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Thankful for Our Conservative Colleagues

Thanksgiving thoughts about three areas of broad agreement across the academic ideological spectrum.

November 23, 2021
 
 

Ideologically and politically speaking, higher ed seems a mostly moderate to liberal space.

The colleagues I work with the most—those in teaching and learning and other teaching and learning organizations—seem to be even more liberal than the modal academic.

And unless I’m hugely mistaken, my fellow bloggers and opinion writers at Inside Higher Ed would likely characterize themselves on the liberal-to-moderate spectrum as well.

That is not to say that I don’t know any conservatives in academe. On the contrary, a significant proportion of people that I know across the higher education ecosystem identify as conservatives.

These conservative colleagues are spread across faculty and staff, as well as professionals working in higher education–related technology companies, investment firms, government and nonprofits.

Higher education is more ideologically diverse than is often credited, but conservatives still seem to be in the minority. A 2017 Inside Higher Ed article described a 2007 study that found that only 9.2 percent of professors categorize themselves as conservative.

This Thanksgiving, I’d like to give thanks to all my conservative colleagues across higher education.

If you are conservative and you read this blog, I want to say a special thank-you. Your listening to what I have to say gives lie to the idea that we exist only in our own ideological filter bubbles.

In giving thanks to all our conservative colleagues across the higher education ecosystem, I’d like to postulate three areas where I think there is broad ideological agreement across the academic political spectrum.

No. 1: Higher Education as an Engine of Opportunity

Conservatives and liberals alike, so I’ve observed, view higher education as an engine of opportunity.

There is plenty of disagreement about how colleges and universities should be structured, funded and run. But there is considerable overlap among conservatives and liberals in the conviction that the health of our institutions of higher learning is critical for the success of individuals and the well-being of our communities.

No. 2: Concern for Those With the Least Resources and Opportunities

Both conservatives and liberals within higher education are dedicated to the idea that our colleges and universities should endeavor to serve students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Empathy and concern for poor and low-income learners are not correlated with academic ideological leanings.

Of course, the difference between liberals and conservatives is in how higher education should best serve the least privileged. If we start with the premise that both sides of the liberal/conservative divide have the best outcomes for our students at heart, then we might be more willing to listen and learn from each other’s ideas.

No. 3: Commitment to the Free Exchange of Ideas

The strongest common belief that the vast majority of both liberal and conservative academics share is in the conviction that colleges and universities should be places in which ideas are freely exchanged.

This claim perhaps goes against the conventional wisdom of how campus cultures are now oriented. I contend, however, that among higher education faculty and staff, there is a shared commitment to the creation and sharing of knowledge.

On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful to my conservative colleagues who challenge my ideas and make me rethink my assumptions.

I am grateful to those colleagues in our higher education ecosystem who are willing to go against conventional academic wisdom.

And I am grateful to those academic conservatives who take the time to listen to us moderates/liberals while retaining the energy to point out the many errors of our ways.

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