From supporting shout-downs and intimidation of conservative speakers to denying due process to students accused of sexual assault, stories regularly emerge that chronicle the liberal lopsidedness and lack of true viewpoint diversity among campus administrators.
It is widely known that these omnipresent administrators – mid-tier staffers who occupy dozens of offices including diversity and inclusion, student achievement and success, deans of students, and student affairs — set the political agenda from orientation programs to residential life policies and are far more progressive than those in the professoriate and the students.
The question remains: what can be done to bring more balance to higher education?
After spending a number of years studying this problem, I have an answer: we need more scientists, engineers, and business-focused college administrators who sync up with the interests of students and bring in drastically alternative values from those in the humanities who now dominate the administrative class.
This conclusion comes from a national survey of over 900 students in 2018, which shows not only are the humanities dominant among administrators but also that there is a significant disconnect between what incoming students want to study in college and those who set the tone and tenor of so much life on campus.
Specifically, UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute asks incoming students about their intended major, and just under 11% are interested in the arts and the humanities while another 11% state the social sciences are what they hope to study. In contrast, 26% of new students state that they are interested pre-professional courses of study like business and health-related fields and another 35% hold that technical fields like computer science, engineering, and hard sciences are their planned fields of study. There is a real diversity in student interest, and this breakdown of majors fits nicely with narratives that show lower demand for humanities of late and significant shortages for classes in programming and related technical fields.
While roughly 22% of incoming students want to major in fields like anthropology, art history, and English, 63% of administrators have backgrounds in the arts, humanities and social sciences – three times the number of students. As for pre-professional business and health professions, only 9% of administrators have backgrounds that speak to students with those needs. Just 7% of administrators have backgrounds in technical fields like engineering and computer science, and this is 5 times smaller than the number of students who are entering college wanting to study in those areas.
The data reveals that although almost two-thirds of students want technical and pre-professional training in college, only 16% of administrators have any experience in those areas which is a shockingly limited amount of intellectual diversity among administrators.
Going further, the fact that the humanities are so pronounced and the disparities between student interests and the background of administrators are so great, we now have a clear basis for the problems with campus discourse today.
As a professor of politics, rarely does a week go by when I do not have a student in my office who is upset about the socio-political currents on campus. So many students are interested in careers and internships, pursuing their passions (which may not be art history or anthropology) and are looking to have a bit of fun; they are not interested in regular fights about social justice and political correctness in their social spaces.
Students tell me that campus administrators regularly present programming with messages about diversity and inclusion that are unwanted and one-sided, are told about how they are pressured to talk about sexuality and identity even when they consider these topics private, and are barraged with seemingly never-ending socio-political narratives from their dorms to the dining halls that are distracting and disruptive to their collegiate goals.
Taking this new background about administrators into account, the extreme liberalism in indoctrination makes total sense. Whereas humanistic inquiry is often subjective, is fixated on the human condition where facts are hard to define, sees activism as ethically essential, and views engagement as necessary to address wrongs of the past, those in business, science and engineering value clear evidence, the scientific method, and often eschew politicizing their inquiries and questions.
If administrators are overwhelming from the humanities, which now explicitly promote liberal activism and engagement, and there are few scientists around to work with students and bring the evidence-based values to the table, it is no wonder that our college and university extracurricular programming has taken a sharp turn to the left.
Thus, one solution to this ideological imbalance is clear: If our institutions of higher education and their administrators really value viewpoint diversity, these schools will actively recruit administrators who will match the intellectual needs of their students and move beyond a population that deeply values political promotion.
True viewpoint diversity is so much greater than identity politics, and it includes divergent intellectual paths as well. Engineering and computer science students have their own norms and culture, and that is notably different from those in the arts and social sciences. Varied cultures can and should co-exist, and more intellectual balance among administrative personnel should help provide more balance for our students.
Administrators with broader views will change campus culture for the better because questions of social justice and righting past wrongs may be crucial to some students, many students do not want liberal politics infused into every aspect of their lives outside the classroom, they just want real personal and professional guidance.