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Access Denied By: Christina Hoff Sommers
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, September 05, 2002


In a recent talk at Haverford College, I questioned the standard Women's Studies teaching that the United States is a sexist, patriarchal society that oppresses "wimmin." For many in the audience this was their first encounter with a conservative scholar. Several students from nearby Bryn Mawr were frowning and knitting intently as I spoke.

In the hectic discussion, one student defended her women's studies class. "It taught me to love my body." When I politely suggested that "loving one's body" was a bizarre and unacceptable goal for a serious college course, she seemed mystified. Another, whose Haverford education seems never to have included Reality 101, was horrified at my saying that the free market had advanced the cause of women by affording them unprecedented economic opportunities. "How can anyone say that capitalism has helped women?" she asked. Nor did I win converts when I said that the male heroism of the soldiers in our special forces, not to speak of the fire fighters at Ground Zero, should persuade gender scholars to acknowledge that "stereotypical masculinity" had some merit. Later one embarrassed and apologetic student said to me, "Haverford is just not ready for you."

The young woman who had invited me to the campus had told me that there was very little intellectual diversity at Haverford and that she hoped my talk would spark some debate. In fact, she and many in the audience were quietly delighted by the exchanges. But two very angry students accused her of having provided "a forum for hate speech."

As the last presidential election made plain, the United States today is pretty evenly divided between conservatives and liberals. Yet conservative scholars have effectively been marginalized, silenced, and rendered invisible on the contemporary campus. Most students can go through four years of college without ever encountering a scholar of pronounced conservative views; they may never once hear such views treated seriously or respectfully.

Few conservatives make it past the gauntlet of faculty hiring in departments such as political science, history, or English. When a reporter from Denver's Rocky Mountain News did a survey of the humanities and social sciences at the University of Colorado (Boulder), he found, "Of the 190 professors affiliated with a political party, 184 were Democrats." There wasn't a single Republican in the English, psychology, journalism or philosophy departments; nor were there any in such enclaves of freedom as women's studies, ethnic studies, or gay and lesbian studies. A 1999 survey of history departments found 22 Democrats at Stanford, and 2 Republicans. At Cornell and Dartmouth there were 29 and 10 Democrats, respectively; but not a single Republican in either school's history department.

The dearth of conservatives in psychology departments is so striking, that one (politically liberal) professor has proposed affirmative action outreach. Richard Redding, a professor of psychology at Villanova University, writing in a recent issue of American Psychologist, notes that of the 31 social policy articles that appeared in American Psychologist between 1990 and 1999, 30 could be classified as liberal; one as conservative. The key issue, as Redding rightly sees it, is not the preponderance of Democrats over Republicans, but the liberal policy of systematically excluding conservatives. Redding cites an experiment in which several graduate departments received mock applications from two candidates nearly identical in all ways save one: one "applicant" disclosed that he was a conservative Christian. The professors judged the non-conservative to be the significantly better candidate. Redding asks, rhetorically: "Do we want a professional world where our liberal world view prevents us from considering valuable strengths of conservative approaches to social problems . . .where conservatives are reluctant to enter the profession and we tacitly discriminate against them if they do? That, in fact, is the academic world we now have and it is being perpetuated."

The only exposure to dissident perspectives that the average undergraduate may get is on the rare occasion that a politically incorrect speaker is invited to the campus. This happens rarely because such visits are resented and resisted and almost never internally funded. When Thomas Sowell, Ward Connerly, Andrew Sullivan, David Horowitz, or Linda Chavez, do appear at a college, they are routinely heckled, jeered, hissed at and sometimes threatened. In November 1998, the president of Columbia University, George Rupp, forced the last minute cancellation of a conservative conference when a mob of 250 students threatened to disrupt it. As the invited speakers, John Leo and Dinesh D'Souza, made a hasty retreat to a nearby park, jeering protesters, exhilarated by their success in getting them evicted, brandished placards that said, "Access denied: We Win."

The academy is now so inhospitable to free statement that conservatives have resorted to paid advertisements as a means of presenting their ideas to students. Unfortunately, that too doesn't always work. Most school newspapers refuse to print them. Papers that do print them are sometimes vandalized and the editors threatened.

The classical liberalism, articulated by John Stuart Mill in his book On Liberty, is no longer alive on American campuses, having died of the very disease Mill warned of when he pointed out that ideas that are not freely and openly debated become "dead dogmas." Mill insisted that the intellectually free person must put himself in the "mental position of those who think differently" adding that dissident ideas are best accessed "by hear[ing] them from persons who actually believe them. [You] must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form." In too many universities today students have no access to nonconformist ideas in the persuasive form given them by conservative or libertarian thinkers.

Fortunately several groups are working hard to bring some intellectual balance to the campus. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, The Young America Foundation, and the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute and Accuracy in Academia, sponsor campus lectures by leading conservative scholars and writers. Students, routinely denied funds for the out-of-favor speakers they wish to invite, can turn to one or more of these four groups for help in inviting speakers like William F. Buckley, Shelby Steele, or Mary Lefkowitz to address audiences at their schools. But for these organizations, there would be a near total black-out of conservative and moderate opinion on our campuses.

The absence of intellectual diversity in our institutions of higher learning is a national disgrace that many have deplored but few have taken practical measures to remedy. The good news is that David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture has just launched the "Campaign for Fairness and Inclusion in Higher Education." It calls for university officials to:

  1. Establish a zero tolerance policy for vandalizing newspapers or heckling or threatening speakers.
  2. Conduct an inquiry into political bias in the allocation of student program funds-including speakers' fees, and to seek ways to promote fairness towards and inclusion of diverse and underrepresented perspectives.
  3. Conduct an inquiry into political bias in the hiring process of faculty and administrators and seek ways to promote fairness toward-and inclusion of - diverse and underrepresented perspectives
Were even one high profile institution like the University of Colorado or Columbia University to adopt a firm policy of intellectual inclusiveness, that policy would quickly spread and gain purchase, and, then, benighted students everywhere-even at rigidly conformist institutions like Haverford and Bryn Mawr-would soon be seeing daylight.


Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC . Her books include Who Stole Feminism and The War Against Boys. She is a frequent lecturer at prep schools and on college campuses.


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