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The Politically Correct University

University of Arkansas professor Robert Maranto showed up at the Clinton School of Public Service on Tuesday to discuss his book, “The Politically Correct University: Problems, Scope and Reform.”

Maranto was appointed in the fall of 2008 as the Twenty-First Century Chair in Leadership, the sixth and final endowed chair to be filled in the Department of Education Reform on the Fayetteville campus. Maranto had been a political science professor at Villanova University.

The education reform department was established in July 2005 in an attempt to improve K-12 education in Arkansas and across the country. The department now offers a doctor of philosophy degree in education policy.

Maranto has been researching, writing and teaching about education and leadership for more than two decades. The long list of schools where he has taught includes Bryn Mawr, Arizona State, the University of Virginia, Lafayette, James Madison, the University of Minnesota and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Maranto said that when he entered college as a student at the University of Maryland, he thought college should be about debating great ideas. He soon learned that college was not all that it could be or should be. Maranto said that though he usually votes Republican, he’s not a raging conservative. In fact, he found that he agreed with many of the Clinton administration officials with whom he worked at Washington’s Brookings Institution.

As a conservative professor, Maranto said he’s often asked by other conservatives: “How are they treating you at that university?”

He said a lot of conservatives figure that being on a university campus is much like being a spouse in a potentially abusive relationship. And indeed he has discovered that universities “are pretty overwhelmingly left wing. It’s especially true of the elite universities.”

In fact, he repeated the famous quote that one can now find more Marxists in the Harvard faculty lounge than in the Kremlin.

“I would expect there to be some imbalance in the liberal arts,” he said. “But not 10 to 1, 20 to 1 or 30 to 1. I’ve found that expressing different points of view can hurt you in the job market. … We’re social animals. People value group solidarity.”

Of course, conservatives have been saying that university faculties are biased toward the left since William F. Buckley Jr. wrote “God and Man at Yale” way back in 1951. Yet it seems that things have gotten worse through the decades.

In a guest column for The Washington Post, Maranto wrote: “I spent four years in the 1990s working at the centrist Brookings Institution and for the Clinton administration and felt right at home ideologically. Yet during much of my two decades in academia, I’ve been on the ‘far right’ as one who thinks that welfare reform helped the poor, that the United States was right to fight and win the Cold War and that environmental regulations should be balanced against property rights. All these views — commonplace in American society and among the political class — are practically verboten in much of academia.”

In the column, Maranto told the story of a sociologist he knows whose decision to became a registered Republican caused “a sensation” at the university where the professor taught.

“It was as if I had become a child molester,” he told Maranto.

Maranto had this to say about the time he interviewed for a job at a prestigious research university: “Everything seemed to be going well until I mentioned, in a casual conversation with department members over dinner, that I planned to vote Republican in the upcoming presidential election. Conversation came to a halt, and someone quickly changed the subject. The next day, I thought my final interview went fairly well. But the department ended up hiring someone who had published far less but apparently ‘fit’ better than I did. At least that’s what I was told when I called a month later to learn the outcome of the job search, having never received any further communication from the school.”

He doesn’t believe there are legions of leftist professors out there on a mission to purge academia of Republicans. Things are much more subtle than that.

“When making hiring decisions and confronted with several good candidates, we college professors, like anyone else, tend to select people like ourselves,” Maranto wrote. “Unfortunately, subtle biases in how conservative students and professors are treated in the classroom and in the job market have very unsubtle effects on the ideological makeup of the professoriate. The resulting lack of intellectual diversity harms academia by limiting the questions academics ask, the phenomena we study and ultimately the conclusions we reach.”

Maranto told his attentive audience Tuesday that the end result is that universities don’t do as good a job as they should in producing good citizens since it’s hard to be a good citizen without being a well-informed citizen.

“I just don’t think universities understand conservatism very well because there aren’t any conservatives in their midst,” he said.

College professors talk a lot about freedom of speech. I grew up in a neighborhood filled with college professors. Faculty members make a sport of censuring college presidents and other administrators they believe have limited their freedom of speech. Maranto is simply asking them not to be hypocrites who embrace freedom of speech for themselves but not for those with whom they disagree politically.

The solution to this growing problem?

“Ultimately, universities will have to clean their own houses,” Maranto wrote in the Post. “Professors need to re-embrace a culture of reasoned inquiry and debate. And since debate requires disagreement, higher education needs to encourage intellectual diversity in its hiring and promotion decisions with something like the fervor it shows for ethnic and racial diversity. It’s the only way universities will earn back society’s respect and reclaim their role at the center of public life.”

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