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.
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.
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.
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