On one of my recent visits to a college campus, I met a bunch of students who began by telling me all the excellent ways they are involved in civic and political affairs. One young woman mentioned some hospital volunteering and research overseas. A couple of others said (among other things) that they worked for Democratic candidates. The conversation then turned political and very anti-Republican, with students saying that it was important to vote because the GOP had practically ruined the country over the last eight years.
I noticed some quiet people at the table. I intervened and asked them to speak freely. It turned out that the hospital volunteer was also the president of the Young Republicans on campus. Apparently, she hadn’t wanted to mention that role when we introduced ourselves.
Once, at the University of Maryland, a senior who was working on a scholarship essay “came out to me” as a conservative. A conservative thesis seemed to fit his essay best, as I observed; but he thought he’d better not own up to such ideas. He said I was the first professor to whom he had admitted his conservative leanings.
I don’t think these stories support the right-wing charge that academia has been captured by lefties. If we can generalize from them at all, I think they show our polarization. We have liberal campuses and conservative campuses just as we have liberal zip codes and conservative zip codes. People sort themselves. What we lack are mixed places.
I’m as progressive as the next person, but I think we are losing valuable educational opportunities this way. I used to find that many of Maryland’s best students, who came to me for help with their applications for Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, had never encountered conservative ideas. This made them rather naive debaters. A liberal today who cares about homelessness–for example–ought to be very familiar with the thesis that the government worsens homelessness through rent control (which reduces the supply of housing), or that homeless people need spiritual help from “faith-based” organizations. Maybe these ideas are wrong, but they should not be new to college graduates who care about homelessness.