Liberal Bias Against Campus Conservatives
Confronted: Pope Center Conference
by John Plecnik
Posted by Plecnik on 10/17/2004
The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy hosted its annual policy conference at North Carolina State University last Saturday on October 16, 2004. The topic: "Freedom and the American Campus." All-star panels articulated the reality of liberal bias on college campuses, and debated possible solutions. Notables included David Horowitz of FrontPageMag.com, former U.S. House Historian Dr. Christina Jeffrey, and David French of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
During the conference, it was reported that a memo was circulating among the faculty and administration of N.C. State warning against the nefarious nature of Horowitz and the Pope Center. Consequently, no one could be found to debate Horowitz on his nationally acclaimed Academic Bill of Rights. The former leftist became famous by arguing against 'reparations' for slavery.
More recently, Horowitz has attracted national attention from his work with state Sen. John Andrews (R-C.O.) in persuading the University of Colorado system to adopt the Academic Bill of Rights. Ever controversial, Horowitz referred to Professor Noam Chomsky of MIT as "the academic Michael Moore," and called the American Association of University Professors, "a Stalinist organization." He advocated breaking the Left's "monopoly control" over academia by forcing them to accept his anti-discrimination policies and suing violators. Horowitz jokingly added that we ought to "include Christian white males in the Endangered Species Act."
Like Horowitz, Dr. Christina Jeffrey argued that the "stewardship and oversight of the state legislature is not inconsistent with academic freedom." She also gave a 'shout out' to her friend in the crowd, Rachel Lea Hunter, Republican candidate for North Carolina Supreme Court. An experienced appellate attorney, Hunter has promised to defend any college student in North Carolina who is discriminated against for airing their political views on campus. Another famous Republican woman, state Sen. Fern Shubert (R-N.C.), was also in attendance. Earlier in the year, Shubert lost a six-way gubernatorial primary for the Republican nomination.
David French moderated a panel discussion between Carol Sobel, a First Amendment attorney, and Dr. Norman Hurley of the University of North Carolina. Sobel retold the story of how she came to represent Steve Hinkle, a young Cal Poly student that was disciplined for posting a flyer on campus that advertised a conservative speaker. According to Sobel, "Steve went through a kangaroo court" at the university level. Ironically, Sobel has handled high level cases for both the ACLU and FIRE, representing everyone from Jesse Jackson to Sean Hannity. Calling herself "a member of the hard Left," Sobel explained how a devout belief in the freedom of speech can override partisan leanings.
Hurley referred to academia's chronic liberal bias as the "politics of scholarship." He explained how professors are evaluated based on publication rates, and how most prestigious journals will only accept Left-leaning articles. Thus, conservative professors, effectively edited out of the top journals, appear less qualified than their liberal counterparts.
Furthermore, graduate students are educated from the same liberal journals.
According to Hurley, this also serves to bias the future of his profession.
The UNC professor tried to emphasize the heated conflict between the liberal establishment and conservative scholars. "This is a war," exclaimed Hurley.
"[Liberals] see it as a war." To further dramatize his point, Hurley continued, "I was actually physically assaulted at a cocktail party for my political views."
Dr. Michael Gillespie of Duke University joined Dr. James Miller of Smith College for a discussion on liberal bias. Gillespie provided a more moderate perspective, arguing that liberal bias on campus is less dangerous than what he perceives as a "creeping paternalism." He posited that most university restrictions on debate and free speech are imposed by our own misguided desire to "spare our children the pains of growing up." Asserting that responsibility must be learned, not legislated, the Duke professor cautioned against the creation of a "soft America."
Miller told the story of how Smith College denied him tenure for his conservative views. Despite publishing 6 scholarly articles and a book, the young professor also contributed to National Review Online and the Weekly Standardůmortal sins in academia. The discrimination was so blatant, however, that Smith little choice but to reverse its decision and grant tenure. One liberal colleague actually wrote a letter explaining how she voted against Miller's tenure because she was disturbed by his views.
I asked Miller and Gillespie how society could encourage more conservatives to pursue doctorates and become professors, and what they might say to young conservatives who were considering a career in academia. Both replied that they could not recommend such a decision. Miller said wannabe conservative professors need a backup career plan. Gillespie argued that even though the odds of good employment are against you, six or so years of doctoral study are a wonderful experience anyway. By my estimation, their responses were discouraging, yet accurate.
Campus conservatives clearly have much to overcome, but in the words of yet another speaker, Dr. Jerry L. Martin, Chairman of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, "Don't ever think we can't win!"
John T. Plecnik is a twenty-year-old law student at Duke University and Executive Editor of The Devil's Advocate. As Policy Advisor for the Duke Chapter, John authored the first-ever statewide platform for the North Carolina Federation of College Republicans.