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Are Colleges Too Liberal?

Jan 6, 2008
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.

My reasons for reading Will are simple: George usually gives good reasons for his arguments. Agree or not, I can see a logic to his conclusion.

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.

As a way of contrasting and comparing, consider that the US Military is the best-funded branch of government. If you add the Veterans Administration to that, Military funding increases significantly. Well, the men and women of the Armed Services, and the many businesses that support the Military, are conservative-- by a wide margin. So we need to ask why that political disparity isn't a concern.

Large corporate interests now influence our private time, by constantly advertising their services and products to us. Most of the entertainment and news outlets are now also owned by large business, and critics constantly decry the loss of independence in news. Big businesses are run and staffed by people who, not surprisingly, are almost all conservative. So here is an enormous educational counterbalance to our colleges, and one that influences us from cradle to grave, not just for 4 years. But there is no outcry about that.

And then there is the Church. The Religious Right says it all: serious church-goers are dominated by conservatives, who call on The Almighty Himself to counter the liberal universities. How could our institutions of higher learning ever expect to stand up to that? But partisan leanings in our churches don't appear to bother conservatives.

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

Next, there is a matter of critical thinking, which is essential not only to democracy, but also to free will, which is essential to religious doctrine. If we only expose our young people to one aspect of human political thought, only indoctrinate them in the ideology of one party, then we cannot say that we have faithfully discharged our obligations to our country, nor to our religions.

This is no small point. For their non-college lives, our students are immersed in corporate-- i.e., conservative-- content. How will we expose students to liberal ideas, if we don't do it in college? How else will they ever get a chance make their own choice, and make up their own minds?

Certainly Mr. Will is supportive of Providential free will, and the unfettered flow of ideas in a democracy.

It would be hard to argue that this liberal collegiate exposure has been detrimental to the conservative movement. To the contrary: despite many decades of dominance by liberal thinkers in our citadels of learning, in the past decade we elected the first unipartisan government since WW II-- and it was conservative. This strongly suggests that neither the corporation nor the university dominate the mind of the citizen; her mind is her own. The citizen is exposed to diverse viewpoints, and this exposure strengthens the democracy, rather than weakens it.

Finally, if we consider what 'conservative' means-- to conserve, to lean toward the traditional, to advocate the tried-and-true-- then it is clear that our colleges absolutely must be liberal. If institutions of higher learning are, by design, our places of innovation, of theorization, and of experimentation, then it becomes clear that it is precisely the mission of the university to challenge the status quo.

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.
About the Author
Joseph N. Abraham, MD is the president and founder of booksXYZ.com, the NPO bookstore listing over 2,000,000 books. He is also author of Happiness: A Physician Biologist Looks at Life, a synthesis of biology, Zen and medicine.
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