Hire a Conservative Professor?

Chancellor G. P. Peterson of the University of Colorado, Boulder, plans to raise $9 million to endow a visiting chair in conservative thought and policy, on grounds that intellectual diversity is a good thing. Like all radical ideas, having an unorthodox professor on campus sounds a bit risky, maybe even startling, but after some reflection, there might be a few benefits to go with the shock. First, students will learn that conservative professors look very much like the 800 conventional liberal ones that the university has been collecting since the 1950’s. This in itself is a plus. Soon many students will realize that the average conservative professor has only one head, and shares a remarkable 98 percent of the conventional liberal professor’s genes. In addition most have opposable thumbs and are perfectly able to shake hands and smile readily at strangers.
Still, the idea of hiring a conservative teacher should give us pause, for several reasons.

1) Conservatives are prone to mysterious outbursts of unaccountable mirth. This can occur at any time, for instance immediately after someone suggests attending a convention of the Modern Language Association, or when a professor points out that studying Madonna is just as good as studying Shakespeare.

2) Conservatives often go months without using the word “marginalized,” which clearly puts a damper on faculty conversation.

3)Though they speak fairly well, conservatives are notoriously weak in diversity-speak and postmodern expression, as if these crucial campus tongues were some sort of impenetrable jargon. As Judith Butler once quipped, inducing a burst of appreciative laughter from her audience, “right-wingers lack libidinal multiplicity and melancholic structure, very likely because they are so sadly saddled by the binary frame and univocal signification.” Indeed, who among us can disagree?

4) How do we know that conservatives will rest content with just one professor on each campus? It’s true that Harvard has Harvey Mansfield, Yale has Donald Kagan and Princeton has Robby George. This arrangement has long seemed stable, but the generous allowance of a token member often feeds the appetite for more. Rumor has it that as many as two or three other conservatives have infiltrated Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Is this true, and if so, where does it end? What happens when an open-borders policy inundates the academy and changes our culture? They are not like us. Won’t they cause disagreement and dissent?

No, one conservative professor on campus is way too many. Let’s drop the idea.


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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