in the academy, it is a mistake to imagine this is the product of a concerted, organized effort to expunge it. The issue is not one of conspiracy but a matter of rhythms, routines, and behaviors that add up to what those on the left might, in another context, term ‘implicit bias’ or ‘progressive privilege.’” The reluctance to invoke a vast left-wing conspiracy to explain the disparities is welcome, in the way that the reluctance to invoke vast conspiracies to explain anything is generally welcome.