Why The Academia Is Mean To Conservatives: A Listicle
Why are American colleges and universities so liberal? That’s one college-related question you hear right-wingers ask often. “Why are there so few conservative professors?” is another. Why are conservative viewpoints not being taught? Why are college students so “intolerant” of free speech, specifically speech that advocates white “identitarianism” and “political incorrectness”? Why are the academia such snowflakes?
Now, I could go into great detail about how conservatives actually do have a sizable (and loud) presence on college campuses, and how extreme allegations about colleges “indoctrinating” students or “teaching communism” come from people who have never set foot in the academia. But, while this is true, I want to acknowledge that at the end of the day, the academia does lean markedly left. The purpose of this entry isn’t to dispute the degree of the lean; it’s to explain why it leans left at all. So if you are a conservative and you are wondering why college students and teachers are generally hostile to conservatism, here is your multipart answer.
1. Conservatives have NOTHING to offer college students, professors and graduates. Let’s start with economics, because while the culture wars may be fun, money is what ultimately shapes politics, at least for people who have a minimum of two brain cells to rub together. The present situation of college students and graduates, and those who teach them, is nothing if not economically calamitous. Tuition rates have grown by leaps and bounds — base tuition at my alma mater has nearly tripled since I graduated 19 years ago — but wages have stagnated and employment prospects, if anything, have grown worse. At the same time, even while raising tuition to Everest-level heights, universities across the country have been cutting back on actual academics (which you’d think was a university’s whole raison d’être). Massive influxes of funds have gone towards a bewildering construction frenzy and an equally bewildering administrative bloat, while teaching positions have withered away and instructors who do the heavy lifting of educating college students — i.e. postdocs and adjuncts — suffer a kind of poverty that’s nothing short of obscene. Speaking of indoctrination, wealthy businessmen and corporations have been encroaching on the academia, supplanting traditional charitable donations designed to support scholarship with “endowments” intended to strong-arm schools into abandoning honest academics in favor cultivating propagandists. And in the media, conservative blowhards, far from acknowledging the financial burdens that the academia faces, have reviled college students and college instructors for the gall of wanting to get paid for work at all.
Can you think of any Republican policy or idea designed to alleviate these hardships? Nothing, apart from bog-your standard Republican “give huge tax cuts to bloated 60-year-old billionaires, and good-paying jobs for everyone will magically appear”, comes to mind. In fact, Republican economic policies are explicitly designed to do the opposite. Republican politicians relentlessly attack the ability of teachers to negotiate better wages, they deregulate the lending industry and they do everything in their power to enable predatory for-profit and financing schemes. Meanwhile, ideologically, conservatives never cease to attack college students and graduates as entitled and lazy, even while unpaid internships and even unpaid jobs proliferate.
College students, graduates and instructors are not stupid. They know on which side their bread is buttered, and they know the conservative assault on scholarship under the guise of “fighting political correctness” doesn’t do squat for their ability to survive. Even for those who feel their school is too Politically Correct, the ability to publicly call women “fat bitches” and having people nod in approval doesn’t mean much if you can’t afford rent. The entire Republican economic and regulatory policy is a huge “fuck you” to the academia and all its constituent parts (except for administrators who do no academic work). Republican policies do nothing to alleviate the mounting financial burden on college students and their families, stabilize non-tenured instructors’ wages or improve the job market for teachers and college graduates. And, if all that weren’t bad enough, Republicans are also fighting college students’ ability to engage in non-procreative sex without severe financial repercussions (never a winning strategy with young people) and try to make it harder for college students to vote. So … why should the academia be welcoming to conservatives? Seriously, what’s in it for the academics? Since conservatives claim to love the free market so much, perhaps that’s the lens through which they should look at the problem. If people aren’t buying what you are selling, the problem is with your product and your pitch; don’t blame the buyer.
