Are Colleges Too Liberal?

by Joseph N. Abraham, M.D.

I need to start off by pointing out that politically, I am more liberal than conservative. Nevertheless, I avoid liberal commentators. But I generally pay attention to George F. Will, even though I don’t always agree with his conservative views.

I will read George F. Will for a couple of reasons. One, I like his logical flow. I don’t always agree with his premises nor conclusions, but I cannot generally find a flaw in between the two.

Overshadowing that, however, Mr. Will may be conservative, but he is not an automaton. He regularly disagrees with other conservatives, and conservative elected officials. Critical thinking is, well, critical: if someone always toes the party line, then it seems unlikely that she is thinking for herself.

Having said that, I would like to disagree with one of Will’s current criticisms, that our colleges are dominated by liberal (or even radical) thinkers.

Consider that the branches of the US Armed Forces comprise a larger share of the US budget than any other office; add in Veterans Affairs, and it is even larger. Well, the Military, and perhaps as significantly, the many industries who support and earn a living from those Military dollars, are dominated by conservatives. Why isn’t that a problem?

Similarly, large corporations dominate much of our private life, through advertising alone, not to mention countless indirect ways. Corporations have even acquired most of our news and entertainment media over the past few decades, and not surprisingly, media have continually migrated toward the right. This corporate media is an influential, educational force equal to, or much greater than, our liberal colleges. and liberals are rare birds in the corporate boardroom today. But these do not bother Will, either.

And our Churches, which ostensibly are our moral guides, are increasingly moving to the right. Evangelical churches, the fastest growing part of Christendom, overwhelmingly vote with conservative candidates. But Will doesn’t worry about those.

Are George Will and the other conservative writers worried that our colleges are overly partisan? Or just that it’s someone else’s party?

With that, we need to consider analytical thinking, critical to America, but also to the doctrine of Free Will. If teenagers and young adults only experience conservative concepts then have we circumvented their Free Will? If our students are not exposed to liberal ideas, have we extinguished the student’s ability to think objectively, in order to serve contemporary (and possibly transitory) political ideas?

That’s an important point. Before and after college, corporate advertising and corporate news will be the main sources of information for our citizens. So if our young people aren’t exposed to liberal ideas in college, when will they consider them? When else will they get an opportunity to truly reflect on different ideologies and decide– decide for THEMSELVES– what they believe?

George Will cannot argue that we should deny students the same democratic freedoms, and the same religious freedoms, that he exercises.

Nor can he argue that this arrangement has hurt the democracy. Even though liberals dominate higher education, the electorate regularly alternates between the two parties, and the two political stances… suggesting that, in fact, they are sufficiently exposed to different ideas, that they are thinking for themselves; and that exposure to different doctrines produces a stronger, not a weaker, citizen.

Last, we need to consider what a university is for. If, as the name suggests, conservatives ‘conserve’– i.e., defend the traditional– then obviously, our universities need to be liberal. Our universities are our primary institutions of research, which means that one of their primary missions is precisely to question the traditional, to examine what is currently believed. If progress is a matter of constantly questioning the accepted and the obvious, then to be effective, our universities will always place themselves in opposition to conserved ideas.

Of course higher education is liberal. That is its job.

So with all due respect to Mr. Will, I would hope that he stops criticizing our universities for being liberal. If they were not liberal, they– and we– would not be doing our jobs.

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