There is no greater rallying cry at American universities than that of supporting “diversity.” It is nearly impossible to get through a single day without hearing of some new program that ostensibly furthers this value on an academic campus.
The problem is that “diversity” is a god-term like “democracy” and “freedom,” in that many persuaders who employ the term use it to support phenomena which either do not reflect the meaning of the term or whose referents are the antitheses of it. Many refuse to use the goal of diversity to enforce variety when it is not politically correct variety.
“Diversity,” as applied by The American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) website under “diversity and affirmative action,” ostensibly constitutes the fact that “the Association is committed to use its procedures and to take measures, including censure, against colleges and universities practicing illegal or unconstitutional discrimination, or discrimination on a basis not demonstrably related to the job function involved, including, but not limited to, age, sex, disability, race, religion, national origin, marital status, or sexual orientation.”
None of these categories relating to diversity, however, references “academic freedom,” which the AAUP claims is central and “[indispensably is] conducted for the common good.”
Nowhere in its section on “defending diversity” does the AAUP claim to support the profoundly disenfranchised conservative members of the academy and their academic freedom. Nor is there a stated concern regarding the promotion of what many of us regard as the raison d’être of the academy: promotion of the “marketplace of ideas.”
All major treatises on the value of the “marketplace of ideas” argue some variation of the notion that just as competition is the basis of the free marketplace and produces a better economy, fierce and mostly unfettered competition of ideas produces the best outcome in value and policy consideration.
But if there is systematic ideological discrimination in academia, the outcome violates the precepts of meaningful diversity and produces a propagandized higher education that systematically limits and homogenizes academic inquiry and intellectual growth, while disingenuously proclaiming respect for differing points of view.
This acceptable ideological discrimination against conservative thought and conservatives is outlined in a book of collected articles by Robert Maranto, Richard Redding and Frederick Hess titled The Politically Correct University. I shall go over some of the main points of their indictment against American universities and look at my own field — communication — as well.
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The hostile environment accorded conservative professors, students and their production comprises an overwhelming number of facets of the academy: recruitment, hiring, promotion, tenure, committee work, curriculum decisions (reinforcing politically correct perspectives), accreditation, assessment, and practically all of the day-to-day activities of university life, including student activities. This unfriendly liberal climate means that liberal ideas dominate campus life while conservative involvement and values languish.
Surveys confirming the leftwing domination of the academy are plentiful, but for just a taste, David French stated in FrontPageMagazine.com that:
Let’s look at the statistical evidence. A recent study by Stanley Rothman, S. Robert Lichter, and Neil Nevitte found that 72 percent of professors teaching at American universities are liberal (by their own description) and 15 percent are conservative. At elite universities, the ratio was 87 percent to 13 percent.
There is, as The Politically Correct University points out, an entire supportive sociology and rhetorical substructure maintaining political bias in the academy, including control of agendas in classrooms, hiring committees, and so forth, all of which promotes demographic diversity “while largely eschewing political diversity.”
For instance, many of the members of the National Communication Association (NCA), an association of communication professors of which I’m a part, are proud of what they believe is their opposition to discrimination, especially in the academy. But they do not oppose discrimination per se. They oppose discrimination against certain groups, such as African Americans, women, LGBTs, disabled people and others. What most NCA members do not oppose — and even support — is discrimination against conservatives, especially, again, in the academy.
Not only do most NCA members support ideological discrimination, they support many of the forms of the discrimination they oppose when applied to the groups mentioned above: ideologically unequal outcomes relating to promotion, tenure, publication, convention participation, and organizational awards (for articles, books, etc.), not to mention the sociology of members, which restricts participation and creates what one of my NCA colleagues calls conservatives’ “marginalization” in National Communication Association politics and interactions.
My own university, Towson, is in many respects an oasis in the academic politically correct enforcement agencies’ desert. But even at Towson, where I have been treated better than any conservative I know at a liberal university, there is a public relations representative at the university who years ago threatened me that her office would never assist me again if I criticized specific liberal media, an action I do as a professor who has for two decades taught an advanced course in media criticism. She has been good to her word — about the only positive thing I can say about her. No one would ever tell her to apologize or even change her discriminatory policy.
What are some of the specific manifestations of the prejudice against conservatives in my field?
— Untenured professors are afraid to let their conservatism be known. Such revelations compromise promotion, tenure and office-holding for them at their universities. Professors, tenured and untenured, claim that conservatism in article submissions is poison, eliminates co-authorships and leads to rejection virtually every time.
— Convention panels nominally chosen to sport a variety of political viewpoints often have no conservatives whatsoever.
— Anti-conservative bias is so pervasive that it seems to simply be the natural order. Sponsored research grants are a large part of the academic trade, and the great preponderance of available monies in social sciences and humanities, certainly in the field of communication and elsewhere, are targeted for liberal or progressive topics. Want to research racial bias in the academy? No problem getting subsidized monies. Want to research anti-conservative bias in the academy? Big problem getting subsidized monies.
It should be noted that there are exceptions in American higher education to the claims of diversity and ideological bias in this exposition. But they are few.
College and university administrators and faculty throughout the United States can, largely without encountering any resistance, fail to reconcile their support for diversity with their discriminatory policies against conservatives. Therefore, there is not much hope for substantial change in the diversity hypocrisy that suffuses the American academy.
Dr. Richard Vatz is a tenured, full professor of Rhetoric and Communication at Towson University, where he has served for 37 years. He won Towson University’s “President’s Award for Distinguished Service,” the university’s highest honor, in 2004. He won the first Towson Student Government Association Faculty Member of the Year Award in 2009-10. He won the 2002 “Teacher of the Year Award” from the Student Government of Towson, and he won 4 Outstanding Teaching Awards, the most of any faculty member, at Towson in the five years they were awarded. He is the longest-serving member of Towson University’s University Senate, having served 32 years and counting. This article is derived from a paper given at the AAUP national convention on June 10 of this year.