Now is that time of year when the seasons change, fall leaves become noticeable, and small talk is peppered with quips and opinions about politics. While most Americans only experience politicized conversation over pumpkin-spiced lattes during election years, it is a perennial occurrence on college campuses across the country. Now that summer has transitioned into fall, millions of students are settling into a new semester filled with erudite anti-Americanism and anti-Western bigotry. While conservatives lament the academic trajectory of the past half-century, they don’t seem particularly interested in the long-game of revitalizing American scholarship. Rather than copy older conservatives who mourn the bastardization of academia, younger American on the political Right must focus on making education patriotic again.
If political polarization already frightens Americans who are concerned about the viability of the country’s economic and cultural future, the upheavals on college campuses over the past few years show that the worst is yet to come. As wave upon wave of students graduate college after a multiyear diet of identity politics, Marxist economics, manufactured grievance, and accumulated debt, the institutions once given the task of fomenting civic-mindedness and critical thinking are now actively undermining American society.
The ideological homogenization of America’s colleges and universities is not new. Research by the National Association of Scholars published this spring found that not only has ideological uniformity in academia increased since the mid-1980s but that the ratio of Left-leaning academics to Republicans now stands at nearly 13-to-1. The result? Academia’s research output and teaching has dumbed down considerably, for a start. And radical leftism is rampant. Millennial graduates, those who have completed degrees under the increasingly homogenized academy, hold more positive views of socialism than do previous generations. Disillusioned by career prospects as a result of the relatively stagnant Obama economy and burdened by an average of $42,000 in debt, Millennials with little more than convictions nurtured in academia offer fertile ideological territory for a leftward-surging Democratic Party.
It’s possible that a bit more life experience and the fruits of a growing economy under Trump would convince Millennials that socialism does not lead to prosperity, no matter what Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez may say. The success of Millennial socialist candidates such as Ocasio-Cortez and others backed by the Democratic Socialists of America suggests that the Millennials’ left turn is not merely a product of a poor economic experience so much as a manifestation of true belief. Absolving academia from responsibility in creating an existential electoral threat may serve as the knee-jerk reaction by conservatives. But the sorry state of academia is as much the product of conservative surrender as it is the result of the American Left’s “long march through the institutions.”
It is a no-brainer that leftist characterizations of conservatives and Trump voters as a “basket of deplorables” or those who “cling to guns or religion” reduce Republicans to parody of uneducated ignorance. Conservatives do themselves no favors by denigrating academia rather than strategizing and developing plans to bring more conservatives into the profession.
Outspoken figures in established conservative domains such as talk radio routinely lament the sorry state of U.S. higher education. Rather than offer solutions to rectify the situation, many conservatives simply discourage attending university. As emotionally satisfying as it may be, belittling and avoiding higher education only diverts conservatives into professions where a college degree is not needed. Deprived of diplomas, conservatives will become increasingly disempowered in important areas of the economy and government.
Bright spots in academia such as Hillsdale College and organizations such as the National Association of Scholars are valuable but have not stemmed a near-monopolization of academia by the Left. Conservative commentators have condemned such Leftist campus developments such as crackdowns on free speech, riots, and segregated dorms. And yet not a single conservative organization or think tank has formulated a serious strategy to overhaul academia.
The solution is not complicated. It simply involves encouraging more conservative undergraduate students to pursue doctorates and careers in higher education.
Furthermore, current professors and graduate students who remain committed to the American ideals must be defended and provided the means to collaborate on research. Higher education must be made patriotic again.
The only way to break the Left’s monopoly on the university system is not to avoid higher education or build a parallel system. Instead, conservatives must provide a challenge. Americans who value the deep philosophical richness of the country’s founding ideas must jump into the intellectual fray.
Patriotic Americans should pursue advanced degrees and revitalize the philosophical health of the nation by teaching the uniqueness of the country’s past and the ideas behind it. Most college students not only graduate without any serious exposure to patriotic ideas, but the Left’s focus on social justice orthodoxy and activism deprives them of any serious pursuit of knowledge or understanding of the world. The only solution is to provide an alternative.
Fortunately, younger conservatives who have braved the barrage of ideological hostility from academia show some promise at catalyzing long-term reforms. College Republicans on campuses around the country have not only endured physical intimidation and threats but have begun to push back against hostile institutions through lawsuits and their persistence at inviting provocative speakers who challenge leftist orthodoxy. Grabbing the attention of those outside of the university and alerting them to what is taking place on college campuses certainly helps, but changing the institution requires taking a longer view and following a plan to place more conservatives into academia.
Evidence of such longer-term vision is already shown in other groups such as Turning Point USA and its efforts to change hearts and minds at the high school level. Hosting conferences designed to empower young Americans and prepare them for a hostile university system indicates that the current generation of right-leaning students has a greater understanding of the leftist academic behemoth than their predecessors. Attempting to prepare high schoolers for what they will face in college is a start. The question remains as to whether College Republicans and groups such as Turning Point USA will extend the pipeline of conservatives into the upper echelons of academia. To survive, the country’s economy and culture need a committed group of scholars devoted to conducting research in the national interest and teaching the next generation.
Solving the crisis of leftist hysteria emanating from academia parallels this longer view. Young Americans must see the professoriate as a potentially patriotic profession. Conservative undergrads who pursue doctorates and careers within the now-loathed ivory tower can eventually become professors and administrators. It is within the profession where reform is possible, not without. If Millennials are the product of an overtly anti-American industry, patriotic Millennials (and their younger siblings) are the solution.
The question remains whether existing conservative organizations will invest in the long-term strategy of making education patriotic again. As college students settle into another semester this October, it is worth having pumpkin-spice latte and discussing the possibility.
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