Today, I’ve decided to come out of the closet.
I’m a tad reluctant and a bit hesitant. I’m not coming out as a gay man, no. I’m referring to the other kind of closet — the conservative closet.
Why the need to come out as a conservative? For any poor soul whose read my columns in the past, it’s painfully obvious where I lie on the political spectrum.
But this column isn’t necessarily about me. It’s about a culture here at Penn that is so rich with knowledge and intellect, yet so intrinsically biased, that it makes being a conservative here a daily hurdle. Trust me, by senior year, my legs are exhausted.
There can’t and shouldn’t be some sort of litmus test to make sure the balance of conservative and liberal professors is 50-50 on campus.
A survey by College Prowler found that 29 percent of Penn students identify as liberals and 21 percent identify as conservatives. At a glance, these figures are surprisingly closer than one may imagine, but 50 percent of respondents view the campus as “liberal” on the whole, while only 7 percent say they view it as conservative. So, the perception of our campus doesn’t quite match up with the reality of individual student political affiliation.
However, as we’ve heard many times, perception is reality.
That perception is due, in part, to the political affiliation of faculty and staff themselves. A 2003 study by Students for Academic Freedom, a conservative organization, found that the ratio of Penn professors registered Democrat to Republican was 12 to 1. Of course, this disparity will alter our perception of Penn as a liberal school; even if only 29 percent of students call themselves liberal, these people teach our classes.
The culture here at Penn stimulates intellect, fosters ambition and affords all of us, political beliefs aside, tremendous opportunities going forward. So this isn’t a wholesome critique of Penn. Political affiliations and perceived biases on campus don’t define the school. I would argue that the constant backlashes I receive for my conservative viewpoints have sharpened my ideas, philosophies and beliefs, and perhaps even made me rethink a stance once or twice. I don’t think the same can be said for students on the left, however — at least in the College, where I speak from experience.
The perception of Penn as a liberal school “creates a friendly, cozier setting for Democrats like me, as I don’t have to question my views mostly ever,” said a College senior who wished to remain anonymous because of his pending job search.
That’s really an unfortunate repercussion. The rest of the United States is quite different politically. Many — including Jon Meacham, a former editor of Newsweek and a Pulitzer Prize winner — would say that America is a center-right country.
I would agree, and point to President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform as evidence. Even with a Democratic House and a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate, the government couldn’t pass a uniformly liberal (read: universal coverage) healthcare bill. A sizeable portion of the Democratic camp, the “Blue Dog” variety, was too conservative to ever support such a policy.
It wasn’t Republican obstructionism that nearly sounded the death knell on healthcare reform. It was the splintering of the Democratic Party and its 60-member Senate majority that was brought to an end with Scott Brown’s stunning win of Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat.
I’m not a member of the Tea Party, but I can see why students on Penn’s campus may not say so even if they are. When the Penn Tea Party was formed, former Penn Democrats President and College senior Emma Ellman-Golan demonized the group in The Daily Pennsylvanian, saying the ranks were filled with those who “use fear tactics and have no sense of intellectualism.”
The point here isn’t to criticize Democrats for their political beliefs; they’re well-intentioned and compelling points of view.
The perception of a more politically balanced campus, however, will force those views to be refined and, at times, questioned.
And for those fellow Republicans still trapped in the figurative closet, I have three words of wisdom for you:
It gets better.
Brian Goldman is a College senior from Queens, N.Y. His email address is email@example.com. The Gold Standard appears every Monday.
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