The Myth Of Conservatives Being Silenced On Campus

For a few decades now, conservative students have claimed that they are a minority on college campuses. They’ve insisted that professors are more likely to be disproportionately liberal compared to the general population and that liberal thought permeates through every aspect of academic life.

And they’re right.

Recent research shows that professors are significantly more likely to be liberal than conservative. On most college campuses, liberal ideology is the majority belief.

Academic institutions have, for centuries, been liberal leaning. Have decades of conservatives had their rights trampled because of this? Not at all.

While I do believe universities should seek out conservative professors, especially within humanities departments, it is by no fault of the universities if professors tend to lean liberal 50-60% of the time, compared to the 8-9% leaning conservative. If conservatives are less likely to hold jobs in academia, it would be improper of universities to deny a liberal professor a job just because of their ideology.

But even with a liberal slant in faculty, it does not mean students are being indoctrinated into left-leaning beliefs. Two recent studies conducted in the past decade have found no evidence that faculty ideology was “associated with changes in students’ ideological orientation” and that students’ “aggregate [political] attitudes do not appear to vary much between their first and final years” even at more liberal-leaning universities. It’s crucial that academic institutions have a diverse set of people and ideology, but these institutions can’t coerce right-leaning people to be professors.

Some conservatives believe that because they’re a (typically unpopular) minority on college campuses, their first amendment right to speak freely is being stifled. That because they are ostracized for their political ideology, they aren’t guaranteed the same level of free speech. But after spending an hour searching and researching, I couldn’t find any evidence suggesting that conservative voices are being suppressed on campus. I promise I don’t have a bad case of confirmation bias, ignoring proof I don’t want to see. I sincerely couldn’t find a study indicating there is a trend of right-wing ideas being shunned from the college classroom. I believe this claim by conservatives is an unsubstantiated myth.

Conservatives have right-leaning political clubs on most college campuses. Most universities make an effort to protect speech, even if they don’t agree with it. Some conservatives are even granted a weekly column in their school newspaper.

There are a few personal anecdotes of conservatives being outcasted for their beliefs, but for every story of a conservative being silenced for their opinions, there is one from a liberal, too. I do not believe there is an relationship between conservatism and being oppressed on a college campus.

Yet some conservatives insist that they’re oppressed. As evidence of oppression, they’ll cite their favorite, extreme example: the protests at U.C. Berkeley. Berkeley, infamous to some and admirable to a few, possibly has a protest for every event conducted on campus. If the event involves a conservative speaker, there will be, without a doubt, a larger protest than any other.

This was exactly the case for Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing provocateur, and his appearance on the U.C. Berkeley campus last week. After his original speech was cancelled for security concerns, he still showed up at the school. The protests against him, originally peaceful and entirely constitutional, turned violent, and the riots that ensued were cast on every 24-hour news show for days.

By no means do I condone the violence of the Berkeley protest; violence of any kind must always be condemned. But when right-leaning media such as Fox News generalizes the left by saying, “the Berkeley administration brought this on themselves by not taking a stand when ‘leftist criminals’ engaged in violence in the past,” I will not stand by. Just as the Charlottesville rally doesn’t represent every person in the right-wing, the violence precipitated by an originally peaceful protest doesn’t represent the values of the left-wing.

Fox News suggested that the right to peaceful assembly should have been restricted for an entire group of “leftist criminals” just because past protests precipitated violence. But protests, in their peaceful form, are constitutionally protected, and to have that right stripped would be unconstitutional, hypocritical, and immoral. The response to injustice cannot be more injustice.

While conservatives may be a minority on college campuses, I do not believe they are being oppressed. But if they were, I would be among the first to advocate for the return of their rights. Speech of any kind — liberal, peaceful, conservative, hateful — must be protected at all costs. The right to speak freely is the bedrock of our democracy, it progresses our country forward, and allows our nation to become the best state it can be.

About the Author

Matthew Cunningham
Student, athlete, writer, political nerd, and patriarchy smasher