The real problem of the one-party campus

The real problem of the one-party campus
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The case against the one-party college campuses that we now have is easy to make. John Stuart Mill said it best: “a party of order and stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.” Then he got to the heart of the matter: “It is in a great measure the opposition of the other that keeps each within the limits of reason and sanity.”

Today’s campuses illustrate Mill’s point all too well. In the absence of the discipline that an opposition provides, a party insulated from the other gets lazy and steadily more foolish. When the two have to compete with each other, each side picks off the other’s weaker and more extreme arguments until only the strong ones are left. Each keeps the other intellectually healthy and on its toes. But when there is no opposition, leadership soon passes from the smartest and most responsible to the loudest, most extreme, and most irrational voices.

College campuses ought to be places ruled by reasoned analysis, yet now often seem the most irrational places on earth. They are the only place where the social and political issues of the day can’t be discussed in an intelligent way. One amazing result shown in a recent Gallup poll is that about half of young people have a positive view of socialism, which can only mean that they have been kept entirely ignorant of its disastrous history.

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College level teaching and research in the humanities and social sciences can only take place when there is a competent range of responsible opinion on social and political matters.

But figuring out why a one-party campus always degenerates into foolishness is the easy part — because it’s not really the heart of the problem. This is what is: Campuses are full of people who see nothing wrong with the one-party campus — in fact, that’s what they want.

That is a deeper and much more alarming problem.

Any member of the public can quickly understand why a one-party campus will soon become a silly and ignorant place and how unhealthy and unnatural that kind of campus climate is. But on present-day campuses there are thousands upon thousands of professors and administrators who are either so foolish that they can’t understand this, or so obsessed by radical politics that they don’t care how educationally dysfunctional their campuses have become.

It’s a point worth dwelling on.

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Most discussions of the one-party campus focus on the people who are not there — the right-of-center professors who ought to be there but aren’t. But that’s looking at the problem the wrong way around. The problem lies in the people who are there — because what they want a college campus to be marks them as unfit to have anything to do with higher education. These are the people who created the one-party campus and see as desirable something that is plainly an educational disaster.

When campus spokesmen are confronted with the absurdity of the one-party campus, they often try to explain it away as the natural order of things: academics are by nature left, apparently. But that is simply untrue. A 1969 study by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education found about three left-of-center professors for every two right-of-center. A whole series of studies since then show steadily increasing ratios that have finally produced the virtually ubiquitous one-party campus of today. There can be no doubt that it’s a condition that has been deliberately created over many decades. During that time, many voices have been raised to warn of the damage being done to higher education. Those voices have always been ignored because the people who were creating the campus monoculture knew very well what they were doing and why they were doing it.

Higher education is dominated and controlled by people whose purposes have nothing to do with higher education: That’s the real problem of the one-party campuses, and it’s why they need reforming from top to bottom.

John M. Ellis is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at UC Santa Cruz and the author of “The Breakdown of Higher Education: How it happened, the Damage it Does, and What Can Be Done” (2020). He is also chair of the California Association of Scholars, an affiliate of the National Association of Scholars, a politically conservative non-profit that seeks to reform higher education.