Colleges are too liberal and it is hurting their enrollment
By Matthew Gagnon
Joseph Manson is — or more properly was — a tenured professor in the Anthropology Department at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he has established himself as a well-respected expert in his field, with research ranging from primate behavior and human personality.
He had worked at UCLA since 1996, but last week Manson published a piece on Common Sense, a Substack run by former New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss, announcing that he was resigning from his position and leaving academia.
His stated reason? “The ideological takeover of my university,” he wrote, “has ruined academic life for anyone who still believes in freedom of thought.”
Manson’s complaints are certainly not new. People on the political right have been complaining about “liberal colleges” for decades, particularly since the turbulent 1960s. It has not escaped the attention of many people that many universities are an ideological breeding ground for progressive politics, making conservative students increasingly isolated and even intimidated into silence.
Something different has been taking place recently, though. Complaints that were once the unhappy grumblings of students and parents are now spreading into faculty and administration as more highly educated intellectuals who work in universities have begun to speak out. Manson is not alone in having reached a breaking point, as other highly credentialed professors — the likes of Jordan Peterson, Peter Boghossian, Joshua Katz, and Bo Winegard — have either quit or become incredibly critical of the hostile environment toward intellectual diversity within the field of higher education.
Manson levels several blistering accusations, perhaps the most troubling of which is the “public torment and humiliation” by UCLA colleagues and students of a fellow professor of Anthropology, P. Jeffrey Brantingham. He describes how Brantingham, “a standard-issue liberal Democrat,” was systematically attacked, ostracized and “effectively erased” from being a functional member of the Anthropology Department, all for his research into the “geographic and temporal patterning of urban crime.”
This isn’t his only complaint, of course. He describes ideological bullying, enforced political speech requirements, and widespread lessening of academic standards related to threats of political retribution if certain changes were not made.
The entrenched powers that be in American colleges and universities will be, as they always are, quick to dismiss Manson’s resignation and his myriad of complaints, but academia faces a tremendous perception problem whether they want to admit it or not.
Already the ideological sorting has gotten extreme, with a clear shift happening among faculty over time. The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA has conducted research into partisan affiliations among faculty for decades, and the results have been clear: 41.7 percent of respondents described themselves as “far left” or “liberal” in 1989, while that number climbed to 60 percent by 2014. Some recent research has suggested that Democratic professors outnumber Republicans nearly 9 to 1 at top colleges. Among students, the lopsided partisan affiliation is likely worse.
This is not a healthy situation. Education, particularly at the highest levels, is an undeniable social good that needs to be encouraged. Society should respect and even revere people who dedicate their lives to learning, and young people should want to be a part of an institution that values and respects the difficult search for knowledge.
But sadly, America no longer seems to view the college experience as an inherent good. A recent Pew survey found that roughly four in 10 Americans say that colleges and universities are having a negative effect on the state of the country. That is a damn shame, particularly because so many good people do indeed remain in higher education.
But I believe that due to the increasingly one-sided environment found in American universities, we are actively dissuading thousands of students and parents from wanting to subject themselves to four years of hostility and frustration. Even when they do choose to go, many view their time in college as a difficult environment that they have to suffer through and endure politically, just to achieve the desired academic goals they have. Is that how we want them to think of it?
As it happens, this year I made the decision to pursue an advanced degree myself, and am extremely excited to report that I am beginning a master’s program in economics at George Mason University this August. I value knowledge and learning and want to expand my skills and understanding. I want others to make the choice I have made, because education should be for everyone.
But today it doesn’t feel like it is. And with so many students today actively wondering whether colleges even want them around, is it any wonder that university enrollment is beginning to go down?
Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.