Opinion: Discrimination against conservatives ignored in higher education generally and at Towson University specifically

Opinion: Discrimination against conservatives ignored in higher education generally and at Towson University specifically

Towson University Tiger statue in front of Stephen Hall. Photo from Academic Senate web page.

“Unfortunately, tolerance for opposing views is now in short supply in many law schools and in the broader academic community.”  Justice Samuel Alito, Virtual Keynote Address at the Federalist Society National Convention, Nov. 12, 2020  

Supreme Court Justice Alito in his warning that in academia there is a level of intolerance that leads to “harassment and intolerance [of law school students] if they say anything that departs from the law school orthodoxy” is equally true of conservative faculty and students at public colleges and universities throughout the United States, as well as my own Towson University.

This month I shall be giving a paper on “Higher Education’s Ethical Preeminent Challenge” at my national organization, the National Communication Association.  In it, I argue that the ethical imperative of academe is to uphold the ostensible but regularly ignored American Association of University Professors’ preeminent value of “academic freedom.”

The AAUP’s statement on “Protecting Academic Freedom” argues that “Academic freedom is the indispensable requisite for unfettered teaching and research in institutions of higher education.”  In examination of the academy in public colleges and universities and major educational organizations, exactly the opposite is practiced through anti-conservative discriminatory hiring, promotion, tenure, merit awarding, decisions on the content and teaching of curricula and intra-classroom treatment and evaluations of students.

Towson University, wherein I have taught for over 45 years, exemplifies higher education’s uninterest in correcting the “crushing of conservatives” on which I have written and have major articles soon to be published, including a fairly comprehensive piece earlier this year in The Daily Caller.  Articles abound concerning the dominance of liberals in the academy, the lack of  conservatives in the professoriate, especially, but not limited to, New England and the west coast.

The perceptions of the public regarding academic liberal and progressive dominance is overwhelming, particularly by conservatives since 2012.  https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/essay/the-growing-partisan-divide-in-views-of-higher-education/ 

At Towson, a university that prides itself on identity politics more than academic freedom, the university just released a document titled A More Inclusive TU– Advancing Equity and Diversity, reflecting, according to the Academic Senate, a “commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” a commitment which ignores concern about discrimination against conservatives and conservatism.  An inclusion of such concern was denied by the Academic Senate earlier this year almost unanimously and without debate.

I emailed the following (slightly abridged) reaction to the document to Towson’s president, provost and vice president for inclusion and institutional equity:

Reaction to the Document

I have read the entirety of A More Inclusive TU and I should like to make some observations about the document.  Before I make these, let me say that nothing I say should be taken to mean that I find anything in the document that is unintelligent, poorly written or disingenuous.

Here are my observations as an active four decades-plus member of the faculty and the Academic Senate.

  1.  The Document takes a problem in academe, lack of diversity, and overcorrects by turning us from a university concerned with demographic inequities to an enterprise obsessed with demographic inequities that ignores other inequities.  We are now an “Identity University” with all of the ramifications that such tunnel vision entails.
  2.  The Document gives profound short shrift to the most conspicuous discrimination in the academy, the discrimination against conservatives and conservative thought in the social sciences and humanities…[T]he list of protections does include “political affiliation,” but that is hardly sufficient to protect ideological pariahs and outcasts, which is what conservatives are.
  3. The Document in its scores of pages mentions ideological diversity in but one place or two, almost as an afterthought: “We also recognize that differences in beliefs, values and ideologies are a part of the greater concept of diversity. “
  4. There is no mention of the many but decreasing percentage of students who are conservative, whose complaints I receive on a regular basis that their points of view are either disrespectfully dismissed in class or punished by the professor in grades or access to their mentorships, awards, etc.
  5. The emphasis on racial diversity makes sense, but not the hyper-emphasis.  It’s as if the university wants to overcorrect a problem, and then it will be up to future leaders to say, “perhaps we went too far.”
  6.  The Document states that “it is important to identify and address inequities by removing systemic barriers and accommodating differences,” the intention to “Provide annual professional development training on unconscious bias for members of search, hiring, promotion/tenure and award selection committees.”  How about the unconscious biases that make it impossible or at least highly improbable for conservatives to get hired, promoted or tenured in social sciences, humanities and elsewhere at Towson University?

Finally, none of this is said in rancor.  It is my honest concern that in its zeal to eradicate inequity and lack of inclusion in some areas that Towson has ignored one of the areas of greatest discrimination: conservatives and conservative thought.

Let’s eliminate all discrimination that compromises academic freedom and the marketplace of ideas.  Let’s not become so identity-conscious that we lose track of what are the most important values of education.

Here is the video and text of the Alito speech. Here is the New York Times report on the Alito speech and the one from Washington Post.

MarylandReporter.com welcomes opposing points of view. Attach a comment to this opinion piece or send a response to Len@MarylandReporter.com.

About The Author

Richard E. Vatz Ph.D.

rvatz@towson.edu

Richard Vatz is Distinguished Professor at Towson University and writes often on political debates and political communication. He is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model (LAD Custom Publishing, 2019) and the co-editor of Thomas S. Szasz: the Man and His Ideas (Transaction Publishers, 2017)

2 Comments

  1. john h josselyn

    Did “Frank Zappa” have a point? If not, the previous post was a waste of electrons.

  2. Frank Zappa

    This tough guy/victim duality in current self proclaimed conservatives is at very least tiresome, and at worst disingenuous. There is an agenda and it doesnt serve the diverse college setting

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