I am a full professor at Towson University in the field of communication who has been teaching and writing for over 45 years. I am the longest-serving member of Towson’s main legislative body (over 40 years), the University Senate (now the Faculty Senate). I am also a traditional conservative who identifies consistently with the late Republican Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker. I am devoted to freedom of speech in academe and have confronted the anti-right prejudice in my area of study as well as academia in general with mixed success. Parenthetically, I was a guest on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line in the 1980s.
There has been an increase in the national discussion about the place of conservatives in higher education. The public is vaguely aware of the anti-conservative bias in higher education (and primary and secondary education as well). The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) states its dedication to “Advancing academic freedom” (sic) in the first three words on its web site, twice in its short “Mission Statement,” and is known for claiming that academic freedom is its preeminent value.
The anti-conservative movement in academe, a field that falsely claims to worship the “Marketplace of Ideas” and “Academic Freedom,” is particularly devastating to the competition of views, opinions and beliefs to win support in the minds of students, young and old. The hostility to conservativism, has been increasing slowly for over 50 years and precipitously increased after 2016, the year of Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency.
Polls of public opinion consistently bear this out. As Pew Research Center reports, “[I]n early 2019 87% of Democrats – but fewer than half (44%) of Republicans – said colleges and universities are open to a wide range of opinions and viewpoints.”
In a 2016 article entitled “The dramatic shift among college professors that’s hurting students’ education” in The Washington Post, it is argued that “If you’ve spent time in a college or university any time in the past quarter-century you probably aren’t surprised to hear that professors have become strikingly more liberal. In 1990, according to survey data by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA, 42 percent of professors identified as ‘liberal’ or ‘far-left.’ By 2014, that number had jumped to 60 percent…In the academy, liberals now outnumber conservatives by roughly 5 to 1.”
The liberal biases in the social sciences and humanities are not in dispute among serious observers. The liberal academy in most public universities hires mostly those on the left, tenures mostly those on the left and retains mostly those on the left. Conservatives, especially pre-tenure, but also post-tenure, hide their politics and live in fear of being “outed.” Through their careers, conservative professors have inordinate difficulty publishing, teaching successfully, rising administratively and generally gaining power within their colleges and universities. When challenged regarding politically-influenced hiring, most faculty and administrators typically say disingenuously that interviews of applicants do not broach ideology.
Sometimes not, but it would take quite an obtuse observer to overlook all of the ideological messages to and from applicants regarding their political stances.
The evidence of this prevailing bias is virtually undiluted. As just a sample: there are informal political discussions with candidates seeking professorial appointments (try getting a job if you do not manifestly despise President Trump and to a lesser extent conservative values), applicants’ sourcing of recommendations of well-known liberals and (preferred) progressives in their fields, and curriculum vitae lists of publications and convention papers.
The National Communication Association, the major home of a variety of communication studies and their pre-eminent national organization, has become not newly but increasingly progressive and destructively vengeful toward its conservatives and conservative thought. The NCA’s desire to make its organization free of any political membership to the right of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders is manifest in a multitude of ways. For example, here’s a fairly representative sample of presentations from the recent NCA national convention in November, 2019: “Competitive Papers in Activism and Social Justice;” “Queer Epistolary Rhetorics,” “Bill Ayers Communication Forum: Patriotic Nationalism, Democracy and Social Progress.”
There are literally no clearly pro-conservative titles in the hundreds of topics in that prototypical convention, nor is it likely that one would be accepted. The author of this piece, known for his conservatism, had 2 panels accepted in the most recent NCA convention in November, 2019. One, roundly praised by all panel evaluators, was placed on the last day in the next to last time slot, and the other, honoring his life’s work, was placed in the very last slot, designed to minimize the audience and the significance of the panel. I am reliably told that the NCA’s executive director, renowned for his contempt for conservatives and aiming to rid the NCA of as many of those possible to the right of progressives, including some liberals, arranged for the placements.
