For about a half a century, the proportion of Americans polled who self-identify as conservatives has remained remarkably steady even while their presence in academia has shrunk. “What frustrates me is the idea that the Left is open to conservatives,” Mollie Hemingway, who writes for The Federalist, said at a recent Hillsdale College conference. “They’re not.”
In fact, the academy is no longer a haven for First Amendment absolutists, if it ever was. “Over 90 percent of campuses restrict free speech, one-third severely,” Hemingway noted, citing data from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). “This is infecting the larger culture,” she argued, pointing to the backlash producers of series such as The Simpsons and Roseanne experienced when those programs veered even slightly from progressive orthodoxy.
Meanwhile, back on campus, “A Knight-Gallup poll shows that 30 percent of students want to restrict viewpoints,” Hemingway notes. “This is a lot, especially when you realize it was just 22 percent two years ago.”
“A William F. Buckley Institute survey found that 51 percent of students favor speech codes. One-third could not identify the First Amendment.”
Could this hostility to free expression on campus have grown while conservative voices outside of it have increased in number? “It’s easier to silence us than debate us,” Hemingway asserts.
Indeed, as we have pointed out in repeated instances we have covered on our website, that is precisely what universities do. “The only way to win is to build up our own institutions,” Hemingway suggested, in both the media and academia.
The online publication she writes for is, of course one of these. The college which sponsored her lecture in April is another.
She recalled the experience she and her husband had when they taught a course at Hillsdale and contrasted it to the norm in academe. “We gave reading assignments and the students actually read them and came ready with questions,” she remembered. “It was very different from my experience at the University of Colorado as an undergrad.”
Unfortunately, too many parents, even those at odds with the prevailing orthodoxy in academe, continue to support the latter of these rather than the former. “I’m also frustrated by conservatives and their failure to come to grips with the problem,” Hemingway said. “They know academia is a disaster but they continue to send their kids to it without giving them the tools they need.”
The late author M. Stanton Evans, in our last conference at Georgetown 14 years ago, advised the students present to develop alternative sources of information, such as our own organization. The need has only grown greater over time.
“I think that a lot of what happens at universities happens because we self-censor,” Hemingway said at the Hillsdale event. I’ve talked to students and professors who have done just that.
Unlike the students mentioned above, we do know what the First Amendment is but it exists to be used for a larger purpose. “The First Amendment exists in order to pursue truth,” Hemingway said.