Last but not least, in enacting Trump’s tax cuts (for the ultra-wealthy), Republicans came within an inch of imposing huge tax penalties on graduate students, of all people, in an effort to gut the academia. The proposal to tax tuition waivers on people who earn poverty wages while keeping this country at the forefront of scholarship was not just mean to graduate students; it was an all-out assault on higher education. Had it succeeded, American universities would have been destroyed, period. And while this egregious measure ultimately did not pass (this time), Republicans have studded their tax bill with other, somewhat lesser measures designed to hobble universities and discourage charitable donations to them.
Perhaps the most bizarre facet of this complaint by conservatives that the academia is hostile to their ideology is that conservatives have never treated the academia as a constituency. They treat it as an enemy, and then wonder why the edumacated folk are mean to them.
2. There are few conservative academic scholars because conservatives do not value academic careers. I remember College Republicans at my alma mater always bitching that there were far fewer conservative professors than liberal professors on campus. Incidentally, none of them wanted to become professors. They were all going to be Wall Street financiers. I imagine most of them are; and I doubt they encourage their kids to go into the academia. Becoming a professor — in any field of study — is a labor of love, not a money-making endeavor. It entails decades of hellish, grossly underpaid work, insane levels of competition, a great deal of uncertainty. The long-shot success consists of a job that’s secure and respected (mostly by liberals), but usually doesn’t pay that much. All this makes academic careers anathema to most conservatives. The conservative view of education is that you go to school to make money, the end. Anyone who learns for the sake of becoming learned is a fool and a freak. Is it any wonder most conservatives who could, theoretically, rise to professorship levels prefer more lucrative careers? One of the core beliefs of conservatism is that pursing any career path that isn’t a money-maker is a sign of moral degeneracy. But the dearth of qualified candidates doesn’t stop conservatives from blaming “liberal bias” for the disparity between the numbers of liberal and conservative academics.
If conservatives want more conservative professors, maybe they should stop trashing the academia and encourage their own to pursue careers in higher education. As of now, conservatives prefer to address this issue by advocating for some kind of affirmative action for conservatives, and, of course, gun laws designed to permit right-wing goons to engage in violent intimidation of students and professors on college campuses.
3. Conservatives have no respect for the sacrifices college students make. When I was in college, I worked in a cafeteria. On week nights, I would come home between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m., take a quick shower to wash the orange juice and mashed potatoes out of my hair and get started on my assignments. I considered it a good day if I was in bed by 3 a.m. Lectures started at 8 a.m. And I was by no means unique. While some students had the luxury of focusing entirely on the academics (which was no picnic either), most worked — in grueling, physically demanding jobs. Some waited tables. Some moonlighted as movers. Some drove taxicabs. Most college kids I’ve known spend upwards of 60 hours a week on academics and work physically demanding part-time jobs on top of that. To demand that they welcome, and respectfully listen to, someone who calls them entitled and lazy is an impermissible demand on their time, if nothing else.
4. Academic communities are understandably hostile to people who seek to destabilize them. That’s an understandable reaction on behalf of any community, despite whatever differences of opinion exist within them. The stated aim of most right-wingers who try to break into the college lecture circuit — epitomized by men like the now-mostly-defunct Milo Ya-whatever and Richard Spencer — is to stir shit up. That’s all. Their explicit aim is to create chaos. Imagine how receptive you would be to a visit from someone who just wanted to set your house on fire. Not out of malice, of course, but to provoke a discussion.
5. Conservatives are unique and extra-special snowflakes. What right-wing, and even mainstream media usually omits from these discussions is that college communities react strongly to any speaker perceived to be extremist, not just American right-wingers. The most massive protest at my school during my time in college was not against any right-wing visitor, but against a visit by Al Sharpton (who, I think, was much more radical then than he is now). When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University in 2007, there were intense protests by members of the Columbia U community — so the reception he encountered was certainly less positive than the reaction Ben Shapiro usually elicits; and Ahmadinejad’s blatherings, unlike Shapiro’s, were preceded by a lengthy statement from the university president, pre-emptively denouncing what he was about to say.
