WASHINGTON — In a recent talk at Haverford College, I questioned the standard women's studies teaching that the United States is a patriarchal society that oppresses women.
For many in the audience, this was their first encounter with a dissident scholar. One student was horrified when I said that the free market had advanced the cause of women by affording them unprecedented economic opportunities. "How can anyone say that capitalism has helped women?" she asked.
Nor did I win converts when I said that the male heroism of special forces soldiers and the firefighters at ground zero should persuade gender scholars to acknowledge that "stereotypical masculinity" had some merit. Later an embarrassed and apologetic student said to me, "Haverford is just not ready for you."
After my talk, the young woman who invited me told me there was little intellectual diversity at Haverford and that she had hoped I would spark debate. In fact, many in the audience were quietly delighted by the exchanges. But two angry students accused her of providing "a forum for hate speech."
As the 2000 election made plain, the United States is pretty evenly divided between conservatives and liberals. Yet conservative scholars have effectively been marginalized, silenced, and rendered invisible on most campuses. This problem began in the late '80s and has become much worse in recent years. Most students can now go through four years of college without encountering a scholar of pronounced conservative views.
Few conservatives make it past the gantlet of faculty hiring in political-science, history, or English departments. In 1998, when a reporter from Denver's Rocky Mountain News surveyed the humanities and social sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, he found that of 190 professors with party affiliations, 184 were Democrats.
There wasn't a single Republican in the English, psychology, journalism, or philosophy departments. A 1999 survey of history departments found 22 Democrats and 2 Republicans at Stanford. At Cornell and Dartmouth there were 29 and 10 Democrats, respectively, and no Republicans.
The dearth of conservatives in psychology departments is so striking, that one (politically liberal) professor has proposed affirmative-action outreach. Richard Redding, a professor of psychology at Villanova University, writing in a recent issue of American Psychologist, notes that of the 31 social-policy articles that appeared in the journal between 1990 and 1999, 30 could be classified as liberal, one as conservative.
The key issue, Professor Redding says, is not the preponderance of Democrats, but the liberal practice of systematically excluding conservatives. Redding cites an experiment in which several graduate departments received mock applications from two candidates nearly identical, except that one "applicant" said he was a conservative Christian. The professors judged the nonconservative to be the significantly better candidate.
Redding asks, rhetorically: "Do we want a professional world where our liberal world view prevents us from considering valuable strengths of conservative approaches to social problems ... where conservatives are reluctant to enter the profession and we tacitly discriminate against them if they do? That, in fact, is the academic world we now have...."
Campus talks by "politically incorrect" speakers happen rarely; visits are resisted and almost never internally funded. When Dinesh D'Souza, Andrew Sullivan, David Horowitz, or Linda Chavez do appear at a college, they are routinely heckled and sometimes threatened. The academy is now so inhospitable to free expression that conservatives buy advertisements in student newspapers. But most school newspapers won't print them. And papers that do are sometimes vandalized and the editors threatened.
The classical liberalism articulated by John Stuart Mill in his book "On Liberty" is no longer alive on campuses, having died of the very disease Mr. Mill warned of when he pointed out that ideas not freely and openly debated become "dead dogmas." Mill insisted that the intellectually free person must put himself in the "mental position of those who think differently" adding that dissident ideas are best understood "by hear[ing] them from persons who actually believe them."
Several groups are working to bring some balance to campus. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, The Young America Foundation, Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, and Accuracy in Academia sponsor lectures by leading conservatives and libertarians. Students can ask these groups for funds to sponsor speakers.
More good news is that David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture has launched a "Campaign for Fairness and Inclusion in Higher Education." It calls for university officials to:
1. Establish a zero-tolerance policy for vandalizing newspapers or heckling speakers.
2. Conduct an inquiry into political bias in the allocation of student program funds, including speakers' fees, and seek ways to promote underrepresented perspectives.
3. Conduct an inquiry into political bias in the hiring process of faculty and administrators and seek ways to promote fairness toward and inclusion of underrepresented perspectives.
Were even one high-profile institution like the University of Colorado to adopt a firm policy of intellectual inclusiveness, that practice would quickly spread, and benighted students everywhere would soon see daylight.
Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Her most recent book is 'The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.'