There is a epidemic of intolerance spreading throughout American institutions of higher learning.
The crisis begins with the increasingly uniform ideological bent of professors on campus. According to data compiled by the Higher Education Research Institute, only 12 percent of university faculty identify as politically right of center, and these mainly professors in schools of engineering and other professional schools. Other studies have found that the proportion of professors in the humanities who are Republicans is between 6 and 11 percent, and in the social sciences between 7 and 9 percent. To offer an unsettling contract, 18 percent of social scientists identify as Marxist.
The contagion grows as a result of campus administrators who are concerned about every type of diversity except ideological diversity. And when the inevitable clash arises out of the growing militancy of the left and the small band of conservatives who seek to have their viewpoint heard, these administrators quickly forget their educational mission and bow to the whims of political correctness.
And students play a role in festering the crisis. A majority of students are now fine silencing speech they find offensive, according to a recent survey from the Brookings Institution. The poll also found that a plurality do not believe that the First Amendment protects “hate speech,” and that a sizable minority believe that violence can be used to stop a speaker they disagree with.
Unsurprisingly, this has spurred an intense debate about the role of higher education in American society and whether colleges are doing enough to promote free speech and foster heterodox thinkin. A new survey from Inside Higher Ed, conducted by Gallup, offers an interesting insight into this debate.
The survey, which included 516 campus leaders across 277 public institutions, 223 private institutions and 16 for-profit institutions seemed to demonstrate a form of contrived ignorance: Leaders believe their to be significant problems in higher education generally, but very few of them believe that it extends to their own campus.
For instance, the provosts in the survey were concerned about whether free speech rights were secure on campus. A full 51 percent said that free speech was threatened and 8 percent said it was very threatened. But when speaking about their own campus, a mere 19 percent said it was threatened, and a measly 1 percent said it was very threatened.
Most troublingly, the survey revealed that 68 percent of provosts believe that conservative students “generally feel welcome” in classrooms on their campuses. By comparison, just 3 percent say that liberal students are uncomfortable on campus.
Somehow, Inside Higher Ed describes this finding as one in which provosts “are generally confident of the level of inclusiveness in their classrooms. . .” Such thinking is pervasive, but dangerous. It should be a crisis that one-third of college provosts do not believe that conservatives feel welcome on their campuses. And yet, we’ve known this for a while now. A recent survey from the Heterodox Academy found that there was significant reluctance among conservative students to speak out about controversial issues, in no small part because they feared punishment from professors, students and campus administrators.
Among the poll’s other worrisome findings are that just 55 percent of provosts agree that their campus “hosts speakers representing a range of political viewpoints, just 60 percent agree that “those who interrupt, should down, or otherwise attempt to disrupt campus speakers represent a threat to academic freedom,” and a mere 29 percent agree that “colleges should not interfere with invitations to outside speakers.”
Taken together, the poll signals a disturbing disconnect: Campus leaders seem to generally see that there is something troubling happening in higher education, but none of them are ready to admit that the battleground extends to their campus. If university administrators are pointing the finger and passing the buck, it’s going to make solutions very difficult to come by. Institutions of higher education must be willing to swallow their pride, admit their flaws, and see reason if they wish to remain the bastions of honest debate they were intended to be.