Iowa State Senator Mark Chelgren recently introduced a bill that would require universities in Iowa to implement a hiring freeze to balance the number of conservative and liberal professors on campus.
“Radical Liberal professors indoctrinating our youth” has long been a gripe from conservatives in the United States. Citing liberal hotbeds like the Ivy League Northeast, as well as Stanford and Berkeley on the West Coast, conservatives are fearful of liberal echo chambers on campus corrupting students and cultivating an anti-free speech environment.
Free speech including the debate, exchange and ridicule of different viewpoints should be the number one priority for universities. There have, of course, been cases in the past where students were cast aside by their peers for holding particular conservative positions on issues and there is no excusing that. In my experience at Oswego State, however, I have never come across a professor who showed hostility toward any student’s viewpoint. And yes, the professors I have encountered have fallen almost exclusively on the left side of the political spectrum.
The conspiratorial nature of the claims by Chelgren and other Republicans are a bit off-base. It is true that liberals are more likely to find careers in academia, journalism or theatre, for example, just as it is true conservatives are more likely to trade stocks on Wall Street or sell used cars.
The word “liberal” is derived from the Latin “liber” meaning free, open, giving and generous. Thus, professors who spend their lives exploring and learning new things tend to be more open on issues like marriage equality and immigration. Conservative student should relish in the opportunity to represent a consistent opposing viewpoint to nearly all their peers and professors. Being a liberal in college gets boring. Conservatives have the opportunity to challenge their professors much more than liberal students who simply coast along while all their firmly held convictions simply repeated ad nauseam.
Everyone is in college to learn. The best way to learn is to challenge and question the people in power who are supposedly telling you the truth. So long as professors are providing accurate information and not suppressing anyone’s opinions, their own personal ideology should not make one iota of difference. Liberal, conservative or Libertarian, I would prefer my instructors to have strong political beliefs because they represent a viewpoint that can be debated and each student can decide for him or herself why they have it all right or all wrong.
Professors are typically going to lean a little bit to the left, they always have and always will. This proposed legislation in Iowa to attempt to “balance out” the professors’ political stances is not only impossible, but it goes against the very principle of higher learning. If most university instructors fall on one side of the spectrum, so be it. That leaves to the brave conservatives to poke and prod their leftist contemporaries and, if the situation requires it, tell them when they are wrong.
This is how the truth ultimately arises. We discuss issues, debate them, and ultimately the truth comes out through deliberation with people who want the same results, but merely have different ideas on how to achieve them.