Friday, December 4, 2015

The state of the American university: a lack of discourse between differing points of view

Tonight I ran across an intriguing gadget.  This website by CrowdPAC studied the donations of faculty members of 148 Universities and ranked them on a political spectrum, from 10 points Liberal to 0 (evenly divided) to 10 points Conservative.

I found two disturbing trends in this data.

1.  There were a total of nine or ten conservatively-donating universities.  The other 138-139 had liberal donations.

2.  There were no more than six universities in the middle half of the spectrum (between five points liberal and five points conservative).

Obviously, the sample of universities was self-selected by the website, so we may not be getting a whole picture here,  However, assuming this site acted in good faith in its cross-selection, we are forced to face a disturbing trend: Most American universities cater to ideologies that are more liberal than the American public as a whole.

Now, some will not be alarmed by this; they will say that liberals have more truth and thus that it is proper that Universities largely be run by liberals.  While this may be true in some respects, for reasons I may someday explain more fully elsewhere, it is not true with respect to the subjects of my expertise-- family policy and legal matters.  There are things to be learned from both sides of the aisle on these matters.  I suspect the same is true in other matters.

Having dealt with the argument that the liberal state of Universities is proper, let me address concerns I have about this study.  First, knowledge is gained not just from those who worship at the feet of political ideologies, but from those who find wisdom to be gained in all ideologies. Indeed, from an LDS Perspective, Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said*:

"Those who govern their thoughts and actions solely by the principles of liberalism or conservatism or intellectualism cannot be expected to agree with all of the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As for me, I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism—but I find no salvation in any of them."

There is much lost when we don't raise up as teachers and other leaders those who find wisdom in all ideologies, who are able to find the good in other points of view.  Thus the lack of moderate universities that have a variety of viewpoints is problematic.

A related concept is that Universities become less of a forum to hear strong arguments with views from opposite sides of the spectrum.  If universities are dominated by liberal thinking, it is harder to engage with the best arguments of conservative thinking.  I attended law school at a more conservative law school, but was pleased that the school made a point of regularly inviting liberal guests to visit the school.  Sadly, there are instances (such as this one) where universities have not declined to invite speakers with certain points of view by characterizing the views as unacceptable (never mind the views of the speaker are shared by 40% of the nation and the majority of the world's populace).

In short, as we listen to others, we learn and grow.  Sadly, the state of the American University is making this difficult in the academic setting.

As always, these thoughts are my own, are intended to help, but do not reflect the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thanks for reading,

*Elder Oaks is the only apostle I know of who has said this. As such, his statement may not constitute the doctrine of my faith.


  1. Your point, as I understood it, is that universities should exist as a marketplace of ideas from all spectrums. I agree with you, that is what they should do. Where I disagree with your post, and what I believe you've missed, is that only a few schools, like BYU, set and police a targeted curriculum. Other universities do not and cannot do that regardless of who their donors are. Those decisions are made by autonomous colleges (college of math, chemistry, English, etc.) who must have an ethics board review the curriculum for bias, and in the case of public universities, regularly defend them in peer review. The donations are not made to impact the curriculum of individual collages, and it would be a breach of ethics (and school bylaws, I'd imagine, for most) for the university to impose restrictions on collages and especially individual professors based on the ideologies of its administrators. I think it's strained logic at best to try and derive meaningful classroom experience from this data. Donor lists are much different than the on-the-ground lived experiences as set by a professor.

    Your perspective may be a bit colored coming from BYU, which is organized in a top-heavy, administration-focused way, which does rigorously watch, micromanage and discipline its professors for straying off message, but that's not how it works elsewhere. It wasn't until I went to other universities and learned how they worked that I saw the difference, myself. With you spending all your undergraduate and graduate degree at BYU, it's possible you have an incorrect picture of how most universities work.


    1. First, I think the data was based on donation of all employees, not just administrators. I may be wrong, but the way I read your comment, I think you were suggesting I was focused on the " ideologies of its administrators." I wasn't. Indeed, if my focus was skewed, it was the opposite-- focusing more on professors' donations and less on administrators' donations.

      Also, I don't think I suggested anywhere that curriculum selection was an issue. Rather, my more modest suggestion is that teaching in the classroom is impacted by professors' political views (regardless of curricula). When these professors consistently espouse liberal views, these views create a campus culture where people are expected to be liberal

      It is a liberal culture caused by professors-- not by administrators-- that I'm worried about.

      Given how I read your comment as misreading my focus (on administrators instead of professors), I hope we can clarify further before I respond to the rest of your post.

      Let me know your thoughts.

    2. Also: these are donations from employees to political causes, not donations from outside sources to the university.