Why would a cash-strapped liberal arts college in West Virginia turn its nose up at $1 million in grants? University officials wouldn’t say it explicitly, but the reason couldn’t be more obvious: the money came from classically liberal and libertarian foundations. Even in a fiscal crisis, that simply would not do.
Last academic year, faculty and staff at West Liberty University (WLU) went on the ideological warpath to oust its center-right president simply because he was politically right of center. The public fallout of their acrimonious demands plunged the university into an enrollment and budgetary shortfall as the staff and faculty aired their disdain in public. Turned off by vitriolic statements about their overburdened life, parents sent their kids to other schools and major donors began to withhold funds.
As a result, WLU is shuttering one of its oldest buildings because it can’t afford to keep the lights on and saying some classrooms will remain in grave disrepair because the university can no longer afford the upkeep.
One would think that a victory in ousting the president would satisfy the ideological conformity of the academic community. It didn’t. They wanted more retributive justice.
Let’s Drop Ideological Diversity, Even If It Costs Us
In September, administrators informed me the college was eliminating the entire political science major, and, as a result, my services were no longer needed. When I inquired how they arrived at such a decision, they fumbled an answer, citing a lack of majors in the program. However, several other programs on campus have fewer students.
When I offered to help offset some of the departmental costs from the nearly $1 million in grants I secured, the administration balked. So, there must have been another reason they wanted to terminate my contract. My position on campus did not fit their ideological biases. As a result, I had to go.
I taught one of the few classes on campus that was dedicated to the classical liberal arts. It was, in part, funded by the generous grants from BB&T, Koch, and the Institute of Humane Studies at George Mason University. It also funded grants and scholarships for promising students to offset the cost of books and tuition. The sole purpose of the grants was to expose students to the ideas of free markets, liberty, and equality rightly understood.
None of the students were required to agree with the virtues of the free market. Many even wrote research papers criticizing that idea, and did so eloquently. Even though the class included broad readings from Nietzsche and Marx, along with Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and the American Founders, it was not good enough for the provost, who told another member of the faculty that he “wished there was different ideology represented on campus” than the one I proffered.
What was the provost so incensed by? That students might merely consider diverse ideas. Even though the campus is riddled with professors who are left of center, he wanted to suppress speech and keep students from the exposure to the ideas of freedom and liberty. Indeed, one professor told me I needed to “shut my mouth” if I wanted to “keep my job.” WLU seemingly felt threatened by an alternative voice on campus.
Ideological Intolerance Repels Students
Unlike political science, however, WLU’s administration and faculty deem some classes acceptable. One such class, “Batman Versus Superman,” is being advertised on campus as a serious offering connected to a comic books major (which has zero students in the program), while another class, called “Rock and Roll Appreciation,” even counts as a fulfillment of a student’s core required classes. With classes like these and others similarly outrageous, just what kind of education are these students really getting? Are students really served by eliminating an entire major dedicated to the cultivation of good citizens and the understanding of our political system?
These are deeply unserious and vapid times in higher education. Unfortunately, the ideological intolerance at WLU is no different than that we see on many other campuses in the nation. The safe space for free inquiry is rapidly being driven underground. What kind of nation are we that cannot tolerate differing opinions? In light of the events at Yale, Missouri, and Claremont-McKenna, liberal education is also under attack from within by zealots.
What is happening at WLU is a result of a pusillanimous faculty and administrators. Parents should be questioning whether to send their sons and daughters to institutions that are long on indoctrination and short on the ideas of freedom and liberty, the true calling of higher education. WLU wants to tell the students what to think and believe. Welcome to the closing of the American mind.