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Outnumbered: Conservative Faculty Speak Out

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When he came to Wake Forest University, he was a vocal, card-carrying Obama supporter. It helped him fit into his department and develop good relationships with his colleagues. A few years later, something happened. He always was open to the arguments of conservative students, and was often impressed by their intellect and ability to discuss issues. After several years and a lot research, this professor changed his views and became comfortable as being identified as a conservative thinker. When he made this shift, he joined a small group of professors who hide in plain sight at Wake Forest and realized the unique set of challenges conservative professors face.

Wake Forest University has an ideological diversity problem. After researching the party identification of 396 tenure-track, tenured, and teaching professors in the Undergraduate College using North Carolina’s Public Voter Search, the Review found that only 11 percent of professors at Wake Forest are Republicans or lean Republican. Several departments at the University had less than 11 percent, with only 2.3 percent of foreign language professors, 4.5 percent of humanities professors, and 4.65 percent of literature professors are Republicans or lean Republican. For more data and information about our party identification study, go here.

I sat down with 6 conservative professors at the University who each requested anonymity in order to speak openly. All of them said that the university lacks a commitment to ideological diversity, which has created an environment where politics trumps the intellectual pursuit of truth.


An Ideological Vacuum

“The problem is that whenever you are on the liberal left, to some degree, you don’t really see conservative ideas as even valid or worth the time and effort to allow because you have a sense that you know more and you know better.”

Politics has replaced the pursuit of truth,” said a professor in the social sciences. “Ideology gets in the way of the pursuit of truth,” said a professor in literature. “It certainly lacks integrity to say I get to bring my political views to the table but someone else doesn’t,” said a professor in the humanities. Across the undergraduate college, political ideology is getting in the way of academic freedom and intellectual pursuits.  

Professors said that there are questions that are not allowed to be asked and assumptions that are not allowed to be challenged for political reasons.  “It’s such a flawed way to explore new ideas when you just rule out ideas as beyond the pale when half of the populace has these ideas and act like there are no replies to their own ideas. This is as debilitating to them [professors] as it is to their own students,” said a professor in the social sciences.  

A different professor in the social sciences believes that this problem stems from intellectual arrogance, “The problem is that whenever you are on the liberal left, to some degree, you don’t really see conservative ideas as even valid or worth the time and effort to allow because you have a sense that you know more and you know better.” This arrogance creates what another professor described as an “ideological vacuum.” In this vacuum he described, professors do not acknowledge counter-arguments on issues or challenge their own assumptions.

Provost Rogan Kersh noted that Wake Forest’s ideological diversity is “similar to that nationwide. Inside Higher Ed performed a study last year showing that around 11 percent of U.S college/university faculty identify as conservative; at private four-year universities, that figure is roughly 8.5 percent. Our similar numbers could certainly mean that ideological diversity is absent on our campus, but I haven’t found that to be the case, in private or public conversations.”


In Hiding

“Conservatives can’t even get their foot in the door in a ton of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities unless they completely disguise it and fly under the radar.”

Most of the professors I interviewed do not openly discuss their political beliefs with their colleagues. There is an overwhelming assumption in many departments that every faculty member identifies as left of center. “In certain departments, they assume everyone is of the same ideology,” said a professor in the social sciences. One professor said that even if he tried to express his conservative views, his colleagues would suffer too much cognitive dissonance to recognize them. The assumption that all faculty are liberal has led to open derision and ridicule of Republicans and conservatism, according to a different professor in the social sciences, which has caused a sense of hostility against conservative faculty.

The inhospitable environment at Wake Forest has stoked the fears of conservative professors. Five out of the six professors I interviewed strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that being openly conservative makes it harder to advance in a career in academia.

Due to these factors, many of these professors have decided to stay in hiding. One professor said staying in hiding makes it easier to get hired, “Conservatives can’t even get their foot in the door in a ton of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities unless they completely disguise it and fly under the radar.” Another professor believes that disguising his beliefs creates a better work environment,“I would lose harmony and congenitally if I was more open about some of my views.”

One professor has chosen to stay in hiding to avoid association with harmful labels. “There are a lot of things people mean when they say are right of center or conservative, and we all don’t mean the same thing by that, which is important to keep in mind,” she said. She believes assumptions based on these labels, “really undermine your career opportunites, your ability to lead effectively and to interact well with others and collaborate because people made a whole bunch of assumptions about you.”

Provost Kersh responded by expressing concern. He said, “It’s distressing whenever any member of our community—faculty, staff, or students—feels actively excluded from the intellectual and extracurricular opportunities on our campus. In an academic institution, it’s all the more troubling when that apparent exclusion is based on one’s ideas or political views. In my formal role—reviewing tenure and promotion cases, for example—I have not experienced department or school colleagues to be punitive in any way based on a candidate’s ideological outlook.”


A Wake Forest Solution

“As an institution of higher learning, we need to be respectful and responsive to the concerns and frustrations of all persons, regardless of their political ideology. Only then will Wake Forest be truly inclusive.”

