I get occasional emails and personal inquiries regarding which, if any, elite colleges are "safe" for politically active and or outspoken conservatives and libertarian students in the sense that students and faculty will generally treat them respectfully, even if they are a small minority, and that they won't need to worry about being hauled before disciplinary committees because they said something politically incorrect that allegedly offended someone. Unfortunately, my knowledge of college life is almost twenty years out of date, but I'm sure VC readers have some ideas. Please comment below, and in the future I'll refer my inquiries to these comments.
"Respect" for Conservative and Libertarian Students:
Some commentators seem to have misinterpreted my rather clear (I think) post below as suggesting that I was looking for suggestions of colleges where conservatives and libertarians find themselves immune from criticism. Nothing of the sort; I said "where students and faculty will generally treat them respectfully," and that's what I meant. For example, I would consider the following actions disrepectful, or worse:
(1) receiving death threats because someone was offended by what you wrote for the school paper
(2) having someone come up to your girlfriend, while your standing right next to her, and asking, "are you his girlfriend?" and when she says, "yes," responding, "do you realize he's a Republican?"
(3) having the Administration refuse to abide by its own rules and regulations when conservative or libertarian students engage in activities they find offensive or merely annoying (e.g., throwing out the campus conservative magazine so students visiting campus on prospective students' weekend won't see them)
I witnessed all of these events, and more, at Brandeis as an undergrad. And I still enjoyed Brandeis, and I'm certainly not asking anyone to feel sorry for me, but if you would ask me if I would rather have attended somewhere with that sort of environment, or an environment in which I was treated with respect, the answer is obvious. Various 17 year-olds and their parents feel the same way, which is why I get asked the question. Personally, I didn't know any better when I was 17, wrongly assuming that
since I was going to a "liberal" environment, that meant it would be a tolerant environment.
The Real Harm of Campus Political Correctness
The issue of intolerance for conservative and libertarian viewpoints on campus, raised by David's post below, is often discussed in terms of the harm to the students who suffer for expressing their views. The more serious problem, however, is the impact on the quality of discourse on campus for students of all ideologies.
It is true that the vast bulk of the retaliation faced by students who express locally unpopular right-of-center views on intolerant campuses is relatively minor - social ostracism, petty harassment by the administration, and so forth. Most of the people involved will suffer little if any lasting damage. However, many will choose to keep quiet if the price of expressing their views is petty harassment or ostracism.
We can, if we want to, criticize these people and argue that they should be willing to take more risks. The practical reality, however, is that many (perhaps most) people care more about their social standing and about avoiding even minor harassment than they do about expressing their views on political issues. The predominantly leftist schools I attended were, on the whole, far more tolerant and open than 1980s Brandeis was, as David describes it. I usually said what I thought and didn't worry too much about the consequences (some of my classmates would say that I worried too little:)). Even so, I knew quite a few conservative (and even some moderate) students who kept their views to themselves for fear of hostile reaction.
The result may be a campus environment where debates about controversial issues such as abortion, race, or other matters will be one-sided because most of the adherents of the opposing view are keeping quiet. This reduces the quality of debate (and education) for all students, including those who adhere to the dominant view. The point applies to the expression of left-wing views at intolerant conservative institutions as much as the reverse. It just so happens that we have far more predominantly left of center schools than right of center ones. Thus, there is good reason to worry about political intolerance on campus even if we don't care much about the hurt feelings of conservative or libertarian students.
UPDATE: Some of those who claim that campus intolerance of conservatives and libertarians is not a significant problem argue that right of center students are themselves obnoxious, intolerant, and so forth. If there really is an overrepresentation of such people among outspoken campus right-wingers, this fact may itself be the result of PC intolerance. If speaking out in favor of un-PC viewpoints can lead to social ostracism, an obnoxious jerk is less likely to be deterred by this danger than a conservative who is generally nice and popular. After all, the jerk is probably already widely disliked, while his more popular counterpart has much more to lose from any PC backlash to his remarks.
Where Should Conservatives and Libertarians Go To School?:
David's posts about identifying schools conservatives and libertarians will find safe and respectful raises an interesting question: If you are conservative or libertarian, are you better off going to a school with lots of other conservatives or libertarians? We can ask the same question on the other side: If you identify as progressive, should you look for schools with lots of progressives?
My own take may be idiosyncratic, but let me put in a plug for attending an institution that does not share your basic ideological outlook. I think we can all agree that an open and respectful environment is essential. But beyond that, I think there are real educational benefits to being outside your ideological comfort zone. In my experience, at least, we tend to learn most when we are challenged; being forced to explain why you think how you think is the best way to improve your thinking. As an old boss of mine used to say, "If everyone is thinking the same thing, no one's thinking much."
