Professors, Not Pundits
Conservative student groups are misguided in hosting controversial celebrities for one-time spectacles. Conservatives’ energy would be best invested in an area far more significant than political circus: academic appointments.
Across the nation, conservative student groups have invited the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, and Ben Shapiro to speak on campuses. These are not scholars. Their expertise is not in scholarship; it is in saying inflammatory things. If you’re into that sort of thing, they are entertainment; their subject happens to be politics. (Compare to their liberal counterpart: late night comedy shows.) Their fans come out to hear a comfortable chord from their echochamber, and, if they’re lucky, see a good ol’ takedown of some snowflake who asks a stupid question. #Thuglife.
In the realm of real scholarship, though, it is well documented that the academy is stacked with far more liberals than conservatives. This should matter to conservative student groups and they should work to change this.
Here’s why: To the questionable extent that any of the itinerant pundits can persuade their audience, professors shape the thought of young people at least as much and probably much more. Like a Supreme Court justice, a tenured professor is here to stay. A liberal instructor will do several things that will affect at least a generation of students.
For one, she will determine the curricula for her class if not for her department, selecting which writers are worthy of perusal and which are not. Contemporary liberal education is no friend to the canon of classical liberal literature. Authors of the “Great Books” (controversial), members of the Dead White Men demographic (uncontroversial), will have to cede much of their space on the traditional syllabus to others. This means that if, in the best case scenario, an undergrad who is open to persuasion (or is morbidly interested in the gotcha act) attended the hour-long show brought to campus by conservative students, he will still return to the library afterwards to imbibe almost exclusively liberal reading.
More importantly, a professor pontificates to students twice a week for a semester. Because he has received an extended education, he is a scholar, an expert. These credentials make the opinions he shares in class even weightier. It is one thing to spend an evening watching a conservative speech; it is a completely different thing to engage, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, week in, week out for twelve weeks, with a learned instructor who hammers home a non-conservative point.
This week, Young America’s Foundation and YU College Republicans will welcome Dennis Prager to Yeshiva University in the latest round of political circus. Meanwhile, the faculty here has a noted liberal bent. At YU, like at Berkeley, Middlebury, and elsewhere, conservatives have missed the mark.
How to influence academic appointments is a difficult question to which I do not propose a solution. But I do propose that an answer can be found if instead of trying to make headlines, conservative student groups tried to make headway in this challenge.
It is time to focus on education, not agitation.