It’s no secret that the majority of students at the ANU are fairly left-wing. In fact, it’s safe to say that the majority of university campuses in the West share this with the ANU. This is a problem. It’s a problem for conservatives, but it’s also a problem for the Left.
Data from the Higher Education Research Institute suggests that in the USA, the ratio of leftist to conservative professors has widened over the last few decades. This growing imbalance has arguably made leftist students overly sensitive and intellectually fragile. They have become used to living in a community that constantly reaffirms their views. Thus, when they inevitably hear differing views, they feel uncomfortable.
This can be seen in the epidemic of protests against ‘blasphemous’ public speakers. Universities have become ‘safe spaces’ for left-wing students, where conservative speakers are seen to have infiltrated their progressive stronghold.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found that since 2000, at least 240 campaigns have been launched to prevent public speakers from appearing on US campuses, the majority of which occurred after 2009.
Warren Farrell, a champion of second wave feminism and a Hillary Clinton supporter, was protested at the University of Toronto in 2013 for speaking about social issues specific to men – something many of the protesters considered ‘hate speech’. The first African American female Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was disinvited from Rutgers University for her involvement in the Bush administration. When Brown University organised a debate on the topic of rape culture, a safe space was created, equipped with Play-Doh, pillows, cookies, and a video of frolicking puppies.
These outcries do not stop at public speaking events. When Erika Christakis of Yale University wrote an email to Silliman College residents urging them to be less vindictive towards students who wore ‘offensive’ Halloween costumes, her husband became the victim of an onslaught of abuse from students. One of whom accused Christakis of being racist for not remembering her name. While Christakis politely answered the concerns of his students, someone said to him, as several students broke down in tears around him, ‘I am sick looking at you … You are disgusting … I want your job to be taken from you. I am disgusted that you work at Yale University.’ Another student claimed that Mr. Christakis and his wife had engaged in ‘an act of violence’. No one intervened to stop the abuse; in fact, bystanders nodded and applauded.
When the University of Sydney’s Conservative Club organised a screening of a documentary about the Men’s Rights movement, the University of Sydney Union defunded the event. The event went ahead but was protested by about 50-60 students. ‘All I really want is for there to be a discussion about legitimate male issues,’ a member of the Conservative Club told the ABC.
Even at the ANU, a campaign was launched in March against former US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper. Targeting his involvement in the Iraq war and for ‘lying’ to Congress, the campaign protested his visit to the university. There are a number of reasons why Clapper ‘lied’ that make accusations of wrongdoing mere conjecture. Barack Obama understood this, which is why he retained Clapper as his DNI after being the one to appoint him in the first place. I wonder if the ANU’s valiant protesters would protest Obama if he were to visit the campus.
One’s immune system becomes stronger from exposure to infection and disease. One’s intellectual resolve works in a similar way. In this case, differing opinions are the vaccine and many left-wing students have clearly not been vaccinated.
If the trend of a maximising leftist-conservative imbalance continues, the very fabric of what a university is supposed to be will be destroyed. Both Harvard and Yale’s mottos contain the word veritas, Latin for ‘truth’. If a university fails in the quest for truth, it fails as a university.
Jonathan Haidt of New York University argues that truth comes about through the process of institutionalised disconfirmation. Everyone, no matter their political persuasion, engages in motivated reasoning. That is, we are motivated to prove what we already believe.
Leftists are motivated to disprove conservatives and conservatives are motivated to disprove leftists. This institutionalised back and forth between leftists and conservatives ensures that biases are counteracted. With less and less conservative voices, the leftist bias has run amok, unchallenged. Not only because there are so few conservatives available to challenge the leftist bias, but because the small number of conservatives at universities are understandably too afraid to speak up. They are, in a sense, ‘walking on eggshells’.
Professors are even revising their syllabuses to ensure they don’t contain any conservative, ‘boat-rocking’ content. This is now a reality for academics, according to a college professor under the pseudonym Edward Schlosser, who wrote the article ‘I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me’ for Vox in 2015. Professors would rather scrub their syllabuses clean of contentious content than risk having their reputation tarnished. If you thought university was boring now, just you wait.
We should be outraged by this, just as we would be if conservatives dominated the academic conversation. We need the Left and the Right to have an equal say in order to get a nuanced understanding of the truth; when one dominates, we get simple, repetitive and inaccurate answers.
John Stuart Mill once said that if someone is ‘unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.’ The lack of intellectual diversity on campus is a problem – it’s about time we start recognising it.