A professor’s response

I’m grateful for Mike Wincek’s ’15 thoughtful response to my recently published New York Times essay, “Advice for My Conservative Students.” Without this kind of dialogue, it becomes easier to let our arguments and beliefs go unexamined. In the spirit of ongoing debate, I’d like to push back on a few of Mr. Wincek’s central claims in “Advice for My Liberal Professors and Peers.”

Mr. Wincek’s argument rests on a few false assumptions. One, that I was a “right wing provocateur,” as opposed to just a conservative. Two, that I “equate the majority of conservative students…to the sword-rattling rabble-rousers of [my] youth and the Milo Yiannopoulos crowd.” And three, that because professors like me tend to skew Democrat over Republican, moderate conservatives on campus are silenced.

First, I was a conservative, but not a provocateur. I was interested in conservative ideas and arguments, not in pranks or intentionally offending my non-conservative friends, teammates, classmates, and professors. That’s a distinction I hope today’s conservative students honor. I share thoughts about my former conservatism to show that one doesn’t have to be either silent or a jerk to promote conservative ideas on campus.

Second, I’m not the one painting the image of conservative students as Milo-style provocateurs. I’m just the messenger. The conservative media, from Breitbart to Fox News to National Review, are the ones claiming Milo as a model for conservative activism. Conservative student groups—not me—are the ones inviting him to campus to represent conservatism. Indeed, before Milo violated right-wing political correctness with his recent statements on pedophilia, he was a headlining speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the premier conference of U.S. conservatism.

I agree with Mr. Wincek that most conservative students are not Milo-style provocateurs. That’s precisely why, as I’ve pointed out, young conservatives need to change the face and power balance of current conservative politics: to avoid being represented by the likes of Milo. The momentum is in your favor. Not only has Milo been disinvited by more than a dozen liberal campuses, he’s now been disinvited by CPAC.

Finally, while it’s true that a majority of faculty lean left of center, registering as a Republican or a Democrat is not the same as supporting or opposing campus left politics. Barack Obama, a registered Democrat, regularly speaks against political correctness on campus.

Further, citing the ratio of Democratic to Republican faculty implies but doesn’t demonstrate causation. That is, it doesn’t follow that, given liberal faculty, there’s systematic liberal bias in the classroom or silencing of conservative students. In fact, as shown in the research of Colby’s own sociology professor Neil Gross, leading expert in the sociology of intellectual life, a disproportionate number of liberal faculty does not translate into classroom bias or suppression of conservative viewpoints. I encourage Mr. Wincek and others to take a look at this important research.

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