Conservatives claim that they encounter unique persecution on campuses, yet experience does not bear out those claims — which explains why these claims seem to perform best among people who have never been to college. College Republicans at my alma mater never ceased screeching about the unfairness of the existence of Muslim student groups, and anti-Israel student groups, and feminist student groups, and generally, student groups whose philosophy and purpose did not hew to conservative orthodoxy. Of course, there were also religious groups on campus; and pro-Israel groups; and conservative groups who also got funding, space and freedom to operate. College Republicans themselves got the exact same treatment as the organization of Iranian-American students, whom the College Republicans suspected of double loyalties. It didn’t matter. In conservatives’ view, the very existence of organizations that aren’t conservative is an act of ongoing oppression of conservatives. When called on this, conservative “intellectuals” will point to pre-1960’s First Amendment jurisprudence, which allowed room for sedition laws, and the destruction of subversive literature, somehow co-existing with freedom of expression. That such a “balanced view” of free speech is a petard that can hoist conservatives as well as liberals doesn’t enter their thinking — yet another sign that a “conservative intellectual” is an oxymoron. They do not bother with constructing a sound argument to justify their view of “fairness” requiring that only ultra-conservatives be allowed a voice. “Free speech” as conservatives understand it is where conservatives say and do whatever they want, and no one else is allowed to express views that are contrary or upsetting to conservatives. By its adherents’ own philosophy, conservatism can only thrive when every other viewpoint is suppressed.
That plays well with people who aren’t in the habit of thinking, not so much with the academic set. Which explains why authoritarians have always hated real intellectuals.
6. Conservatives like provocation until they don’t. When I was a senior in college, the newspaper published by College Republicans ran a “controversial” cartoon. This was still in an era of mostly print media, and I can’t find a copy of that edition online, so you’ll just have to live with my summary of it: the cartoon implied that abortion kills way more black people than trigger-happy cops, so abortion is the real racism. Sound familiar? I mean, it’s a well-worn conservative trope, like all conservative tropes. I am not going to tell you how you should feel about it, but suffice it to say, a lot of people on campus felt that the cartoon was both racist and misogynistic. After the cartoon ran, an African-American activist removed a bunch of copies of the conservative paper that had been deposited in a public place and demonstratively burned them. Ritualistically burning literature is not an action I agree with, but that’s besides the point. College Republicans demanded that the university investigate and punish the evil-doer. The administration declined, because it reasoned: (a) publishing an offensive cartoon is a form of protected expression, but so is symbolically burning it; sometimes controversial expressions clash, get over it; and (b) since the paper in question was free, and the copies were taken from a place where they had been deposited to be accessible to all, the papers weren’t “stolen”; (c) maybe try having a dialogue instead of calling the cops.
As I said, I don’t like the notion of burning literature, because book-burning is a distinctly authoritarian, illiberal reaction to arguably offensive ideas. Still, to borrow a common right-wing justification for extremist stunts, maybe the point was to provoke a discussion? (In fact, the activist who burned the papers said something in that vein.) Right-wingers love “edginess” for the sake of provocation — a.k.a. trolling — don’t they? Alas, not in this case. That anyone found their cartoon offensive and dehumanizing — oh well, tough shit, freedom of speech, deal with it. That someone ritualistically destroyed a bunch of copies of that cartoon — now, that was an intolerable assault on human liberty and conservative dignity, and could not be cured with a mere robust discussion. Nothing short of the perpetrator being forced to commit seppuku in the main quad would right the wrong.
And this was far from an isolated incident. Conservatives on campus lost their shit in 1996, when both the Citadel and Virginia Military Institute were forced to change their policies and start enrolling female cadets. Their newspaper ran a column which argued that there should be no co-ed education, period, and that the presence of women at our own university was an intolerable “distraction” to male students; that women — who constituted nearly 50% of the student body and a good chunk of the faculty — contributed nothing to the institution, but made it harder for men to learn. A few issues later, the same paper ran a column about mean college women not wanting to date conservatives, and how this was a sign of feminism run amok. And that was the pattern. Conservatives would publish something outrageous, then whine that no one wanted to fuck them. They would do their level best to get a rise out of people, then shame people who were understandably provoked. It was the conservative modus operandi then, and it is their modus operandi now, both on campuses and elsewhere.
