OPINION: Sheep for the Slaughter

Every year, colleges and universities across the nation go to great lengths to keep conservatism off campus. 2017 brought about a perpetual state of outrage, with college students and faculty attempting to stomp out everything from the Constitution to Conservative clubs. One North Carolina college, however, took a slightly different approach.

The President of Warren Wilson College, a private North Carolina school with a liberal reputation, announced that the school will proactively recruit conservative students to increase intellectual diversity on campus. While the school deserves credit for recognizing the threat liberal bias places on a vibrant marketplace of ideas, sending the sheep to the slaughter isn’t the answer. The reality is, America’s campuses are unwelcoming at best, and dangerous at worst, for conservatives.

A better approach would be to actually protect freedom of expression on campus.

Our nation’s colleges and universities are places of formation for our next generation of leaders and it is imperative that they not only respect freedom of speech, but understand the need to defend this core principle even when the speech and ideas of others are uncomfortable.

Fostering campus tolerance must start at the top—with professors and administrators. Instead, professors routinely use their positions of authority to promote their personal ideology to captive audiences, while administrators fail to hold them accountable.

For instance, a creative writing professor at Eastern Connecticut State University was caught on tape telling his class that Republicans are “racist, misogynist, money-grubbing people.” On the other coast, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor was recorded telling her class that President Trump is to blame for the Las Vegas massacre.

For years, Campus Reform has exposed professors venting anti-conservative rhetoric in class. With power over grades, they use their classrooms as bully pulpits to force their ideas onto students while suppressing and maligning others. This silences conservatives and denies students exposure to ideas they otherwise may have learned from.  

Hostility in the classroom translates into a hostile environment for conservatives, as they face social stigmatization and even physical violence if they express any dissenting opinions.

Consider the University of Central Florida’s “Diversity Chair” who declared Trump supporters were “not welcome on campus,” or the Berkeley College Republicans who are routinely stalked, spat on, and attacked, or the students at Fordham University who were forced to leave a student-run campus coffee shop for were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.

Such treatment becomes normalized when authorities engage in it, like when professors at the University of Nebraska harassed a lone student while tabling for her conservative club. If speakers like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson being shut down or disinvited isn’t revealing enough, cowardly administrators telling security to “stand down” and not provide protection from violent groups like Antifa at conservative events should be. This behavior is not only tolerated, it’s celebrated. The Orange Coast College professor who called Trump’s election an “act of terrorism” was named “Faculty of the Year,” while a California State University lecturer was reinstated after allegedly assaulting a College Republicans member.

If campuses are serious about preserving intellectual diversity, they must promote respect for all ideas. This means eliminating “free speech zones,” allowing conservative speakers, implementing consequences for biased grading, and punishing violence.

College students are adults; they deserve the opportunity to hear all ideas and draw their own conclusions. If we don’t protect intellectual freedom on campus, we can only expect an indoctrinated American population, incapable of thinking critically about the complex issues we face as a nation.

Lynn Morton, the President of Warren Wilson College, expressed grave concern over the National Survey of Student Engagement, which revealed that only 23 percent of her students had ever conversed with someone holding different political views. Unfortunately, these students will leave campus unable to cope in the real world where they’ll have to work and otherwise interact with people of various understandings and beliefs.  

Kudos to Morton for attempting to make her campus more welcoming for conservatives, but it’s not enough. American higher education cannot live up to its potential unless it protects everyone’s rights, including conservatives who are already on campus.  

Hannah Scherlacher is an opinion writer for the Leadership Institute’s CampusReform.org. Follow her on Twitter here: @h_scherlacher