The professors who I interviewed all believe that it is difficult to solve the ideological diversity problem. This issue, as described by a professor from the social sciences, “comes from the bottom-up.” With a hiring pool that lacks conservatives, it would be extremely difficult for the university to reach statistical parity between Independents, Democrats and Republicans. With that in mind, these professors offered a range of options on how Wake Forest could move forward.

It seemed that there were two ways professors believed the university should move forward. The first was for ideology to be considered in the hiring process. One professor suggested that this could be accomplished if the Board of Trustees “take more aggressive action to make sure the university hires a more balanced pool of people.”

Other professors hoped that the University would take steps to make conservative faculty feel more accepted among their peers. A professor in the humanities hoped for a greater understanding of political and religious biases, saying “Just as wrong as it is to take someone’s skin color and based on that make a series of assumptions about where they are from, what their capacities they are,what opportunities they have, and how competent they are; it’s really dangerous to do that with someone’s perceived political or religious commitments.”  A professor from the social sciences agreed. He said, “As an institution of higher learning, we need to be respectful and responsive to the concerns and frustrations of all persons, regardless of their political ideology. Only then will Wake Forest be truly inclusive.”

13 Comments

  1. James Llewellyn

    While I applaud Ryan Wolfe for trying to educate us about a trend that is quite widely known – that is that higher education is a field that typically leans to the left ideologically – some core features of this piece are rather troubling to an impartial reader. First, the underlying methodology by which he collected his data is innovative to say the least. I do not think I have ever met a student who has used the North Carolina Board of Elections website like Wake Ratings before.
    While I do not take issue with the statistics that he’s produced, his decision not to include the business school – which I would hazard a guess would tip the faculty percentage a little more into the red – is telling. The fact is that Ryan could have providing the statistics for party affiliation among business school faculty, but chose not to do so. He could also have broken the statistics down differently. Dividing it by department would have made abundantly more sense than by arbitrary divisionals. This, however, would have shown us a predominance of Conservativism among certain segments of the faculty, but this would have blunted the point he is attempting to make.
    Moving into his body paragraph, the subheading “in hiding” is reflective of the dramatization with which this piece was constructed. These professors are not “in hiding” clearly because the author discovered their political affiliation with a simple Google search.
    As for the solutions, many of them appear to be wishful thinking. The first proposition was that the board of trustees ought to step in and be engaging in more “aggressive action” to even out the hiring pool. That seems like a strange suggestion from a professor who ought to know better than anyone that departments act nearly autonomous in the recruitment and hiring of faculty. For the board of trustees to intervene would easily cause more problems than it solves. Such a move would simply result in professors moving to other universities where they would retain their right to judge their intellectual peers, which is the norm at most institutions of higher learning. The second proposition that the university work harder to make Conservative faculty feel “more accepted among their peers” sounds rather paternalistic. We are talking about professionals – highly intellectual and accomplished persons – being told that, even though they hired the person in question, the peer feels as though they are being discriminated against.
    Finally, and most topically, one professor was quoted as saying, “Just as wrong as it is to take someone’s skin color and based on that make a series of assumptions about where they are from, what their capacities they are, what opportunities they have, and how competent they are; it’s really dangerous to do that with someone’s perceived political or religious commitments.” I sincerely hope this quote was not from a history professor because they would clearly be betraying the discipline. To make the current ideological dissonance in this country in anyway analogous to the discrimination based on race and the history associated with it is an unforgivable fallacy. The belief that once Conservatives are granted better representation in higher education only “then Wake Forest will be truly inclusive” ignores the lived realities of African-American, Latino, Muslim, Jewish and LGBTQ students and faculty on this campus – although juxtaposing the plight of Conservatives with these minorities groups would seem to defeat the point of the article.

  2. I think a good stating point would be to alternate commencement speakers yearly based on their ideological perspectives. Where is a Dennis Prager or Thomas Sowell? Also somewhere a long the line, students should have a basic understanding of economics. After all it’s the one of those subjects that affectes us all, and we will all use.

  3. James Llewellyn, your fascinating analysis of this article is wrought with error itself. You, as every liberal on the planet, seem to think you know every thought and intention of the conservative mind. And obviously you believe it to be feeble, as do all liberals following this “religion.” Your statement that the Business School at Wake is as inordinately conservative as the Humanities Department is liberal is pure speculation. Labeling all Professors as “highly intellectual” is also a stretch. Just as in every profession there are quacks abound. And finally, your pedestrian argument against comparing the plight of minorities, etc. with the issues faced by those confronted with political or religious persecution is really just a veiled attempt at proving your own righteousness. Not impressive. The Professor quoted was only trying to make a point, not change the Civil Rights Movement. Your argument is typical of the liberal mind. You try to craft a “well written” statement based on a large vocabulary and what seems to be a decent argument. Meanwhile, when assessed by an objective mind, the argument falls apart. Impartial reader, I doubt

  4. “Liberals cannot solve the problems they create.”
    John Lombardi , PhD , Criminology, FSU ( Florida State University) Deceased.

  5. Publicly funded institutions should be required to maintain academic staffs that mirror the political affiliation of the general public. As long as Title IX is on the books, a similar bill should be passed to balance the exposure our kids get to different political perspectives.

