Higher Education Plunges in Public Confidence – JONATHAN TURLEY

A new poll shows a further erosion of public confidence in higher education as faculty and administrators reduce colleges and universities to mere academic echo chambers. The poll from Gallup and the Lumina Foundation found only 36% of adults have a great deal or a lot of confidence in higher education, a drop from 57% in 2015.

In my new book, “The Indispensable Right: Free Speech in an Age of Rage,” I have a long chapter on the erosion of free speech and viewpoint diversity in higher education.

We previously discussed how surveys at universities show a virtual purging of conservative and Republican faculty members.  For example, last year, the Harvard Crimson noted that the university had virtually eliminated Republicans from most departments but that the lack of diversity was not a problem.  Now, a new survey conducted by the Harvard Crimson shows that more than three-quarters of Harvard Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences faculty respondents identified as “liberal” or “very liberal.” Only 2.5% identified as “conservative,” and only 0.4% as “very conservative.”

Likewise, a study by Georgetown University’s Kevin Tobia and MIT’s Eric Martinez found that only nine percent of law school professors identify as conservative at the top 50 law schools. Notably, a 2017 study found 15 percent of faculties were conservative. Another study found that 33 out of 65 departments lacked a single conservative faculty member.

Compare that to a recent Gallup poll stating, “roughly equal proportions of U.S. adults identified as conservative (36%) and moderate (35%) in Gallup polling throughout 2022, while about a quarter identified as liberal (26%).”

Universities have effectively purged faculty with values that reflect roughly half of this country. Students and taxpayers (for public universities) are treated as virtual captive audiences to a culture that runs from the left to the far left. In some cases, classes have moved from education to indoctrination, including universities which now employ “resident activists” or offer degrees in activism.

I have watched the steady erosion of intellectual diversity for 30 years and a rising intolerance for opposing viewpoints. Many students and their families are not keen on spending huge amounts on tuition to attend schools with little tolerance or exposure to conservative or libertarian or even dissenting views on major public issues.

While schools profess a desire for diversity, they continue to replicate their own views and values while excluding opposing views. Some openly support such exclusion. Sites like Above the Law have spent years ridiculing objections over the exclusion of conservative faculty.  Senior Editor Joe Patrice defended “predominantly liberal faculties” by arguing that hiring a conservative professor is akin to allowing a believer in geocentrism to teach at a university. So the views of roughly half of the judiciary and half of the country are treated as legitimately excluded as intellectually invalid.

Much like the media, which has sacrificed readership and viewership to advocacy journalism, academics continue this trend despite alienating much of the country and radically narrowing the range of thought on campuses.

Roughly one-third of respondents said that they have very little or no faith in such institutions at all.

There was a time when higher education enjoyed some of the highest levels of respect. Today’s faculty and administrators have destroyed that trust and their institutions by yielding to the impulse to exclude opposing viewpoints.

Some 68% said that higher education is going in the wrong direction. There are obviously a myriad of different factors at play from rising tuition costs to falling populations of college-aged students. However, polls are also registering opposition to the activism and extremism among faculty and administrators in our universities and colleges.

Not surprisingly, Republicans and independents are the most estranged from higher education. While trust of Democrats has also declined, a majority still have trust in higher education. That is hardly a shock when Democratic faculty now outnumber Republicans 10-1 and many departments reporting not a single conservative professor.

Now only 36% of respondents believe that a college education is worth the expense. If these were corporations, universities would be in a full panic and boards would be demanding a new organizational plan. However, these not-for-profits are more insulated from such market pressures and academics feel little pressure for reform.

Faculty members have shown that they will not voluntarily restore diversity of viewpoints. The only chance for any change will come from pressure by donors and, in the case of public universities, legislators. The alternative is to allow the academic echo chamber to continue to drown out opposing views and alienate prospective students.

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