We have previously discussed how activism in the media and corporations has triggered increasing public backlash. Social agendas have undermined trust and profits, but the pressure to pursue those goals remains high regardless of their cost. The same appears to be true for higher education. Universities and colleges have been criticized for purging their ranks of conservative or dissenting faculty while creating environments of political orthodoxy and viewpoint intolerance. A Gallup poll shows the result of years of erosion in viewpoint tolerance with only 36% of polled Americans saying that they have confidence in the country’s colleges and universities. That is a sharp decline from 2018 when almost half trusted our colleges and universities.
Not surprisingly, the greatest drop was among Republicans who face increasingly hostile environments on campuses and cancel campaigns for conservative or libertarian speakers. Republicans with either a “great deal” or “quite a lot of confidence” in higher education dropped from 37% to 19%. The poll suggests a growing view of colleges and universities as hostile environments for those with conservative, libertarian, and dissenting views.
At the same time, many are simply rejecting higher education as an option due to a mix of high costs and lower relevancy for them personally. The view of campuses as places of indoctrination also likely plays a role in that trend. Few conservatives relish the idea of paying high tuition to have their children spend four years with unrelenting attacks on their views and values while limiting their own speech opportunities.
The same view is growing among donors. The ideological intolerance has led donors to pull their support from schools like, most recently, the University of Arizona.
This trend has worsened as our faculties have become less ideologically diverse, except to the extent that they reflect a diverse spectrum running from the left to the far left.
For example, a new survey conducted by the Harvard Crimson shows that more than three-quarters of Harvard Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences faculty respondents identify as “liberal” or “very liberal.” Only 2.5% identified as “conservative,” and only 0.4% as “very conservative.” That is replicated in other schools like a recent poll at MIT, which found only a small percentage (if any) of faculty self-identify as Republican or conservative.
That is in comparison to a Gallup poll that found that “roughly equal proportions of U.S. adults identified as conservative (36%) and moderate (35%).” Only 26% identified as liberal.
What is striking is that none of this matters to individual administrators and faculty members. There are still powerful personal and professional incentives to reinforce this orthodoxy on campuses. More importantly, there are costs to speaking out against such agendas or supporting colleagues who have been targeted by cancel campaigns.
The result is that, as with many in the media and corporate settings, academics continue to saw at the branch upon which we all sit.