Conservatives, Stand Up!
An economics professor champions conservatism on campuses.
by Frank Musgrave
The joke goes like this: A heated debate was taking place in a large auditorium. One young defender of the "politically correct" stood to speak. He was dressed in politically correct garb and shouted, "All conservatives are neo-Nazi skinheads!" A member of the audience responded, "I resent that." The PC speaker said, "Why, are you a conservative?" "No," was the reply, "I am a neo-Nazi skinhead."
Unfortunately, in many places including colleges, conservatives are viewed as neo-Nazi skinheads and/or on the fringes of the far right. Every group with common beliefs has fringe elements that often demean the purpose of the organization and detract from its real goals and from the positive things it adds to society.
Academic conservatives are concerned that those fringes are viewed as representing mainstream conservative thought. They are also concerned that the ideological imbalance on campuses, in favor of liberal faculty, is not conducive to open debate and exposure to a variety of viewpoints. I offer four major tenets of mainstream conservative thought:
There is a "moral authority" of values and single standards that guides our lives and our economic and political decisions. Conservatives, as pointed out by Gertrude Himmelfarb in The Demoralization of Society, value merit, morality, family values, hard work, patriotism, individual responsibility, and empowerment of one's resources.
Government should have a limited role in society. Conservatives believe in a laissez-faire approach. However, conservatives from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman have supported antitrust legislation and other actions of government to maintain competition, including free trade among nations.
Free markets and capitalism make for the most sensible economic system. The operation of free markets under a system of capitalism, according to Margaret Thatcher, has worked "everywhere it's actually [been] applied."
It is essential to preserve our heritage and our freedom. Edmund Burke, a definer of conservative thought, believed that "a conservative is one who combines a disposition to preserve with an ability to improve." As the 17th-century British politician Viscount Falkland said, "When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change." Conservative columnist Roger Scruton, in a 2002 article in the Wall Street Journal, said that preservation of our heritage includes opposition to "the liberal attempt to sever the Constitution from the religious and cultural inheritance that first created it."
Studies support our contention of ideological imbalance on campuses. A 2002 study for the conservative American Enterprise Institute reports an overwhelming dominance of Democratic over Republican faculty, with examples such as Cornell University and the University of Colorado at Boulder. As reported in the April 17, 2003, issue of the Ithacan, the Ithaca College Republicans (a student group) found imbalance at Ithaca College. Out of 125 faculty registered to vote in Tompkins County [ed. note: faculty members of only 14 departments were counted], only 8 were Republicans or Conservatives. There were no Republican- or Conservative-registered faculty in the Departments of Politics, Sociology, and Anthropology.
I think this imbalance stems from some departmental faculties abandoning their search for scholars regardless of their ideological biases in favor of creating a preferred elite of self-perpetuating liberal faculty who are absent of any desire for a balanced and open ideological faculty. The impact of this falls on students who do not hear the conservative voice and who, in some cases, feel victimized when attempting to voice their conservative views. One politics major in my introductory economics class last year transferred to another college. She told me she had tired of pretending to espouse the professor's leftist views in exchange for a higher grade.
Ithaca College ought to seek ways to diversify ideological and political perspectives, now dominated by liberals. Maybe the College could solicit financial support for resident or visiting professorships in conservative thought. Perhaps departments will seek to diversify ideological perspectives when hiring new faculty.
I submit that ideological diversity among scholars is far more important than cultural diversity. Now is the time for academic conservatives to be counted and heard. Here I stand!
Frank Musgrave is a professor in the Department of Economics.