The most pressing issue facing Penn students today is increasing political and cultural polarization in the United States. As both Republicans and Democrats become respectively more consistently conservative and seamlessly liberal, a growing ideological chasm is tearing apart the social fabric of our republic.
Political polarization manifests in heatedly unproductive debates on government’s role in the economy, immigration, environment, abortion, gun policy and a plethora of other controversial issues. As Penn students, our obligation to our nation’s civic conversation is increasingly important and urgent; we have a profound responsibility in changing the way many Americans view higher education. Specifically, we must change the over zealous culture that has come to dominate college campuses by being more accepting of opposing ideas and hiring more conservative faculty.
Consider for instance that a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents — 58 percent to be exact according to the Pew Research Center — believe that colleges and universities have a negative impact on our country. This is a sharp reversal from just two years ago when 54 percent of Republicans saw a positive effect. Democrats on the other hand, see college as overwhelmingly positive. The fact that the constituents of one our nation’s two major political parties hold such a negative view of one of our nation’s foundational institutions is extremely disturbing, and must be reversed.
Where does this overwhelming distrust come from? Some blame must be pointed at the GOP itself. The party has harbored, and even encouraged, an intense anti-intellectualism in recent years largely fostered by the Christian right. Denials of the cataclysmic realities of climate change, the overwhelming evidence supporting the theory of evolution and the medical necessity of vaccines have become deeply rooted Republican ideology. Revulsion of academia fits neatly in the party platform.
Nevertheless, I believe that aggressively liberal student bodies hold a majority of the responsibility. I say this as somebody who identifies as a Democrat and voted for Hillary Clinton last November. However, recent events at universities have made it undeniably clear that conservative ideas are simply not welcome, and are being suppressed, in any form necessary, no matter how violent.
This suppression of free speech presents itself in many ways, with censorship of right-wing speakers the most obvious and publicized example. Take for example Middlebury College, where in early March libertarian author Charles Murray, writer of the controversial book "The Bell Curve," was silenced at the podium by a mob of students. The masked protesters pulled fire alarms, physically assaulted Murray and caused general chaos in the name of liberalism. Similar events have erupted on campuses throughout America, with particularly notable incidents at Claremont McKenna College and University of California at Berkeley.
Republican students are also routinely silenced. Ideas even marginally outside of the liberal echo chamber are attacked and immediately labeled as racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic and bigoted. These labels almost always stop conversation in its tracks and end thoughtful discourse.
Many Christians, especially evangelicals, also feel unwelcome on increasingly secular campuses, where they feel their cultural views will result in their being social pariahs. Even tepid support of Israel will brand you a rabid Zionist, bent on the destruction of the Palestinian state. Liberalism has become a cult of sorts, in which, if we do not subscribe precisely to its platform, you are shunned and confronted by savage tribalism.
The attack on free speech by progressive students make many Republicans feel fundamentally disillusioned by higher education. The predominantly liberal views of faculty, staff and trustees exacerbate the situation. Liberal professors now outnumber conservatives 5 to 1, according to The Washington Post. It is therefore no wonder that the university system has become remarkably efficient at producing liberals.
54 percent of Americans with postgraduate degrees hold liberal views, while only 12 percent hold conservative ones according to the Pew Research Center. The numbers are similar for those with bachelor's degrees, with 44 percent holding liberal views and only 29 percent conservative. With statistics like these, conservatives would not be at fault for believing that college has become a place for progressive indoctrination, not a home for principled philosophical debate.
College administrators must begin hiring more conservative, libertarian and right-leaning professors. Moreover, all students of higher education must play an integral role in mending this divide. Liberal students naturally have the most influence. They should end their suppression of free speech, their obsession with ideological purity and their fixation on political correctness.
As Penn students and members of the Ivy League, we belong to a group that often represents the social elitism and intellectual snobbery that much of Middle America despises. If true change is to happen it will begin at an institution like Penn. Let’s lead the way.
SPENCER SWANSON is a College freshman from London, studying philosophy, politics and economics. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Spencer’s Space” usually appears every other Tuesday.
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