Thursday, April 12, 2007

Standing out is proof enough 

Reading Mary Eberstadt's article about left-wing bias on college campuses reminded me of a story I told a couple of years ago here. I am fortunate that I work in a department where my politics do not stand out as different, because there are a number of people who are conservative here as well as liberal. (Indeed, in the past six years in hiring seven new faculty members, not only have we hired a healthy mix but in two cases I completely missed on my guess of the other's politics -- one in each direction!) But the case I made then remains: A conservative who is accepted on a college campus tends to be treated as a token of the Left's self-perceived "openness".

The students, however, recognize it. Eberstadt's new book, Why I Turned Right, makes the case that famous conservatives become that way after starting out in school as liberal (David Brooks argues that they do it to be cool, to affect a superior attitude to the perceived ignorance of the Right.) That may well be true at more elite institutions. At SCSU, however, a majority of students I see know who the professors are who are putting their political views on display in the classroom, and surprisingly it's not working: On a campus where 90% or more of the faculty are Democrat, a new SCSU Survey of students says only 36% self-identify as Democrat, to 26% Republican.

Johnathan Chait pooh-poohs Eberstadt's collection of stories, likening the conversions of the David Horowitzes and Heather MacDonalds as like joining a cult. He is right insofar as those who publish as leading voices of the new Right tend to be people who knew how to be leading voices of the Left. But focusing on the few in Eberstadt's book misses a broad swath of students at non-elite schools, educated by the second- and third-rate liberals from more elite schools (who alternatively pray for their deliverance from a conservative Midwestern hell and curse the fates), who shrug, chug a beer, and head off to middle class jobs feeling like they are the ones delivered. Indeed, as a number of us were discussing over lunch today, the increased use of two-year schools as feeders for the state university system is just the thing to allow our students to avoid the grips of the displaced, dispossessed leftist's general education course.

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