Since conservatives love brutal honesty, they should internalize this bit of reality: when you deliberately try to make people hate you, don’t then complain that people hate you.
7. Conservatives are ideological philistines. We liberals are often told that we should engage conservatives respectfully. Not too long ago, I tried to have a respectful dialogue with a conservative about what’s really taught in Women’s Studies courses (it was actually called “Gender Studies” in my school). I pointed out that in the academic circles, feminism is reversing the default erasure of women from scholarly discourse; and more broadly, the study of the immense influence that gender has had on culture. In passing, I mentioned that most authors I read in Gender Studies courses weren’t even self-described feminists, and at least half were men. I gave a few examples, and my interlocutor began trashing those (male) authors — none of whose works, mind you, he had ever read. Here is the idea that I simply could not drill into his thick skull: I don’t give a squat if you don’t like Jacques Lacan; my larger point is that Women’s Studies isn’t about what you think it’s about. It was a notion the conservative just could not grasp. And that is because conservatives understand college to be a place where malleable young people are put in a trance-like state and taught a set of mantras; where every assigned text is taught as gospel; and therefore, the best way to hurt me in my feminist feelings parts is to call Jacques Lacan a “Marxist cuck moron”. (And while we are on the subject of philistinism, take note of this little fact: conservatives’ most durable contribution to culture in the past thirty years or so is introducing the word “cuck” into the general parlance.)
This little anecdote illustrates conservatives’ inability to comprehend, much less to accept, the very concept of education and scholarly inquiry. They call upon people to think critically, they describe liberals as “lemmings” in thrall of the MSM — but conservative politicians consistently try to push bills that would make it illegal for professors to assign texts or discuss ideas that would lead students to question their a priori beliefs. They think the purpose of higher education is to reinforce those beliefs, not impart knowledge or expose students to different viewpoints.
To conservatives, education is simply giving students a set of talking points. That’s why they are so upset about there not being an equal number of conservatives faculty, and they think they are being eminently reasonable when they demand that conservative talking points be given equal time in college. Look, they say, liberal physics professors spend hours each day telling young people the rich are evil and that fat women should be able to marry their cats, so can we please have some conservative chemistry professors telling students that brown people are inferior and women shouldn’t go to college?
To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To conservatives, every pursuit is ideological. It’s not merely that they hate scholarship, though they do hate it with a passion — they don’t understand the very concept of it. And that includes conservatives with college degrees — because, contrary to one of the favorite conservative accusations leveled against the academia, no one is excluded from college on ideological grounds.
No characteristic of authoritarian regimes is more enduring, more consistent than the hatred of educational institutions. Conservatives love to warn us of “tyranny”, as the threat that can only be neutralized with private gun ownership, but history shows that tyrannical governments care far more about the potential of independent thought than about the potential of rifles against their power. Tyrannical governments don’t rush to disarm the population; after all, you can always co-opt the power of the mob against the regime’s enemies, as the Trump regime is trying to do right now. Rather, tyrannical governments decimate libraries. They close universities. They persecute professors. They restrict publishing and book ownership, and subject them to government oversight. An armed mob can easily be turned into an extra-legal oprichnik force; people whose job is to overanalyze everything, not so much. That’s why, when authoritarian governments consolidate power, it’s not armed farmers and gun-carrying middle managers and yes-men they target with terror and coercion; it’s journalists, teachers, artists, scientists, writers — the best and the brightest. Armed or not, an uneducated populace — in the immortal words of the late Turkmen dictator and strongman Saparmurat Niyazov — is easier to govern.
The modern conservative movement is unabashedly authoritarian — which explains why there is no love lost between the academia and the bydlo. In the battle for the soul of humanity, authoritarianism and scholarship are natural adversaries.