The Glass Ceiling on College Campuses Doesn't Apply to Who You Think


Conservative-minded people represent 36 percent of the U.S. population, but less than 10 percent of faculty in the social sciences and humanities on college campuses, and a small fraction of at elite private universities.

According to a new book on this topic entitled, Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University , professors with conservative outlooks say they feel out of place, they don't expect to advance into leadership positions, and they are treated as outsiders.

That's a shame not only for students looking for intellectual diversity and critical argumentation, but for the educational system in general, where research suggests that "intellectual conformity is still a key driver of personal success."

Former Syracuse University economics professor Arthur Brooks writes that it makes sense in some cases to disqualify candidates in some organizations if they hold differences of opinion. For instance hiring a Buddhist at a Christian church probably doesn't serve the best interest of the church. But these instances are limited.

Such discrimination is legitimate only when it pertains to the core mission of an organization. It would be less sensible and acceptable for a congregation to reject the best-qualified theologian and preacher because of how he or she voted in a presidential election. That church would be prioritizing ephemeral political battles ahead of its deepest spiritual concerns. That’s a pretty bad trade.

Similarly, academia is right to rank candidates based on their expertise and intellectual commitment. But should professors’ political philosophies factor into how welcome they are or the likelihood of their leading departments and institutions? Only if the fundamental goal of the university is more political than scholarly.

So which is the primary goal of universities today? They are in the process of deciding. If they decide the answer is scholarship, they must work harder to form communities that do not just tolerate conservatives but actively embrace ideological diversity. They must be willing to see conservative faculty members not as interlopers to be tolerated but as valued colleagues, worthy of promotion and appointments to leadership roles when merited.

While conservatives on college campuses are frequently treated as interlopers these days, that used to also be the case for women, who not that long ago, for instance, would never be considered for the position of a college president.

That's changed, and now that it's common for women to be elevated in academia (occasional gender discrimination cases aside), actual "progress" would call for universities to offer that same equality for those with an ideologically diverse opinion.

Brooks concludes:

It is up to (progressive professors) to make campuses more open to debate and the unconstrained pursuit of truth. This is partly because liberals are in an overwhelming majority on campus. But more important, the task fits perfectly the progressive movement’s ethical patrimony. American liberalism has always insisted it is the duty of the majority to fight for the minority, whether or not it suits one’s own private interests.