Published in The Detroit News
At the Michigan Republican Party’s state convention on August 23, I was struck that Common Core garnered far more attention than any other social issue like abortion, gay marriage or gun rights. One candidate for regent of the University of Michigan was rewarded with rapturous applause after he slammed the initiative and branded academia an “incubator” for “the disease of liberalism.”
The conventional wisdom among conservatives, vividly reflected at the convention, is that America’s colleges and universities are bastions of runaway progressivism because right-leaning educators have long been systemically barred entry to employment, or at least tenure.
There is truth in this. But after decades of relentlessly vilifying higher education, beginning in earnest with William F. Buckley Jr.’s release of “God and Man at Yale” in 1951, conservatives are also responsible for producing a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The late editor Irving Kristol was on to something when, in a personal letter, he noted that conservatives tend to avoid academia as a vocation because they “don’t mind making money and living in Middle America.”
I would take Kristol’s insight one step further and point out that politically-cognizant, right-leaning individuals, by the time they’re ready to choose a vocation, are usually no longer interested in academia.
On top of pre-existing liberal bias, why would a budding conservative, after years upon years of his or her closest compatriots blasting higher education as a bureaucratic, aloof, stronghold of bottom-feeding communists, willingly opt to become a professor?
The right has taken very few, if any, tangible steps toward ensuring that its views are represented in higher education. (Affluent parents who decry liberal academia and then proceed to ship off their prodigal legacy, James William Stevenson IV, to Harvard, require a healthy dose of self-reflection.)
Other than springing knee-jerk assaults against flagrantly radical professors — think back to the hullabaloo last September involving William Penn at Michigan State University — conservatives direct the majority of their resources toward student bodies, backing groups such as College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom.
Ultimately, aspiring conservative academics are forgotten. They feel like they’re stranded on a deserted island—few resources and little sign of friendly life.
Unfortunately, this sentiment is augmented by the fact that the right’s distrust of academics transcends political affiliation. I can personally attest that conservatives too often harbor misgivings about the right-leaning individuals who, despite the well-known obstacles, bravely opt to undertake a career in higher education.
So, for conservatives, what’s the practical solution for trying to attain balance in America’s colleges and universities? There is an answer short of building new, physical institutions (expensive) and launching online degree programs (less reputable, for the moment).
Members of the right need to band together to establish a national organization exclusively committed to, first, convincing right-leaning undergraduates to pursue careers in higher education, specifically the social sciences, and second, showcasing, through traditional and new media, the work of up-and-coming conservative scholars.
Rather than mindlessly egging the Ivory Tower, conservatives must dedicate their efforts to developing and implementing creative ways to help their advocates in academia scale its imposing walls.