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Stan Evans liked to joke that back in 1964, young conservatives had to get over the Goldwater defeat without grief counselors. This was no exaggeration in 2016, when administrators at campuses across the country rushed to comfort students (and many tearful faculty) the morning after Donald Trump’s surprise victory, with long, lugubrious campus-wide emails “sharing the pain” of the campus community, and listing the emotional support resources the campus would make available for everyone to cope. This tableau was repeated after George Floyd’s death in 2020, and after the modern-day Pearl Harbor, the January 6 “insurrection.”
And yet after Trump’s defeat in 2020, there was no similar concern for the well-being and emotional health of conservative students on campus. No offers of grief counseling, no reassuring messages of sympathy for the emotional trauma of Trump’s defeat. (Nor were there any riots at Hillsdale College.)
Why not? It is a mistake to attribute this asymmetry of concern for left-leaning versus right-leaning students simply to the ideological or partisan bias of university administrators, or just virtue-signaling, though both motivations likely play some part. The real reason is much worse: administrators know that conservative students don’t need grief counselors. The slobbering solicitude for the tender emotional state of left-leaning students on campus implicitly recognizes that liberal students are fragile crybabies. Administrators calculate, correctly, that if they don’t emote and offer counseling and cuddling resources to fragile leftist students, they risk campus breakdown or worse. It seldom seems to lead to any reflection about how so many students got this way, or the large role modern American education, from kindergarten through college, has played in generating this fragility.
The cowering defensiveness of cowardly college administrators finds a whole new frontier just now in resistance to “campus climate surveys.” Colleges and universities have been conducting such surveys for a while now, and most of them aren’t very good for a bunch of reasons. They often find, however, growing numbers of students say they self-censor on campus, or do not think free speech exists on campus. This fits with several general surveys of students from the Knight Foundation and other outside organizations, all of which tend to make clear the reality of the intellectual climate on campus—we now have a university climate that would have made East Germany proud. More than 30 years ago, Abigail Thernstrom memorably described our colleges and universities as “islands of repression in a sea of freedom.” It has only gotten worse since then.
Suddenly some universities are trying to block further campus surveys because they are fearful that the same parental and political backlash against ideological education we are seeing in K-12 might soon spread to higher education. In Wisconsin, administrators are trying to block a Student Perceptions of Campus Free Speech Survey because, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reported, “Others on campus have raised questions about the survey’s potential misuse by Republican legislators.” Now why would they fear that Republican legislators would “misuse” the survey’s findings, unless there is a well-founded expectation that any survey will reveal the rigid speech-chilling conformity of a university that emanates exclusively from the left?
A similar scene is playing out in Florida, where the state legislature has requested the state’s public universities conduct a campus “viewpoint diversity” survey:
Last year, Florida’s Republican Legislature passed a bill requiring all public colleges to distribute an annual survey of political beliefs in order to “assess the status of intellectual and viewpoint diversity” on campuses across the state. The measure was motivated, in part, by conservative beliefs that institutions of higher education favor a liberal ideology. “It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, at a news conference where he signed the bill into law. “Unfortunately, now the norm is really, these are more intellectually repressive environments.”
A union is urging faculty, staff, and students not to cooperate with the survey, saying in a news release: “Florida’s government has no right to know the thoughts, feelings, or political or religious beliefs of anyone, including the higher education community.” This is pretty rich coming from the very same people who want to require faculty to sign “diversity loyalty oaths” for hiring and advancement. As has been obvious for a long time, “diversity” on campus today does not include much diversity of thought.
As with Wisconsin, the real reason for the resistance to these surveys is that everyone knows what they will find. We have reported repeatedly here on Power Line about faculty hiring ads with a clear leftist ideological bent, the subtext of which is always “conservatives need not apply.”
Thomas Sowell has been asking for years: “Whenever a college faculty member or administrator brags about their ‘diversity,’ ask them how many Republicans they have in their sociology department.” Actually, Republican legislators in Florida, Wisconsin, and elsewhere should hold hearings with college presidents, deans, provosts, and individual department chairs and ask them a whole series of questions exactly along this line.