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Behind the Academic Curtain By: Ryan McNicholas
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, September 15, 2008

As a politically conservative student, I used to wonder why the opinions I hear in the classroom are almost exclusively liberal, and why are even the most extreme liberal assumptions not challenged. What’s the matter with conservative kids? Why are they so easily cowed?

I know that students don’t yet pay taxes, and usually haven’t raised children or bought a house. The majority of their financial and economic burdens have been borne by their parents. Most of us have yet to be affected by the bloated bureaucracy of government programs and over-spending that have wasted billions of tax dollars. But some of us clearly know what’s up. We know that conservatism, as opposed to liberalism, is a philosophy that leads to a coherent and rewarding life. We know too that many of the leftwing students who now scorn us with some day come around. (Remember the old saying: if you’re not a socialist when you’re 20 you have no heart; if you are a socialist when you’re 30 you have not brain.) So why do we let them left walk all over us?

Part of our reticence has to do with being a minority and preferring most of the time to be invisible, out of the line of fire directed at conservatives on campus. But that’s not the whole story. I just recently understood more clearly a big part of the problem when I had a conversation with a friend who told me she was actually very conservative, but had impersonated a liberal in a recent Political Science paper she had written because she did not want to get a bad grade. I had not heard about this before, or I had heard it and dismissed it as unlikely. So I began to talk to other students, including conservative friends of mine, to see what the deal was. Was this happening to them too? Were they espousing ideas in their papers that they not only didn’t believe but thought were ludicrous? If so, why? Why were they betraying not only the conservative cause but themselves?

As I probed deeper I found that students were not only afraid to write papers containing their own conservative ideas, but were dodging their true identity in other ways too. They didn’t want to be named on club rosters or get credit for helping organize events. They did not want to join our Facebook group or sign in at our meetings, all because they were worried that someone might see their name on a list. While getting a sense of the problem conservatives faced, I suggested to a fellow college republican that when it came to graduation we should write a letter and ask for a conservative speaker. He got a sad look on his face and said that we’d better not because the administration would probably turn us down and even if they gave the go ahead for a conservative graduation speaker, the liberals would probably protest and ruin the ceremony.

I met two students who actually worked overtime so they could graduate early and get out of the university environment that they felt was totalitarian. How sad is that? What happened to the notion that college is the best years of your life? And yet students are taking “early commencement” because their views are despised by those who are supposed to be teaching to examine and value all points of view and consider all of them carefully in reaching a conclusion.

How coercive is the atmosphere on campus? A good friend of mine—a Hispanic--was recently asked by someone, “How could you be a Republican when you are brown?” This unbelievable bias from the left is accepted as okay. The comment didn’t occur in class, yet it might have. Sad to say, it would not have shocked me to hear it uttered by a professor.

As I talked to friends and teachers, it became clear to me that the problem went beyond intimidated students. I have also met several conservative professors at events around the country who are not known as conservatives on their home campuses. And because they’re not out conservatives they are assumed to be liberals, which they have adopted as a survival strategy. These teachers are afraid to speak out for many reasons, some including the fact that they are not tenured and are afraid to lose their job. But most of all, they don’t want to be identified as someone different and have to constantly explain themselves and be ridiculed to their face and most of all behind their backs.

At a conservative conference, in Washington D.C. recently, I met a retired Ivy League professor who had never once admitted to his colleagues that he was a conservative in his 30+ years as an instructor. He was “too afraid to lose friends and to be treated unfairly,” he told me. So he spent his career, again as he put it, in the “conservative closet.” And he didn’t apologize for this strategy.

And this brings me back to the discovery that friends of mine were becoming liberals-for-an-evening when writing their papers. In addition to talking to other students, I thought back on my own academic career. I even re-read papers I had written during my freshman year. Gradually I realized something: I had done it too! I had written papers from a liberal point of view, even though such views were abhorrent to me! I further realized that I had done this without even fully realizing that I was doing it. In one episode I recalled from my freshman year, a history professor had spent several days rattling on about a certain topic. I remembered thinking to myself, “Well, this kind of makes sense… He is my professor and he’s an expert…”

At first, I was depressed to learn about the humiliating pretense my friends were often making to keep from being singled out as conservatives. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. How is it fair to any of us that a small current of highly liberal opinion is regarded as the mainstream of thought on campuses? How is it fair to our country and its future to force students to live for four years in a regime of thought crimes and right thinking? An intellectual regime that is the cerebral equivalent of Pyongyang?

Students this coming year will turn in papers quoting Al Gore and MoveOn.org. They will discuss how Marx still has value and how great universal health care is in the countries that have adopted it around the world. They will be “right.” I will quote Reagan and cite conservative authors and I will be "wrong" and have to dispute the grades I receive on my papers and spend hours arguing with TAs. But annoying as this will be, I’ll get the better part of the deal ... I will be sharpening my conservative values and arguments and deepening my conservative conviction.

I would say this to student conservatives -- do not be afraid; there are others just like you. We will do whatever we can to support you. If you find yourself victimized by bias or classroom vindictiveness, speak up! Be heard! If you don't want to do it by yourself, contact young conservative groups on campuses, contact the Freedom Center, if you need to, contact me! I will try to point you in the right direction. Even if you are not a student, please support student conservatives. Help them in what has become the only good fight in our universities.

Ryan McNicholas is a political science major at UC Santa Barbara.

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