5 Major Problems for Academia Caused by Progressive Gatekeeping
The Progressive-Neoliberal model of Higher Education has developed deep pathologies.
I was invited to write the initial article for the Society for the Open Inquiry in the Behavioral Sciences because my dissertation focused on the link between the progressive-neoliberal model of higher education and conservative skepticism of the contemporary university and the research it produces, especially on topics like global warming.
The partisan gap in the perception of higher education is widening, and independents are losing their confidence. Nearly 80% of college presidents are concerned about Republican skepticism, and 44% agree that, “perception of colleges as places that are intolerant of conservative views is accurate.” (Lederman 2022)
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Below are five major problems in higher education due to lack of viewpoint diversity.
1. Public Perception of Higher Education is in Serious Decline
From my dissertation:
According to Inside Higher Ed, between 2015 and 2018, confidence amongst adults in higher education dropped from 57-48% overall, from 56-39% amongst Republicans, from 48-44% amongst Independents, and from 68-62% amongst Democrats (Jaschik 2018b). A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found similar results, reporting that Republican and Republican-leaning respondents who reported saying that colleges had a positive effect on the way things are going in America had fallen from 58% in 2010 to 33% in 2019 (Nietzel 2019).
Support from Democratic party voters is believed to be in decline because of rising tuition costs and possibly the college admissions scandal of 2019 (Jaschik 2018b), whereas conservative support is perceived to be in decline (McCall 2019; Hess and Grant 2018) because of a change in campus culture from free and open inquiry into a place where only opinions which affirm social justice policies are allowed. The same 2019 Pew Research Center survey also found that, “87% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning individuals believe that colleges and universities are open to a wide range of opinions and viewpoints, double the 44% of Republicans and Republican-leaners who say the same thing” (Nietzel 2019). Overall, less than half of Americans think that colleges are having a positive impact.
Conservative media and social media play a big role in this negative perception of the university, and criticism has grown stronger as universities have shifted their educational mission from the classical liberal tradition to include more Critical Theory based IED policies on campus and in the classroom. Conservatives have responded to these changes by increasingly seeing the universities as captured institutions bent on social justice indoctrination, rather than a place of learning dedicated to the creation of new scientific discoveries and technologies, the passing on of cultural knowledge through the humanities and liberal arts, and the providing job skills training for future professionals.
Bolstering these beliefs are a network of right-leaning, campus-based media organizations such as Campus Reform, The College Fix, Young America’s Foundation, and Turning Point USA report from campuses and look for examples of what they perceive to be anti-conservative, anti-America, anti-male, anti-White, and anti-capitalism statements made or supported by university faculty and administrators.
“One thing we know from history going back to at least the Scopes Trial is that the worst people on the planet to make curriculum choices or write syllabi are politicians. They should never, ever, ever do it. They’re terrible at it. But now they’re doing it. And my admonition to people in academia is that there’s more to come if you don’t get more conscientious about making campuses more hospitable to a true diversity of ideas.” - Evan Goldstein (2021)
Conservatives have come to regard K-Ph.D. education as being an instrument of the political Left which is being wielded against them. They have historically responded to this threat in the form of legislation and by defunding public, and publicly funded private, universities. However, in recent years they have become more aggressive in passing legislation which does everything from require public disclosures of course content and political leanings of faculty, to the outright banning the discussion of certain topics from certain perspectives. Sixteen states have legislation, proposed or passed, concerning sex and gender education: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, N. Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, S. Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. (Sawchuck 2022)
These bills cover parental notification, bathroom policies for cis- and hetero- sexual persons, school clubs, disclosure and use of gender pronouns, mandating that parents be allowed to see their children’s curriculum and instructions in school, forbidding gender identity and sexual orientation from being discussed with students K-3rd grade, policies for transgendered athletes, restroom and locker room restrictions, and mandating that teachers and administrators not keep students’ gender transition (including medical procedures) a secret from their parents.
There are similar bills concerning race, particularly Critical Race Theory, that have been proposed to legislate what can, and cannot, be taught in Kindergarten through Ph.D. programs in the United States. There has also been a growing body of research on White resentment of how these ideas trigger social identity threat responses (fear and anger) and mobilize political opposition.
Laws are also being introduced to limit how certain topics are discussed in class. For instance, the University of Idaho is warning faculty to ‘remain neutral’ on the topic of abortion in response to Idaho House Bill 220, as taking a pro-choice stance could amount to ‘promoting’ abortion using public funds. Although, should this bill take effect, it will likely be challenged in court as passing the ‘imminent lawless action’ test as laid out in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969). (Whittington 2022)
Conservative media contains a narrative that all of the insidious ideas that parents and government officials need to protect children from originated in higher education, particularly subjects like Marxism, Gender Studies, Critical Race Theory, Queer Theory, Social Justice Studies, Intersectionality, and Postcolonial Theory, among others.
These fields are being presented to non-progressives, in both education curriculum and through partisan media, in a manner that is triggering social identity threat mechanisms, which are generating partisan motivated fear-based reactions, and that people who are concerned about these issues in education are likely to politically reward and support politicians who push back against these policies.
