A U.K. report finds that academia is severely damaged, has become a revolutionary institution within narrow and stifling ideological echo-chamber, and cannot be easily fixed with a simple “self-correction” pushed by market forces. Given how much the game is already rigged, legislation and other external interventions are needed to balance the scale.
The policy paper from Policy Exchange, a London-based think-tank, highlights the major trends in British higher-ed and has implications for similar problems in the United States. The report indicates that, compared to the 1960s when the British higher-ed system was divided between around 35 percent supporting Conservative causes and around 50 percent supporting the Labour Party, academia currently is almost wholly skewed to the left.
Conservative professoriate numbers are often in single digits. In the United States, also, several studies have found results similar to those of a 2018 survey, which found ten times as many Democrat-affiliated professors than Republican-affiliated at the top 60-ranked campuses. Worse, the U.K. paper finds, is that “soft totalitarianism” has increased, ranging from academic bullying and campaigns against scholars with unconventional views, to even outright seclusion in certain fields and disciplines.
About only half of academics would feel comfortable sitting next to someone who supported Britain’s right to leave the European Union, for example. Just 37 percent say they would feel comfortable being around someone critical of gender and trans-rights. One-third of academics would not hire a “Vote-Leave” supporter of Brexit.
The report also finds that active discrimination against conservatives happens in hiring, background checks, grant and scholarship applications, and committee memberships. Needless to mention, this is ideological discrimination in its purest form.
Naturally, it has resulted from institutions turning into a leftist fantasy world detached from reality. “Many academics thus choose to self-censor. This is again most marked for those who identify as ‘fairly right’ or ‘right’, 32 percent of whom have refrained from airing views in teaching and research,” the paper concludes.
Professor Matthew Goodwin, author of the best-selling National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, wrote about the report and gave an example of how conservatives are ostracized in academia. Conservative or nationalist professors not only face massive abuse on social media but also are sidelined in their careers solely for their political views. In real life, writes Goodwin, this means:
…being disinvited from workshops in my core research area; being asked about my personal political views during interviews for research grants; being asked to account for inviting a conservative onto campus; being accused of ‘going native’ or being an ‘apologist’ for Brexiteers and populists; being made aware that I was considered ‘problematic’; and, more generally, experiencing social ‘distancing’ from colleagues.
Naturally, senior and established academics can better weather such abuse, but junior academics are often sidelined or censored severely. Almost worse, many resort to self-censorship in an effort to preserve their career prospects.
The report argues that legislation is critically important to address issues of balance, establish positions to monitor academic freedom, and make sure that universities address freedom of speech and actual viewpoint diversity, rather than accumulating men and women who look different outwardly but all share the same ideas internally.
The report is important as it provides direct evidence for what most conservatives know to be instinctively true. Some of these issues are exactly similar in the United States, where campus free speech has been an increasingly partisan issue with conservatives trying to restore some semblance of equality in an atmosphere hostile to their views.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education maintains a whole database of how many times speakers have been disinvited on campuses. The University of Chicago is the only major university that has charted principles to defend free speech and freedom of expression on campus. So, while there have been many efforts by university leftists to shore up ethnic and racial diversity, the only diversity that is not visible is one of viewpoint.
Across the Anglosphere, three key issues ail academia. One, since ideological bias skews results, grants and scholarships are not falling sway to normal market conditions. Unfortunately, in this regard, despite much conventional conservative faith in markets, the market alone will not remedy what is wrong with academia. In fact, flawed as the current conditions are, a purely market “solution” would further treat students as consumers, encouraging them to feel even more entitled to whatever they desire from higher education.
Two, experience and history tell us that bureaucracy will do whatever is needed to survive and expand. University bureaucracy is no different and caters more to these entitled groups while expanding and filling their ranks. During the last three decades, administrative growth at universities has eclipsed 200 percent, compared to faculty growth in double digits.
Finally, add to these a very minor but extremely vocal group of activists acting as an ideological vanguard trying to discredit and ostracize opponents and grab power. Combined, these three create a perfect storm.
To defund activists in academia, and to ensure viewpoint diversity, external intervention is needed to enforce appropriate legislation and establish rules. South Dakota‘s new law on campus free speech and viewpoint diversity for public universities is a good model.
Assuredly, there are limits to whether governments can or should intervene. Governments can, however, reset the playground rules. They can, and should, help make universities better and more competitive while ensuring free-speech and viewpoint diversity and a level playing field. If it needs to be a battle of ideas, ideas need to openly compete with each other, without fear of ostracism or overt bullying.