Debates about political diversity on college campuses resurfaced during the Nov. 28 edition of Fox News’ “The Kelly File.” Host Megyn Kelly interviewed pundit Dinesh D’Souza, who is among the many conservatives who lament that right-leaning ideas are suppressed in higher education. D’Souza opined that college professors indoctrinate students through a “continuum of leftism.” Invoking Bill Ayers and Ward Churchill, he continued that radicals “penetrate the very institutions they were once protesting … [and] have become deans.” Agreeing with the notion that academia views Republicans as “stupid” and “lazy,” D’Souza said college professors “feel unaccountable to legislators … alumni … parents.” He then generalized college liberals, saying “none of them really believe in free speech for those who disagree with them.”
While students and professors at American universities are more likely to ascribe to liberal than conservative beliefs, D’Souza’s characterizations are extreme. Being an ideological minority does not necessarily equate to indoctrination. Even as a Gallatin student concentrating in political communication at NYU, which is continually ranked highly for its largely progressive students, I rarely find myself in a “liberal bubble.” In my three semesters, conversations about politics with fellow students have been infrequent and I personally have never heard a professor espouse partisan opinions. Prior to college, I attended school in a deeply conservative district. Defending my beliefs on a regular basis helped me strengthen my reasoning. Although being a lone voice occasionally felt daunting, it helped me have faith in my convictions.
I now manifest this confidence through editorials for WSN, where the majority of my political interactions take place. Despite D’Souza’s narrative, several of my columns argue that free speech should be consistently applied for liberal and conservative students. Still, as expected with opinion writing, kind feedback from like-minded individuals is practically nonexistent. I more often receive vitriolic, intolerant comments from readers who consider my opinions to be stupid and lazy. Moreover, I find that it is not professors who display a startling lack of accountability to legislators, alumni and parents. It is rather administrators who are responsible for stingy financial aid, unlivable wages, labor violations, inadequate sexual assault policy and lack of transparency — hardly indicative of progressive values, nevermind radical leftism. These institutional actions trickle into the classroom, challenging the preconceived concept of a liberal university culture.
Disagreement does not always equal retaliation in environments where one is an ideological minority. A professor penalizing students for political nonconformity would constitute indoctrination. An underrepresentation of conservative graduation speakers may make for an irksome half hour at commencement, but it does not force right-leaning listeners to accept opposing views. There are varying shades of ideology, especially at a school as large as NYU. While liberals may outnumber conservatives at universities, the lack of instances of legitimate indoctrination and increasingly corporatized model of higher education demonstrate that the collegiate “continuum of leftism” is not as genuine as D’Souza suggests.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Dec. 1 print edition. Email Christina Coleburn at [email protected]