For Colleges to Fulfill Their Mission, They Must Stop Discriminating Against Conservatives

Following a wake of protests and public outcry, colleges are investing a lot of time and money to improving the diversity of their faculty.

Yale committed $50 million in November to diversify its faculty over the next five years.

“If you don’t have a diverse faculty, you are leaving talent on the table,” University Provost Benjamin Polak told the Yale Daily News. “Half of the most talented people the sciences are women. The same is true of underrepresented minorities.”

The University of Cincinnati is investing $40 million in building, supporting and sustaining faculty diversity.

“We know that competition for diverse faculty members is keen, but we also know that a critical mass of diverse scholars brings to our classrooms, laboratories, creative spaces and research agendas a much broader, richer array of inquiries, insights, discoveries and perspectives,” UC Provost Beverly Davenport said in a press release. “We also know that a diverse faculty will help lead the way in our ability to analyze, understand, appreciate and engage difference in all of its many and multi-faceted forms.”

And Brown plans to invest $100 million over the next decade in initiatives to promote diversity, including a plan to double the number of faculty from historically underrepresented groups by 2025.

In addition to adding staff diversity, universities are going to great lengths to create new administrative divisions focused on improving campus diversity. Claremont McKenna said it will create “new leadership positions on diversity and inclusion” in the offices of academic and student affairs. Ithaca College established a “Chief Diversity Officer.” Northern Illinois recently hired a chief diversity officer, with an annual compensation package of $205,000. And the University of California at San Diego is creating a new “vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, augmenting the campus’ already enormous apparatus for promoting diversity.

To be clear, there are demonstrated benefits of having diversity on campus. Katherine W. Phillips touches on one of them in Scientific American:

Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups. . . .

This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.

But, perhaps ironically, some are now wondering about whether the push for campus diversity is under-inclusive. If we truly believe in the importance of uniting different backgrounds in order to challenge biases and elucidate new thinking, why should that also not apply to political and ideological diversity?

John Hasnas, a professor of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, writes for the Wall Street Journal:

[I]n my experience, no search committee has ever been instructed to increase political or ideological diversity. On the contrary, I have been involved in searches in which the chairman of the selection committee stated that no libertarian candidates would be considered. Or the description of the position was changed when the best résumés appeared to be coming from applicants with right-of-center viewpoints. Or in which candidates were dismissed because of their association with conservative or libertarian institutions.

I doubt that my experience is unusual. According to data compiled by the Higher Education Research Institute, only 12% of university faculty identify as politically right of center, and these are mainly professors in schools of engineering and other professional schools. Only 5% of professors in the humanities and social-science departments so identify.

If colleges are sincere in their desire to enhance a robust exchange of ideas—a notion I’m dubious of given their penchant for speech codes that are being used to shut down unpopular view points—then they should pursue professors and administrators of different ideological backgrounds. This is not to say that this pursuit should replace or disrupt campus diversity initiatives that focus on race, ethnicity, gender, etc., that’s for a colleges, in collaboration with its students to decide. It’s only to suggest that if higher education really seeks to become something other than an echo-chamber of liberal thought, where ideas go unchallenged and policies are pursued without the benefit of debate, then they must make an effort to recruit talented individuals who don’t share their political affiliation.


Photo credit: Patrick Neil