The Time is Now to Invest in Conservative Grad Students

Over the past few years, I have regularly encouraged conservatives to not write off higher education. Despite the Right’s valid concerns about woke administrators, progressive faculty, student self-censorship, and hostility toward conservative speakers, higher education is a valuable institution which has promoted an incredible degree of social mobility and ground-breaking innovation.

There are many conservative and centrist undergraduate and graduate students who want to embrace viewpoint diversity and who are looking for leadership on our politically charged campuses. While most recent efforts have been focused on undergraduates, far more attention needs to be on graduate students. Right-of-center organizations and institutions must work to help establish networks and campus centers that will encourage viewpoint diversity on campus and support conservative thought at the graduate level. These graduate students will, in turn, lay the foundation for far more balanced and diverse research in coming years. The conservative movement has an obligation to stand up for conservative and centrist students—it cannot cede higher education to those on the Left.

I make such a strong statement today after receiving an email from an administrator at Harvard University who is moving on from the school’s Inequality and Social Policy Ph.D. programs—a program from which I proudly graduated. This educational unit was remarkable. It crossed so many interdisciplinary lines, and its many courses and learning opportunities were policy-based and focused on problem-solving. The classes were objective with little bias. My fellow students and I benefitted from the insight of countless thinkers and policymakers around the globe, even though the faculty and my peers were left-of-center.

[Related: “A Collegiate Reality Check”]

The retiring administrator noted that the graduates of the program have had “a transformative impact in scholarship and practice.” This appears to be more or less correct. She continued by writing that these graduates have

put problems of inequality and injustice squarely on the agenda … [and] have advanced new research and evidence and centered the voices and experiences of those too often ignored. [Graduates] have brought deep commitment to policies and practice that improve people’s lives … [graduates] have planted seeds in the next generation through your own teaching and mentoring of an estimated 600,000 students to date.

While it is difficult to measure the program’s exact effect, there is no questioning its influence on local, state, and national policy since its founding in 1998. As such, it is now time for donors and organizations to help fund similar programs which promote a real diversity of ideologies and approaches to politics and policy on a host of campuses nationwide. Harvard’s influence has been significant, and there are numerous graduate students who agree with Arthur Brooks’ sentiment that “capitalism has saved a couple of billion people and we have treated this miracle like a state secret.” We need graduate centers which hold to such simple and powerful notions. Many students believe in smaller government, the value of an open competition of ideas, and the power of family, faith, community, and institutions to help individuals realize their full potential. But finding support for conservative graduate students on campuses nationwide remains a real challenge for many.

[Related: “On Leaving Professional Organizations”]

In fact, it appears that many on the Right have forgotten the genesis of the Federalist Society—an influential organization that has become a household name across the nation. As described by the Philanthropy Roundtable, “since its founding in 1982, the Federalist Society has transformed the legal profession at every level, from introductory classes at law schools all the way to the marbled chambers of the United States Supreme Court.” Vice President Cheney even remarked that the Society has “… changed the debate while gaining the respect of people across the ideological spectrum … against great odds, this organization has become one of the most influential in the world of law and public policy.” It is no wonder, then, that the now-defunct John M. Olin Foundation wrote to its trustees back in 2003 that “the Federalist Society has been one of the best investments the foundation ever made.”

The time is now to invest in conservative graduate students who want to build up our communities and institutions. The Harvard program in Inequality and Social Policy did not develop overnight, nor did it have an influence immediately. Similarly, the dangerous, simple-minded, regressive ideas behind identity politics and critical race theory—the sort of barbarianism described by Daniel Boorstin in the 1960s—did not permeate higher education immediately. Fortunately, so many in America see exactly what is happening on college and university campuses and reject this madness. It is time to invest in new institutions for those on the Right which will empower graduate students to push back against the Left and help restore balance and vibrant discourse on campuses. An investment of this kind will take time and thought, but it can strengthen our civil society and the health of our educational institutions.


Image: Adobe Stock

Samuel J. Abrams

Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

4 thoughts on “The Time is Now to Invest in Conservative Grad Students

  1. I respect Dr. Abrams, but I would never recommend academia to a bright young conservative these days. Get through the minimum amount of schooling needed without being liquidated, then stay far, far away.

    The recent NAS report on UT-Austin (a must-read: https://www.nas.org/blogs/press_release/diversity-equity-and-inclusion-hangs-its-hat-in-texas) makes clear that even in “red” states the far left controls the universities and is doing everything possible to staff them with ideological commissars and root out anyone who might engage in wrongthink.

    I would not want to subject smart young conservatives to a decade or so of ideological re-education only to find at the end that any path forward in academia is blocked by an endless thicket of forced DEI statements/confessions, “equity audits,” and Hamline-style student complaints about feeling “unsafe.” They will find some reason or way to destroy you, and the media, academia, and the rest of the supposedly “tolerant” left will be cheering them on the whole time.

    1. Yes, in response both to Dr ed and to The Truth: Dr. Abrams is missing the unfortunate realities of today.

      >> These graduate students will, in turn, lay the foundation for far more balanced and diverse research in coming years. <<

      That's only true if they can find academic/scholarly jobs. But precious few such jobs exist today, or will exist in the foreseeable future, and most institutions have slated most available jobs for minorities. And, for the rare jobs that exist, lefty faculty and administrators aren't going to hire conservative-leaning PhDs to fill them. Unlike 30 years ago, the number of places where such PhDs stand a decent chance of getting hired is now very small.

      The problem in academia is not a shortage of conservative grad students. There are already more conservative grad students than there are jobs for them. What is needed is the establishment and growth of institutions to house conservative academics.

      1. I’d like to see some statistics — which, of course, do not exist — but my belief is that the majority of conservative graduate students never graduate.

        HALF (50%) of all students who start a doctoral program fail to complete it and I firmly believe that a vastly disproportionate portion of this cadre are conservative students. While an undergraduate has to actually flunk out, there are a thousand different ways to get rid of a graduate student, with various versions of moving the goalposts being one. What a lot of people don’t realize is that paying graduate tuition does not guarantee you professors to teach you — they have to volunteer and the university is under no obligation to encourage them to do so. There’s a lot more but I don’t think there are that many conservatives actually *graduating*…

        See: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/07/why-do-so-many-graduate-students-quit/490094/

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