A Pew Research Center survey published last week revealed that voters are growing apart in their support of numerous institutions.
Most interestingly, the survey showed that 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents now say that colleges and universities now have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country these days. That's up 13 percent from when the poll was taken last year. In contrast, Democrats and Democrat-leaning respondents have a different view, with 72 percent saying that colleges and universities have a positive impact.
Unsurprisingly, the media was incredulous. A Baltimore Sun editorial labeled Republicans as "haters of higher education" and asked why Republicans must "wage war" on colleges. In the Seattle Times, Danny Westneat argued, "It's no joke: The right is coming after college next." And Newsweek's headline read, "Majority of Republicans say colleges are bad for America (Yes, really)."
Well no, not really. The survey didn't ask whether Republicans felt that higher education was bad, it asked whether Republicans felt that higher education was having a harmful effect right now.
There is no dispute that higher education can be a positive force in society. It's a path to a better life for many working class families. It's a training ground for the next great entrepreneurs, and a laboratory for its next great ideas. It provides the fuel that keeps our economy growing. And, selfishly, if there were no colleges, there would be no College Republicans.
But that doesn't mean that there isn't something deeply wrong with the status quo on many of today's college campuses. The past few years have been littered with stories of colleges and administrators adhering to political correctness at the expense of free speech.
Luminaries like Condoleezza Rice have been disinvited from giving commencement speeches for the sin of being conservative. Other right-leaning scholars have been shouted down and violently attacked by mobs for having insufficiently "woke" opinions. And even progressive professors, such as Bret Weinstein at Evergreen College, have felt the wrath of students' ire for opining that one's right to speak shouldn't be based on skin color.
And then there's the problem of the lack of conservative professors, and the lack of conservative perspectives in discussions on today's campuses. Recent studies show that the proportion of professors in the humanities who identify as Republican is between 6 and 11 percent, and in the social sciences between 7 and 9 percent. For a startling contrast, consider that 18 percent of social scientists identify as Marxists.
Overall, according to data compiled by the Higher Education Research Institute, a mere 12 percent of university faculty consider themselves politically right-of-center, a figure that is distorted by higher concentrations in professional schools such as engineering.
Given these trends, along with ones not even covered here, like grade-inflation, soaring tuition, and administrative bloat, is it really all that surprising that many Republicans questioned whether colleges were having a positive impact on society? After all, our institutions of higher learning are turning into incredibly expensive echo chambers where students are constantly hearing the same messages and the same voice at ever-higher volumes.
As a result, we risk ideological atrophy, one in which we can't explain why one side is right other than to simply say that the other side is assuredly wrong. We're being taught to retreat to safe spaces and shout down uncomfortable ideas, two behaviors that will further harden our politics. And rather than address the one-sidedness, colleges are fostering it through their hiring practices.
None of that means that higher education is bad, it merely suggests that it needs constant attention, hard work, and thought in order to maintain its important role in the free exchange of ideas.
Viewed through that lens, it's not crazy that Republicans question whether colleges have a positive impact. It's crazy that Democrats aren't.Chandler Thornton (@chandlerUSA) is the national chairman of the College Republican National Committee.
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