The NCA has bled conservatives per the wishes of the current leadership. There are no records of how many of those few professors on the right have left the organization, but this professor knows at least 10 from his conservative listserv who have found the prevailing anti-conservative biases in the NCA too daunting with which to function as bona fide academics.
Articles in the NCA journals almost never have pro-conservative themes, and there is but a rare piece complimenting a Republican political principle. In the Reagan years and Trump years there have been zero articles implying positive views of presidential rhetoric or communication in the very top journals of the NCA. Its most recent issue of the top NCA journal, The Quarterly Journal of Speech, devotes nearly one-half of its article pages to its lead piece’s Abstract, which introduces itself by saying “This introductory essay makes the case that rhetorical studies as a field and the Quarterly Journal of Speech as the journal of record for that field are racist.”
Further unambiguous evidence of the NCA’s war against anyone to the right of far-left is the 2019 rise and fall of the its listserv, The Communication, Research, and Theory Network (CRTNET).
CRTNET is an NCA email listserv whose discussion section has alternated from a politically controlled exchange of views that originally had an overseer who would only allow sufficiently left-wing politically correct posts to a basically unedited – but for profanity and manifestly libelous posts – and untrammeled free-for-all focused on academic and political issues. Since the election of Mr. Trump, the discussion section has comprised more and more ad hominem attacks on conservatives such as the author of this piece and a few others, including liberals who have opposed the unfair treatment of their tory colleagues.
These attacks included veiled and not-so-veiled evidence-free accusations of racism, childish trashings and support for calumnies articulated by the communication far-left web site called Communication Scholars for Transformation, a political ally of the present NCA leadership.
These defamatory statements led to a threat of a libel suit against the far left accusers and their suborning leadership in the NCA, which in turn led to the immediate closing of the discussion section in what was called “Announcements, Queries, and Discussions” and the renaming of the listserv as the theoretically inoffensive “Conferences, Calls, & Announcements.” This end of a communication organization’s discussions and political/academic discussions was summarized in a piece by Inside Higher Ed, called “Difficult Conversations.”
Two liberal icons and former presidents of the NCA left the organization, hopelessly put off by the political ugliness of the new NCA. The stormtroopers of the NCA leadership couldn’t have cared less.
The NCA autocratic leadership has for quite a while, at least since 2016 shown itself to work in close collusion with the far-left element of the already quite leftist NCA.
Writing awards in the NCA are almost always sponsored by left-wingers in the NCA and with rare exception go to those on the far left who meet the organization’s political standards. One major award, funded with $40,000, offered by the author of this piece was rejected almost two years after submission, and the rejection included inconsistent arguments by the NCA leadership, refusals to communicate by the leadership and nasty personal attacks by said same leadership. At the end of 2 years there was a formal rejection, only after the NCA was hectored by the applicant for a decision.
The award was accepted in days by a regional organization, the Eastern Communication Association. That organization was then verbally attacked privately by the executive director of the NCA.
Academia claims as a god-term diversity, ostensibly the making available of academic opportunity to groups heretofore treated inequitably. The author of this piece has long supported such equity, but the academy in general and the NCA in particular has decided to define equity as a value comprising in opportunity and rewards those on the far left only, emphasizing discrimination against all of those on the right as well as some of their political brethren on the traditional left.
The support for genuine academic freedom, freedom of speech, equal opportunity and genuine diversity barely exists in public colleges and universities anymore, much less in particular academic organizations such as the NCA.
Witness the leftward dominance of guest speakers on most public college and university campuses. Those suggested by conservatives either are rejected or those arguing for them give up in the face of opposition, including at universities such as Berkeley, once the home of the ironically named “Free Speech Movement.”
There is little hope that in the near future public colleges and universities will reverse the anti-conservative movement which aims to rid academia of conservatives and conservative thought. If the NCA is typical, their work is about three quarters finished.
Richard E. Vatz, a Towson University professor for over 45 years is author of The Only Authentic of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model (LAD Custom Publishing, 2019) ) and the co-editor of Thomas S. Szasz: the Man and His Ideas(Transaction Publishers, 2017).