OPINION: Popping an intellectually liberal bubble

Will Buckstaff CM ’20 takes a selfie with the crowd protesting conservative political commentator Heather Mac Donald’s talk at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum at Claremont McKenna College April 6, 2017. (Liam Brooks • The Student Life)

Diversity is deceptively complicated. As a concept, it seems obvious.

However, I find myself questioning the evangelist doctrine of diversity, because there’s a peculiar form of passive aggression, intellectual arrogance or bullying that animates a fair number of my colleagues.

Sadly, for nothing more than genuine interest and inquiry, I find myself on the receiving end of moral judgement. There are, however, friends and contemporaries who share my concern for atrophied tolerance, which refers to the ability to entertain an idea without agreeing with it.

To be sure, budding scholars benefit from the geographic, racial, ethnic and gendered varieties of their campuses. And I don’t think there’s much to dispute by way of external diversity.

Sure, young white men and women predominate the 5Cs. But, for what it’s worth, minority members of the racial, ethnic or gendered kind are on an academic ascent.

This is an admirable, reassuring trend that will, if hope and progress permit, continue. That said, the pernicious lack of diversity that bothers me is internal, ideological.

The Claremont consortium is a liberal bubble, like many colleges across America.

Right-of-center, or outright Republican, students and faculty are a near extinct cohort on college campuses across the U.S.

Consider Cass R. Sunstein, a Bloomberg opinion columnist, who wrote about the schism between the Democratic and Republican professoriate in “The Problem With All Those Liberal Professors.”

Sunstein referenced a study by Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business at Brooklyn College, which found that at 51 of the 66 highest ranked liberal arts colleges, according to the 2017 U.S. News ranking, Republicans are outnumbered by a large margin.

Of course, the discrepancy widens or narrows depending on the subject. The largest ratio between Democrat and Republican professors is found in religious studies at 70 to 1, while the smallest is found in engineering departments, at a meager 1.6 to 1.

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Political affiliations between Democrats and Republicans vary by college as well.

The faculties of Wellesley, Williams and Swarthmore are overwhelmingly Democratic, with ratios at or above 120 to 1. At Harvey Mudd and Lafayette, the ratios are 6 to 1. At the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, it is 2.3 to 1; it is just 1.3 to 1 at West Point,” Sunstein wrote.

As I alluded to before, nothing is immune to examination. In this spirit, Eric Levitz penned an enlightening rebuttal to Sunstein in the New York Magazine: “Colleges Don’t Need More Republican Professors.”

But the professoriate discrepancy raises an interesting question, a question about whether higher education liberalizes.   

This may be the case it certainly seems to be true now. But Republicans were once more educated.

That said, there is a educational gap between Democrats and Republicans, where the blue cohort outpaces their red counterparts in terms of degrees earned.

And while the propensity to give advice is matched only by the propensity to ignore it, I must admonish: education and intelligence are not synonymous.

On this front, I can safely say that, despite the education I have received and there is no doubt I am more informed than I would be otherwise I am not particularly intelligent.

There is a smug tendency for those on the left, to assume they’re more intelligent and beyond critique.

But, as intelligent as leftists may be, everyone has their faults, their own assumptive and intellectual blind spots.

To this end, the exchanges between Levitz and Sunstein are edifying and requisite banter for burgeoning pupils. But, because of ideological conformity, I fear too many exchanges on campus are of the choir-preaching sort.

Just as disconcerting is self-censorship. In the spring of 2018, as my tenure as a Chaffey College student neared its end, I visited Claremont McKenna College’s Athenaeum to attend social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s presentation.

Haidt, a professor of ethical leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, and co-author of “The Coddling of the American Mind,” lectured about his research on the moral differences between liberals and conservatives.

While I was already familiar with his work, I was less prepared for the question he posed to the audience. In an attempt to prove a tangential point, that colleges are less intellectually diverse than we may wish to admit, he asked for a show of hands about how many students self-censor with respect to politics or other sensitive subjects.

Unfortunately, I was not visiting as a journalist, so I did not count the exact number of hands raised. Still, too many students jutted their arms upward for my liking.

We are here to cultivate the capacity for independent thought. In this way, education is a subversive endeavor. Fear of reprisal should hardly factor in the genuine, good-faith queries of soon-to-be Claremont alumni.

Christopher Salazar PZ ’20 is a philosophy major from La Verne, California. He’s not one to proselytize, but he considers whiskey on the rocks sacrilege.

 

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