Advice for my liberal professors and peers

The following piece was written by Colby alumus Mike Wincek ’15 in response to Professor Aaron Hanlon’s  New York Times article, “Advice for My Conservative Students.”

A self-admitted reformed right-wing provocateur turned liberal professor recently penned an article in the New York Times with advice for his conservative students when navigating the political scene on less-than-like-minded college campuses. Mr. Hanlon is a professor here at Colby, a bastion of higher education and the liberal arts. As one could expect from an elite liberal arts college in the Northeast, the campus is decidedly liberal. After reading Hanlon’s piece, perhaps it is time for one of the former conservative students of this institution to offer advice for my liberal professors and peers.

Similar to Hanlon’s account of arriving on campus to find himself in an ideological minority, I arrived on the East Coast first as a student at the equally liberal Phillips Academy before moving north to the campus that he and I once shared. At both institutions, liberal ideologies found a much more natural home and support base while conservatives like myself tended to find a smaller, but tight-knit groups of peers and professors. And it is not without reason that conservative students feel ostracized on campuses like these.

But not all conservative students fit the bill Hanlon describes. He seems to equate the majority of conservative students on today’s liberal campuses to the sword-rattling rabble-rousers of his own youth and the Milo Yiannopoulos crowd. While my personal conservative views were hardly a secret, I never rose to the public outcry and reactionary natures that gained Milo or a college-aged Hanlon their fame.  In the same way that not all of my liberal professors and peers shared identical ideologies, not all conservatives on campus ascribe to these outlandish beliefs or tactics being wielded from both sides in our modern political climate. Where it is easy for professors such as Hanlon to identify such types on the other side, perhaps it would take some hard won introspection and reflection to see it from their own side. Hardline resistance on the left causes the perceived victimization and silencing of conservative student voices that Hanlon so completely dismisses. Perhaps there are further reasons why these leftward resistances are seen as so much more prevalent on college campuses.

I would encourage my liberal professors to consider an article from last Sept. published in the Econ Journal Watch titled “Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology.” In this study, the authors examine voter registration data for professors at 40 of the top colleges and universities in the U.S., including a number in the Northeast like Colby. Out of the 7,243 professors examined, they found a Democrat-to-Republican ratio of 11.5:1.

This ratio is exacerbated when narrowing the data towards schools similar to Colby. Of the 17 examined schools in the Northeast—defined with New York as the border—this ratio expands to 24.1:1 in favor of Democrats. Within Journalism, the closest analogue in the study to Hanlon’s own English department, the ratio almost doubles from 11.5 to 20:1 in favor of Democrats. Similar distortions occur across age brackets where professors over 65 years of age lean Democrat at a ratio of 10:1 and professors under 36 skew 22.7:1 in favor of Democrats.

This makes sense when considering the voting demographics of the states considered and surrounding Colby. Every single state in the region voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Election, by mostly outsized margins. The lone exception to this is Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which delivered its one Electoral College vote to Donald Trump. However, Colby falls within Maine’s 1st District which voted for Clinton by 14 points.

Maybe there are in fact some true demographic forces that we conservative students find ourselves butting up against. Perhaps it is these heavily democratic sways within our faculties and similarly our peer groups that will cause the public silencing of moderate conservative voices on campus. While Hanlon’s piece is not without good points in relation to self-reflection and thoughtful reading, perhaps the underlying breakdown of a conservative student’s peer and superior groups cause this silencing that he so summarily dismisses. When the moderate conservative voices see a social stigma or penalty for being outspoken, the only voices that remain on the right are the firebrands Hanlon bred and now despises.

But let us also not pretend that our campuses are home to extremes of only the right wing persuasion. There have been numerous examples in recent months where misguided, “righteous” indignation from the left has run rampant on elite northeastern campuses. The events in the last 18 months on Yale’s campus were a prime example of this hysteria from the liberal wing of the campuses. Starting in Oct. 2015 with the demonization of Nicholas and Erika Christakis through the removal of John C. Calhoun’s name from a residential college, Yale’s farthest left students and professors have been allowed to hold non-conformers and their president hostage while looking at a narrow view of the facts. While there may be legitimate complaints against Calhoun, Roger Kimball’s recent piece in the Wall Street Journal titled “Yale’s Inconsistent Name Dropping,” points out this narrow interpretation, while looking at the other slave holding and enforcement tendencies of namesakes of the university’s other residential halls and its founder, Elihu Yale.

So while Hanlon can stand with his like-minded peers and wag his finger at his conservative students for not being supposedly reformed provocateurs like himself, it would be equally and willfully ignorant of him to ignore the actual demographic walls that conservative students run against on a campus such as Colby’s. And while he can sit back to claim that his aspiration is for disagreeing students to be his “most formidable interlocutors,” he must remember why he spoke out in his youth or, more painfully so, use some self-reflection to ask himself and his peers why conservatives college voices flirt between unheard or his former brand of provocateur.

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