3. Increasing Negative Partisanship.
Partisan media and social media are driving hyper- and negative- partisanship within the culture war, and education is caught in the middle of this war because of partisan makeup of the university system, partisan research and publishing occurring within the university that antagonizes conservative and heterodox thinkers, and the conservative reactionary press, primarily The College Fix and Campus Reform, whose work is then broadcast out into the larger conservative media sphere. From my dissertation:
Two-thirds of administrators self-identify as liberal, with 40 percent of that liberal pool stating that they are far left. A quarter of them call themselves middle of the road, while only 5 percent say they are on the right. That makes for a liberal-to-conservative ratio of 12 to one. (Abrams 2018)
The fact that the universities are left-leaning and frequently produce research and materials that are antagonistic towards conservatives has created a rightwing reactionary media apparatus that feeds on these stories.
Popular campus stories that feed this narrative frequently feature males who have been falsely accused of sexual misconduct under Title IX and punished, the deplatforming of conservative speakers, professors and administrators engaging in biased and hostile speech and acts towards conservatives, and classes and events that focus on the perceived demeaning of Whites, males, American and European culture, nuclear families, Christianity, or capitalism.
Conservatives and heterodox thinkers have reacted to these stories with their own media operations, including left-leaning Peter Boghassian's 'Reverse Q&A' videos and Steven Crowder's on campus 'Change My Mind' episodes.
4. Contributing to a Lack of Cooperation on Collective Action Problems
Conservative media is portraying the contemporary university as a threat, and conservative student experiences are legitimating that perception, that means that we should expect to see defensive psychological processes being activated in response. This occurs because people have Partisan Social Identities and are influenced by Partisan Motivated Reasoning, both of which influence how people interpret information through the lens of their political commitments. Partisan Social Identity is a person’s sense of who they are based on their membership in a political group, which going back to Tajfel and his colleagues in the late 1970s, is linked to attitudes, behaviors, values, self-conceptions of worth, emotion, group assimilation, intergroup bias for one’s own group, and negative evaluations of and prejudice towards outgroups.
Conservative perception of threat is important because social identity threat has been linked to both conspiratorial thinking and laypersons’ perception of scientists by Nauroth et al. (2017, 154), who found that, “scientists were perceived as less prototypical, less reputable, and less competent when their research results imply a threat to participants’ social identity compared to a non-threat condition.”
Identity-protective cognition is the process whereby individuals selectively accept or reject dangers in ways that support their preferred form of social and political organization. Together these processes incentivize conservatives to react to university generated research with skepticism as a form of social and personal protection.
System-justifying tendencies explain a threat response, wherein accepting the existence and severity of AGW could lead to increased fear of political policy outcomes, such as increased government intrusion into their lives. This fear is expressed in the “Global warming is a hoax” literature by conservatives who cite liberal or leftwing authors and politicians who want to use AGW as a means of getting their preferred policy outcomes.
5. Encouraging Conspiratorial Thinking.
According to Uscinski, et al. (2022), the widespread belief that conspiratorial thinking is increasing lacks evidence. However, “The lack of systematic evidence owes to the fact that conspiracy theories became the subject of a sustained research program only around 2010.”
According to van Prooijen and Douglas’ (2018) work on conspiracy theories,
The first key insight is that although conspiracy theories differ widely in content, subjective beliefs in them are rooted in the same underlying psychology. This insight is suggested by findings that the single best predictor of belief in one conspiracy theory is belief in a different conspiracy theory (Goertzel, 1994; see also Lewandowski, Oberauer, & Gignac, 2013; Swami et al., 2011; Sutton & Douglas, 2014).
From my dissertation:
‘Conspiracy-effect’ describes the phenomenon where belief in one or more conspiracy theories leads to belief in other conspiratorial theories. Van der Linden and Sander (2015) looked at this conspiracy-effect as conspiratorial beliefs are becoming more widespread in the American public, linking it to a decrease in pro-environmental behavior, a reduction of science acceptance, and a negative influence on pro-social decision making. They noted that conspiratorial beliefs are ‘potent’, and that exposure to a conspiracy video on AGW led to a significant belief that there is no widespread consensus on AGW, and those who watched it were less likely to sign a petition to help reduce AGW or volunteer for a charity. Thus, this network of beliefs predicts that if someone were to believe in a conspiracy about universities having subversive Marxist agendas, that in turn would predict a rejection of belief in AGW.
This aligns with Saunders’ 2017 work on conspiratorial thinking towards AGW as generated by partisan motivated reasoning. He cites trust as a mitigating force against motivated reasoning, and lack of trust with rejecting the reality of climate change. Unfortunately, trust is the very thing in decline regarding the American university system.
Sunstein and Vermeule (2009) understand conspiratorial thinking as the result of cognitive errors combined with informational and reputational influences, and as trust in public institutions wanes, that increases the possibility of increased trust in informational and reputational influences that see environmental problems in conspiratorial terms of being a power grab for the government. Miller et al. (2016) explored conspiratorial thinking on the individual level and found that individuals who believe in conspiracies tend to think via motivated processes, which serve psychological and ideological needs, and this is especially true for those who are both highly knowledgeable about politics and lacking in trust.
Thank you for reading! In Part Two I plan to cover all of the various reform programs meant to re-include non-progressives back into the universities, including the work of the Society for Open Inquiry in the Behavioral Sciences.