Conservatives have long complained that colleges aren’t merely bastions of liberalism — they’re actively hostile to anyone on the right. In a recent tweet, state congressman Spencer Roach slammed the “Marxist professors and students” on Florida’s college campuses.
Besides urging young people not to attend college, some prominent conservatives are even calling for defunding universities, seizing their endowments, and creating “off-shore” institutes that aren’t affiliated with colleges at all. Their frustration is certainly understandable. But giving up on the university system would be a colossal mistake.
College campuses remain the best place to reach and shape future generations of young Floridians. Yes, too many colleges are ideological echo chambers. But, people who still believe in free speech and the free exchange of ideas can reform these institutions from the inside — by redoubling their support for like-minded professors and programs on campuses across the country. And they indeed exist.
It’s no secret that college faculty have grown increasingly liberal. The number of self-identified liberal and “far-left” faculty members has increased by 15 percentage points over the past two decades, according to surveys conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles’ Higher Education Research Institute. The most recent UCLA survey indicates that the number of “far-left” faculty members is about the same as all conservative faculty members combined, no matter how moderate.
Indeed, a 2018 analysis of over 50 “top-tier liberal arts colleges” found that nearly 40 percent of the institutions had no conservative faculty on their staff.
And it’s undeniable that partisan institutions convert many students into blind followers rather than critical thinkers. A 2020 survey of more than 100 universities found that after four years of college, the share of students who identified as “liberal” or “very liberal” increased by a total of nearly 10 percentage points. Meanwhile, almost 70 percent of conservative students feel they have to censor themselves in classes, as compared to less than a quarter of liberal students.
Florida students are no exception, according to state lawmakers. In response, the Florida legislature recently passed a bill that would require the state’s public colleges and universities to survey students and faculty about their thoughts on “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campuses.
With stats like these, it’s easy to see why nearly 60 percent of conservative Americans believe colleges have a negative effect on the country.
But despite these clear biases, it’s a fact that U.S. colleges and universities are the best in the world. They’ll continue attracting hundreds of thousands of future leaders each year. Simply put, higher education will remain influential, and retreating is not the solution. Ceding universities to ideologues is ceding our future to them.
If we want to mold a generation of leaders who can think for themselves, we need to engage them and expose them to the wide marketplace of ideas during their college careers. That means investing wisely and generously in good professors and programs, not halting support altogether.
I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact of such support right here in Florida. At the Jack Miller Center, we work with professors and programs on campuses all across the country, dedicated to teaching students America’s history and the foundations of free societies. Those programs — like the Miller Forum for Civics Education at Florida Atlantic University — include anything from student events and faculty conferences to courses, certificates, and programs for K-12 teachers.
At the heart of those initiatives is a commitment to give students the chance to learn America’s founding ideals and principles. It’s an opportunity to inspire healthy debate, the pursuit of truth, and the free exchange of ideas on college campuses. That, in turn, will create a more engaged citizenry — and more thoughtful leaders regardless of their political persuasion.
Americans have never been ones to give up when the going gets tough. Now isn’t the time to start. The young people of this great country need us.
Michael Andrews, Ph.D., is president of the Jack Miller Center.