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ABANDON THE ARENA? Conservative professors have a place in academia

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We need teachers and students of diverse viewpoints to have the guts to stay in the classroom and in the conversation.

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“I’d hit him,” I said to a young man complaining about a conservative college professor as the fall semester ramped up.

My young friend recoiled. “What are you, Anti-Fa? You’d hit him because you don’t like what he teaches?”

“No,” I clarified. “If that UNCW professor you’re griping about physically assaulted me, I’d protect myself. Otherwise, I’d sit down, work hard and learn something.”

“Don’t you want people like that gone?” he asked.

“Heck no!” I said. “He’s an endangered species, a local treasure. He’s done some sound academic writing, and I admire him for not abandoning the arena.”

“You’re not Anti-Fa! You’re Fascist!” the young man said. To his credit, he remained in the conversation. No punches were thrown.

I’m from the “sticks and stones may break my bones” era, not the “safe space” generation. (I’m also a white male that has not suffered from too much name-calling.) Learning is dangerous; I want the academy to be realistically, physically safe for everyone and an intellectual “safe space” for no one. The academy is exactly where we need to play together on the long road to Veritas.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt is concerned about the extinction of conservatives on campus, particularly the conservative social-science professor. Apparently, conservatives are abandoning academia because they believe colleges are left-wing indoctrination centers. Haidt notes in the 1990s a college student could expect two out of three social-science professors to lean left. Today, there may be as high as a 10/1 liberal/conservative ratio. Haidt hypothesizes the dying out of WWII-era conservative intellectuals, the rise of “liberal victim culture” and Social Justice Warrior contribute to the situation.

Haidt sees this as a problem.

But is it? Are conservative intellectuals going the way of the dodo bird? (Please, don’t offend the campus conservative, he or she might be the last one we ever see.) Is the conservative college professor a new victim class that requires protection? Do we need affirmative action and a “conservative quota”?

Let’s look at the situation the way conservatives tend to look at the dearth of women CEOs and senators, or why Big Dawg artistic director Steve Vernon (currently directing another outstanding run of “The Hermit of Ft. Fisher”) has yet to start NFL game at quarterback. For many social conditions, where leveling the playing field may be an issue, the conservative counter argument is “life isn’t fair,” and the playing field is already level enough. The refrain is, “Unequal outcome does not mean unequal opportunity.” Disparate outcomes are not inherently unjust.

Take Mr. Vernon’s predicament. The fact Steve, a short, slow-footed, quick-witted artist has yet to start one NFL game may be evidence the playing field is not yet level enough. It screams, “Injustice!” Right?

Or maybe Steve just sucks.

Are there too few women senators or CEOs? Maybe. But maybe women just don’t have the right stuff.

Maybe it’s only right that conservatives go the way of the dodo in the academy. Maybe it’s God’s will. Or evolution. Survival of the fittest. Maybe they don’t have the right stuff. Maybe when conservative scholars write solid research, they’ll get published, get tenure, and department chairs. Poor little snowflakes.

The ascension of POTUS 45 should signal a turning point for whatever conservative intellectual tradition hasn’t fled the academy for Washington, Wall Street, Breitbart, or the Conspiracy Network. I fundamentally agree with Professor Haidt but find his tendency to blame the liberal social-justice warrior for this problem annoying. Conservative intelligentsia will get no sympathy from me. POTUS 45 and a 10/1 ratio is exactly what conservative intellectuals deserve after 50 years of abandoning the academic arena, marginalizing intellectual rigor, debasing the “liberal” arts, developing “Creation Science,”  denying climate change, and redefining the entire purpose of public higher education as to teach students to be cogs in the great machinery of capitalism. Rush, Hannity, Beck, Coulter? Intellectual beacons of American conservatism? William F. Buckley is spinning eloquently in his grave.

We don’t need conservative quotas yet. We need teachers and students of diverse viewpoints to have the guts to stay in the classroom and in the conversation, much like the UNCW professor. It’s a long and bumpy road to Veritas. To take another step together, we also may need to look more closely at a teacher’s publication record than voting preferences.

Maybe someday Steve Vernon will win the Super Bowl!

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jake Thomason

    September 13, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    I really appreciate this op-ed, Mark. You had me nervous for awhile that you wouldn’t come out with the real punchline: that conservatives left academia, not the other way around. Concepts like creationism should not be taught alongside biology, geology, and astronomy. Conservatives deserve a seat at the table but only as far as their beliefs go, not incorrect facts. Otherwise, we may as well teach alchemy, astrology, and flat-eartherism as f

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