By Jeff Garcia
First Published on September 9 2011 by The James G. Smith Center of Academic Renewal
This year, my school, Macalester College, made the number one spot in the “Most Liberal Students” category of the Princeton Review’s 2011 college rankings. Many of my classmates are delighted, but I’m not.
Relatively few Americans have ever heard of Macalester and probably have a hard time understanding how this small college in St. Paul, Minnesota could beat out all the well-known contenders for this dubious honor. I’ll try to explain.
I am starting my sophomore year. As a freshman, I learned that Macalester’s liberalism is a fact of life at our school, pervasive in student culture and attitudes. It also spills over into academics, affecting the quality of every student’s education by keeping “right” ideas out of course offerings at the school.
The history department, where I plan to major, offers courses on socialism; feminism; environmental issues, and “Comparative Freedom Movements.” Instead of teaching objective historical inquiry, some of the department’s professors are known for flaunting their leftist beliefs in class through jokes or direct attacks on students and political figures. In philosophy courses, reading lists are devoid of figures such as Aquinas, Disraeli, and Heidegger; the readings are interpreted through the postmodern lens, and everything is inevitably deconstructed by students only to point out the prejudices of dead white men. The imbalance certainly hurts liberal students more than the few conservatives on campus. I see it in my liberal friends. One of them, an avowed Democrat, says she misses healthy debate with her peers in class. Others dislike hearing professors use disparaging terms like “Rethuglican”and “teabagger” when discussing people and ideas they disagree with. Others lament not having professors challenge their views. College should broaden your thinking, not just reinforce your existing beliefs.
When first going into my classes, I was surprised at the bullying I received for my center-right views. My high school background, which did not include much philosophy or social teaching beyond Catholic thought, was often put down as inferior by my classmates. That was true even in English classes. I could see how little those liberal students know about contemporary right-wing thought.
Students are often made to believe by their professors and classmates that the “conservative” is an anachronistic figure, whose ideas are not worth studying. On the other hand, conservative students, often keeping their views to themselves, learn a great deal about what liberals believe, and many are thus drawn into the study of public policy. Because of this, we have become a small but vocal minority.
This institutional bias has caused some notable incidents, one of which involved a political science professor and a conservative Mormon upperclassman. When asking a professor in class for religious leave to attend General Conference in Utah, the professor laughed, told him he was “wasting his time,” and went on about his being caught in an “oppressive system.” When the student later went to the administration about people with different points of view not getting fair treatment in class, this is what he was told: “That’s just the culture Macalester tries to pursue: places like BYU have their way, we have our way.” That, in a nutshell, is Macalester’s problem.
This was not the last incident involving my friend. He later approached a dean about creating a gun rights advocacy group on campus. Instead of being advised on the process of creating such a group, he was made to meet with a residence hall director, the dean, and a counselor, who told him Macalester might not be the place for a student with his views. They even went so far as to offer to write recommendations and help him search out a new school. Both incidents were an affront to his right, guaranteed in the school constitution, to pursue his education and express views without discrimination.
I need to add that courses that give opposing viewpoints equal time are not completely absent. The Economics Department is known to be relatively moderate and non-political compared to the rest of campus. Besides its analysis courses, the department offers courses such as “Adam Smith and Karl Marx,” which delves into both capitalist and socialist writings from their greatest exponents. The Political Science Department offers a foundations course that traces development of political thought in the West and boasts a course that promotes analysis of opposing arguments.
In general, though, Macalester’s academic heads have created an environment in which courses on conservative issues and thought are extremely hard to come by. At the same time, courses that shouldn’t have any slant frequently do.
Academic bias at Macalester must end for the good of the school. It cheats students out of a more substantial understanding of the world, leads to bad behavior from professors, and affects the perception of our community. Prominent alumni refuse to give, feeling that the school is run by left-wing ideologues. Knowing they would just be ridiculed, Republican candidates make no effort to reach out within the “Macalester Mile.”
Student political groups have made some strides in promoting dialogue and debate within the student body. “Build a Better Mac,” a coalition formed this year to break up cliques and open minds around our school, has hosted events toward this end. Communal spring break meals, lunch mixers that introduce students to people they would normally not see, and a speaking engagement by conservative journalist Reihan Salam about the importance of political debate (which ended with open discussion) have been some of the coalition’s accomplishments.
We students can only do so much, however. The most important reforms will need to come from the top, especially department chairmen who insistthat professors teach their subjects rather than their personal beliefs.