Higher education prides itself on two overarching values: supporting the marketplace of ideas and academic freedom. But there has been an increasing and unremitting effort to eliminate conservatives and conservative thought in the humanities and social sciences in the American academy.
Channeling the late civil rights advocate President John F. Kennedy, who said “Are we to say to the world — and much more importantly, to each other — that this is the land of the free, except for the Negro?”
Today, he would have said of colleges and universities, “Are we to say to the world — and much more importantly, to each other — higher education today is for diversity and equity except for conservatives?”
Let me just cite a couple of survey results, revelatory of a consistent number of studies that have comparable findings: In 2017, Inside Higher Ed, in a comprehensive article about the threat to conservatives in higher education, highlighted a study in Econ Journal Watch that “considered voter registration of faculty members in selected social science disciplines (and history) at 40 leading American universities. The study found a ratio of 11.5 Democrats for every Republican in these departments,” and in history, it was 33.5 to 1.
Let’s look at ideological tolerance at public universities and major academic organizations.
I am very familiar with Towson University, having taught there for 45 years, but I am also familiar with many universities around the country, having spoken at many and having been on the Legislative Assembly at the National Communication Association and having been involved closely with the Eastern Communication Association — our top regional organization (trust me), along with the Southern States Communication Association.
The anti-conservatism is increasing at most national education venues. To be fair, there is an undercurrent of guilt or self-awareness among some, if not many, relating to the hypocrisy of ostensible support for supporting the free flow of differing ideas while perpetrating overt discrimination in hiring, promotion, tenure, college campus and convention participation and publishing of those on the right.
In the NCA, I have long been a conspicuous advocate of fairness to conservatives, despite the continuing and increasing bigotry against those who disagree with progressive points of view. I have had lengthy exchanges with the current president, the immediately former president and the executive director of the NCA concerning their need to rectify the current situation that led to more than a score of their limited number of open conservatives leaving the organization. The NCA couldn’t care less.
Repeatedly, I have asked them to do something, and repeatedly I have requested they specifically “add the ensuring of ideological equity to the NCA presidential diversity statements.” This act was recently accomplished at my behest to the diversity statement at Towson University, a university that is making some effort to assure a beginning to some political fairness.
The Eastern Communication Association has been open to consistent discussions, and it appears that they, too, are making some effort to assure a beginning and perhaps more to some political fairness.
Interestingly, when I have carped to the point that the NCA leadership will respond — after literally refusing to even address the issue — they answer that the “NCA is not in the business of advocating for conservatism or liberalism” (quote from the president) and that conservativism will have to wait.
The latter sentiment is precisely what African Americans historically have been told when they have experienced blatant, widespread discrimination.
Richard E. Vatz is a professor at Towson University and author of “The Only Authentic of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model.”