The case for conservative universities


Arizona State University likes to brag that it’s #1 in the country for “innovation.” That may sound like a buzz phrase, but the Sun Devils really are innovating new ways to expand the ideological horizons of the liberal academy. To wit: the new School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, a transdisciplinary program that aims to increase “ideological diversity” on the Tempe campus.

Yes, it’s what you’re thinking. It’s a school for conservatives.

Conservatives have long been a minority in higher education, but even liberals have recently started suggesting that the imbalance may be egregious enough to call for corrective measures. Arizona’s state legislature set aside special funds for a conservative-friendly course of study, with the Charles Koch Foundation adding a sizable contribution. Not everyone has been pleased by this development. Critics want to know: Is this just affirmative action for conservatives? And don’t conservative “leadership” programs tend to focus heavily on the work of privileged, dead, white males?

It may be, and they often do. Nevertheless, these conservative-focused academic programs are a good idea, which more universities should replicate. They might save universities. They might even save the nation.

Arizona State’s new program doesn’t actually describe itself as conservative. That distinguishes it from one of its few forerunners, CU-Boulder’s Conservative Thought and Policy Program. Just browsing through the website, though, it’s clear enough that the Arizona program is canted towards conservatism. There will probably be a lot of warm words about free markets, constitutional principles, and Western civilization. Many liberals will find this irritating. They would be wise to cooperate nevertheless, for self-interested reasons if not for magnanimous ones.

As our nation’s politics become more polarized, academia’s marked political slant may become a serious liability. It’s remarkable that the professoriate isn’t more concerned about this, especially given rising concerns about student debt. Universities are vulnerable, and right-wing populists have noticed. Take a moment to recall the momentum that President Trump managed to generate by denouncing our politically correct media. Now imagine how much mileage the next demagogue might get by running over a class of cosseted eggheads with lifetime appointments to the armchair. Every populist relishes an opportunity to knock elitists and intellectuals off their perches.

Imagine what might happen in future years if a debt crisis were to force hard decisions about budget priorities. How might a Sean Hannity or a Rush Limbaugh capitalize on that opportunity? What would happen if the Republicans were in power when the critical moment came? Liberal academics need to find a way to mend fences with alienated conservatives.

It should go without saying that higher education remains critical to our society. We need an educated citizenry to maintain a healthy culture and a competitive economy. Still, it’s understandable that many Americans would feel deep frustration over academia’s obvious and pronounced biases. Why, conservatives wonder, should their tax dollars be pumping more than $150 billion per year into the ideological strongholds of their political rivals? The picture gets …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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