One more Post on Respect for Conservative and Libertarian Students:
I'm wondering if all the individuals stating in various threads that conservatives and libertarian students who are concerned about whether they will be living and studying in a respectful environment should "get over it" would have the same attitude about someone who posted something like the following: "I live in the South and my 17 year old daughter's an outspoken feminist, and she's looking for a school not too far from home where she'll be treated by faculty and fellow students with respect, even if she's in the minority." Would they tell him to tell his daughter to "get over it" "suck it up" and just go the nearest intolerant right-wing religious college to hone her ideology? Even if she heard that feminists at that college get death threats, get downgraded by professors for their views, have the administration throw away the feminist paper, and otherwise suffer the indignities conservatives sometimes suffer at elite liberal arts colleges?
UPDATE: I've learned from the comments below that some posters apparently think that opposition to campus feminism inherently signifies hostility to women, that conservatives should never complain about any sort of mistreatment on campus because they control the three branches of the federal government, and that merely pointing out that conservatives are sometimes treated disrepectfully (and I haven't even given the most common example of the heckling of speakers) on certain campuses is "whining" and "hysteria about persecution."
Honestly, given this reaction arising from an initial innocuous question of which elite campuses are more or less open to conservative and libertarian views,* does one really have to wonder why a conservative or libertarian (or merely open-minded) prospective student would want to check out the campus environment before enrolling?
*More specifically, I asked which schools are "'safe'for politically active and or outspoken conservatives and libertarian students in the sense that students and faculty will generally treat them respectfully, even if they are a small minority."
Choosing Higher Educational Institutions:
A few loose thoughts, in response to the recent posts about this:
1. Most students, especially undergraduates -- even most smart and politically engaged ones -- generally know a little of the thinking in their own political camp, and less in the opposite camp. A few know a decent amount of the thinking in their own political camp, and a small amount in the opposite camp. All of them would therefore most benefit intellectually (all else being equal) from going to a place where they can hear important views from both sides, both formally in class and informally in interactions with classmates.
2. Entering undergraduates and law students should thus seek a place that is not only respectful of conservatives and libertarians, but (a) has a real mix of opinion among professors and students, and (b) has an intellectual and social climate that makes students and professors willing to speak out whether they are liberal, conservative, or libertarian. I suppose this puts me closest to Ilya, though I doubt that David or Orin would disagree with Ilya and me much on this.
3. I'm not sure about this, but I suspect that when people are entering a Ph.D. program, the matter is quite different. Here their work is likely to be much more closely and aggressively evaluated; and while in undergrad and law school you can just, if necessary, give the professor what he wants on the exam, doing that with your Ph.D. work is much more burdensome. I suspect that you would therefore want to go to a program where many on the faculty really respect the school of thought to which you belong (in the sense of thinking that it has a great deal of merit, even if they don't agree with many of its bottom-line conclusions), where some actually adhere to this school of thought, and where some strongly disagree with it and can thus help you improve your arguments.
The "Yale Taliban" and The Limits of Academic Tolerance:
VC's recent discussion of ideological tolerance on campus naturally leads us to the question of how far such tolerance should extend. This is the key issue raised by the case of former Taliban spokesman Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi , the nondegree Yale student who is now being considered for admission to the undergraduate program.
My own view is that an applicant's political ideology, no matter how odious, should be ignored in academic admissions decisions. In the case of public institutions, such nondiscrimination is required by the First Amendment. For private institutions like Yale, I would argue that it is the right policy, though not legally mandatory. Although schools may have to admit the occasional Nazi, Communist, or radical Islamist, that is better than letting university bureaucrats exclude any applicants whose views they find objectionable.
Hashemi's admission, however, cannot be justified even by my expansive theory of ideological nondiscrimination. This man was not just an ideological sympathizer of the Taliban. He was a paid agent. Being an actual agent of terrorists and oppressors is vastly different from merely having views similar to theirs. Yes, there is always the risk that some admissions office will decide to label the US or Israel or some other democracy a "terrorist" state and ban applicants who once worked for those governments. Practically speaking, however, I highly doubt that any major university would be willing to incur the opprobrium of doing so. Stigmatizing an entire nation (or even just its government) will be much more costly to universities than merely rejecting an individual applicant because the school objects to his views.
Finally, it should be emphasized that Yale was not simply applying ideological neutrality when they decided to accept Hashemi. They actually chose to take him because of his Taliban experience rather than in spite of it. As then-Yale Admissions Dean Richard Shaw admitted, Hashemi was accepted because of his "personal accomplishments that had significant impact" (see above link). Given that Hashemi was in his early twenties at the time and had never done anything else with "significant impact," this is clearly a reference to his time with the Taliban. Even if Yale chooses not to ban applicants who worked for the Taliban, it should at least not count Taliban experience as a point in their favor.