Last month, at a conference in London, prominent philosopher Roger Scruton said that there were only two alternatives for those concerned about the dramatic anti-Western drift of the academy: Create new institutions to compete with legacy higher education, or starve them of funding. While Sir Roger was talking about the higher education system in the United Kingdom, the same complaints — and dramatic proposed solutions — are often heard here in the United States.
These comments were cheered by many who have understandably lost patience with a campus environment seen as unremittingly hostile to America’s Founding ideals. But those critics should focus on defending and supporting traditional American values and institutions.
If the anecdotal evidence of the daily headlines isn’t enough — and, for most, it is — the data is convincing. The National Association of Scholars released a report last year in which 40% of the faculties at top-tier liberal arts colleges were found to be entirely free of Republicans and more than 78% were found to have so few as to make no difference. Not all disciplines are equally effected, of course; the distribution in history departments is more than 33:1, while in economics it drops to “only” 4:1.
There are disciplines in which it’s increasingly difficult for a candidate with a particular set of beliefs to gain admission to a PhD program, thus insulating the academy from different ideas and ensuring the dominance of ruinous groupthink. Martin Kramer wrote about this phenomenon in his book, Ivory Towers on Sand. Try being a Zionist applying for a Middle Eastern Studies or International Relations doctoral program.
And so, for most of these people, the problem has been incontestably identified. We are left with the question of what to do now.
Sir Roger and others see this diagnosis and seek either to burn down the academy or retreat to a yet-to-be-built network of alternative institutions. But the university model, including many of the worst-offending schools, has served Western civilization well for hundreds of years and it seems contrary to common sense to burn down institutions of such historic value without so much as putting up a fight.
So what can we do?
First, we should encourage students who value American ideals to become teachers and professors. Now that we understand the damage done by ceding the academy to those who would destroy those ideals, we need to formally and informally encourage kids who know better to pursue careers in academia. When they bump up against faculty gate-keeping, we need to be prepared to help them expose and fight it — especially in state-funded institutions.
We should focus on fairness and viewpoint diversity. Americans understand fairness in our marrow and we dislike both unfairness and the use of power to maintain it. Campus ideological monopolies are unfair at the faculty and administrative levels, lead to the student tantrums we’ve all seen in the news, and have done a disservice to generations of students and the country that relies on them.
We can build coalitions with the many humanities faculty members of any political persuasion who dislike the sloppy, anti-intellectual nonsense that passes for scholarship in some departments — and even some whole disciplines. As the “grievance studies” work of Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsey, and Peter Boghossian shows, they’re out there. If our sincere focus is on viewpoint diversity, these good people will be valorous allies.
Perhaps most importantly, we must recommit ourselves to teaching America’s history and founding principles throughout the educational experience of every American child. The College Board has said that the U.S. Constitution is one of the “codes” that every college kid needs to succeed. It seems obvious that any child with our Founding ideals imprinted on her will be less likely to call for “safe spaces” when she gets to college. At the college level, a robust engagement with American history and political thought creates a different kind of “safe space” — for open debate, respectful disagreement, critical listening, and challenged assumptions.
Since the University of Bologna was founded in 1088, Western universities have shaped and prepared their students to lead the societies and times in which they lived. In recent decades, the venerable institution of the academy has fallen on self-imposed hard times. It must be saved.
Mr. Miller is the founder and former CEO of Quill Corp. Today, he is co-chair of Millbrook Properties, and the founder and Chairman of the Jack Miller Center.