The idea that the college campus has become politically uniform looms large in the contemporary American popular imagination—and has some basis in fact: U.S. college students and faculty alike tend to lean to the left, particularly at some of the most elite universities. These realities, combined with a media-driven sense that campuses are hotbeds of hyper-progressivism, may explain why American conservatives are increasingly dissatisfied with higher education as a sector. It has to be unpleasant for conservative students and faculty if ambient pressures on campus, or simply the feeling of being outnumbered, inhibit them from being open with their views. But does it really make for a less vibrant environment for knowledge and learning if most people on a campus think in similar terms?

According to Teresa Bejan—an associate professor of political theory at Oxford University and the author of Mere Civility: Disagreement and the Limits of Toleration—there’s a pattern across campuses, in the U.S. and the U.K., where some academics have been attempting to maintain consensus views on campuses by suppressing conservative speech. This has even included, at times, being insulting to conservative students or junior faculty. For Bejan, this pattern isn’t just wrong. It undermines the university in one of its most important roles in a democratic society: to help prepare students to engage effectively with the range of viewpoints that animate the population of their broader society.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy: What kind of viewpoint diversity should academia be looking for and why? When you say “intellectual diversity,” what do you have in mind?

Teresa Bejan: If that weren’t the language provided me, I wouldn’t use that language. My intervention is simply to observe that in the kinds of institutions I’ve been educated in, [and at] which I’ve taught, there is a kind of overrepresentation of viewpoints and and, partisan affiliations on the political left, relative to the population. I would like to see more people who identify politically as conservative, but I don’t reduce that to Republican voters in the States, or Tory voters in the U.K. Conservative is an imperfect category that describes a range of views. I would just like to see more of the range of those views in the university, just as I would like to see more of the range of views on the left, and those in the center. A university should be a place where we see the best and strongest versions of the views that exist in our society.

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