    • Shane Bridger Lutz

      Except Wake Forest is not a publicly funded institution. And what does Title IX, a law used to protect against discrimination on the basis of sex or gender, have to do with political ideology?

  6. A. Anna Csizinszky

    I find it interesting that what these professionals are encountering is a what is known as a hostile work environment. Because they have conservative views, they are hiding their political beliefs because they are afraid of not getting tenure, advancement, and publications. It is discrimination. This is a giant lawsuit waiting to happen at WFU.

    • Shane Bridger Lutz

      How are they hiding? Where are they hiding? Like Mr. Llewellyn stated, Mr. Wolfe found their political beliefs with a mere Google search, so the belief that they’re cowering in fear of discrimination is rooted in nonsense. Also, as Mr. Llewellyn pointed out in his reply, professors are selected by a department filled with their peers, so why would a department hire these conservative professors only to treat them harshly? This is not discrimination; this is fictional persecution.

  7. The theme of the current liberal is “Don’t tolerate intolerance”; which just as ambiguous as referring to them as liberals.
    lib·er·al
    ˈlib(ə)rəl/Submit
    adjective
    1.
    open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.
    “they have more liberal views toward marriage and divorce than some people”
    2.
    (of education) concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience, rather than with technical or professional training.
    synonyms: wide-ranging, broad-based, general
    “a liberal education”
    noun
    1.
    a person of liberal views.

  8. I went back to grad school a few years ago (to become a clinical social worker). In a world of oppressive places, the American college campus is one of the most oppressive places in the world.
    Leftists love them some crazy oppression.

  9. The essential problem is this: For at least 25 years — going back to the early 1990s — there has been an unapologetic prejudice against conservative viewpoints among the faculty in many fields, including history, psychology, and sociology. If you were a clever student of Republican sentiment circa 1995, you were clever enough to realize that a Ph.D. in history was absolutely worthless to you, as a career credential, because practically no university in America would hire a Republican professor, especially not a heterosexual white male. And so, instead, you went to law school or got an MBA. Over the course of two or three decades, therefore, as the comparative handful of older conservative history professors retired, they were no conservatives with Ph.D.’s in history to replace them, even if the faculty hiring committee were willing to hire conservatives (which, of course, they weren’t). By now, most university history departments are run by professors whose politics are to the left of Bela Kun, and the sociology departments are run by radical lesbians who make Andrea Dworkin seem moderate by comparison. Our postmodern intellectual overlords wonder why fewer students are interested in a liberal arts education. Perhaps they should try looking in the mirror.

  10. Michael Craig

    I am a 53 year old white male going back to College now to finally finish my degree I started in 1982. I originally could not finish as my financial aid was taken away during Reagan’s tenure. I recently took a US History Class from a well meaning but very far left professor. When talking about slavery in America, he said that only Americans had slaves for life which was a new thing. I asked incredulously, “What about the Jews who were enslaved by the Egyptians?” And was told that there was no archeological evidence to support that theory. As a Catholic that believes in the story of Moses as do people of the Jewish faith, I find it bizarre that a professor of US History would imply that it was only Americans that had this kind of slavery. In a Reading and Composition class the topic of abortion was chosen to write papers on and the female professor chastised me for using the word murder and killing in my paper. I got an A- but should have been an A except for my non-PC language. My daughter in Middle School last year had to memorize the 5 Pillars of Islam and be tested on a 33 page chapter on the Prophet Mohammed. There was no memorization of the 10 Commandments, or the Apostle’s Creed and Jesus Christ was mentioned once in one paragraph. When you research all the textbook authors they are all far left of center or as I have recently dubbed “the Alt-Left.” This brainwashing has started in Elementary and continues on into College. As a part time substitute teacher, I absolutely cannot share my political beliefs for fear of my job. Any teacher in just about ANY school in California is going to run into this, whether in the lunchroom at a pre-school, Community College, or University. It is like trying to a Conservative in Hollywood, you won’t get far if they know how Right you are. Anybody who denies this has not worked in either industry. I have worked in both. Forget all the statistical mumbo jumbo about the Business Schools changing the numbers if they were added. How many VC guys and gals in the San Francisco Bay area do you think are Republicans. In my local Community College, I am basically the only white male in the class. I have taken roughly 12 classes so far and can count on my one hand the number of students that look like me. I may even only need 3 fingers. None of the students and only one professor shared my Conservative views. How “Liberal” can a Liberal education be when ideologically, whether you are taking Oceanography, English, History, or Math, they all think the same? I am glad I am going later in life, otherwise I would have been brainwashed like all the millennials of today!

  11. I really hope these professors would come out of the shadows and lead. After all, that’s what is a good teacher does.
    Form an official coalition across the departments. Co-sponsor conservative events, hold “What is a conservative” type of events. Show films. And also — call out colleagues who bring their liberal bias into the classroom. Progressives, and I mean – Lefties – are ideological bullies. And generally, bullies are cowards.
    There are students at Wake, even among the freshman class, who are willing to stand up for values of free speech, limited gov’t, fiscal responsibility. But they need their professors to stand with them, before they get cynical and decide to just blend in and disappear.

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