Liberal bias among students justified


In an attempt to undercut a columnist for The Daily Targum in his crusade to become "Liberal of the Month," the much sought after Centurion distinction, I have decided to forego making fun of tea party activists or individuals trashing the health care bill without actually understanding it and cut right to the chase: I would like to argue that it makes very little sense to be a conservative while in college, especially right now. Before I continue, I want to be absolutely clear. I am not saying that conservatives as a whole do not make any sense; if you would like to see why this very different but equally valid assertion is true, simply read any column written by Tuesday's columnist, the latest example being "Opinions require serious takes." Rather, I am arguing that all things considered, the average college student has no reason to be politically conservative.

Of course, in the status quo the liberal bias in higher education is largely recognized and has been a point of concern among conservatives for decades. A study from 2005 shows that roughly 70 percent of college professors in the United States describe themselves as liberal. Unfortunately for those on the right, studies also show that individuals with higher IQs are, on average, more likely to consider themselves liberal. And yes, this higher IQ among liberals comes in spite of factoring in political science majors, a truly extraordinary feat.

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to say whether higher IQs among liberals are due to intelligent people having a stronger proclivity for liberal ideas — as I would like to believe — or the product of higher education turning out individuals who tend to think a certain way. But one thing is clear: In the context of our generation more specifically, it makes perfect sense why college students should gravitate to liberalism as opposed to conservatism. I would go as far as saying that today it is almost irrational to be a conservative college student. Obviously anyone can reason that conservative values, whether regarding lower taxes, less government or more religion resonate less with 18 to 22-year-olds. But let's move beyond these basic assumptions. In other words, even if you are someone who appreciates these values, there is every reason to be turned off by the dominant conservatism of today, especially while in college.

First, let's make some brash generalizations about the way conservatives arrive at their views. On balance, conservative values tend to be geared towards black and white distinctions. Government spending is bad and leads to inefficiency. Free markets are good and should always be trusted. In law, conservatives tend to draw bright lines, or at least try to, in interpreting the U.S. Constitution. It does not change, they say. It cannot simply mean what we want it to today. But liberals tend to view the world in a more dynamic light. They tend to believe that at times the government can be necessary and even efficient (see education and the military respectively), and free markets fail all the time. Moreover, liberals argue that it is absurd to interpret the constitution today as those did in the eighteenth century, i.e., when property included slaves and women could not vote. To think as a liberal necessarily takes more open-mindedness, attention to nuance and the confidence necessary to accept change and uncertainty. In other words, many of the values that help you excel in college. But these are arguments as to why colleges have always been highly correlated with liberal thought, why are students particularly justified in being liberal today?

In terms of values, the conservatism of the past few decades has increasingly taken up views fundamentally at odds with the younger generation. For example, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence, many conservatives continue to deny climate change. They disregard the need for environmental policies popular on college campuses, in most liberal democracies, and in places where politicians cannot point to snow storms to disprove global warming. Conservatives also tend to line up against same-sex marriage. On college campuses, many with large numbers of gays, this belief seems crude, inherently unfair and increasingly anachronistic. Both of these views tend to support the notion that conservative values would seem outdated to a younger audience.

Beyond this, consider the leadership our generation has come of age under. Namely, the debacle that was the former President George W. Bush administration was the first time many of us were cognizant of government and politics. Before we could even vote, we learned what happens when the country chooses the candidate they would rather have a beer with than a debate with (see 2000 presidential election). It is worth noting that when Al Gore finally came back in vogue and had his views on the environment vindicated it was to a young and receptive audience. In short, our generation was introduced to conservative values with an example of how not to run the country.

Without space permitting to truly justify this argument, here is the unnecessarily lofty conclusion: College, at its most basic level, is a time to educate ourselves in a general sense. It is the best opportunity to figure out what we wish to pursue and who we wish to become. It is perhaps the only time we can continue to question our beliefs before we are pressured into solidifying them at the expense of being called hypocritical if we do not. Because of this, there is a natural tension between the type of conservatism that has been dominant as of late and the very nature of the college student. That is, we are taught to be inquisitive, open minded and logical but are exposed to conservative thought by individuals who do not exhibit any of these qualities, giving us no reason to buy into it. It may have once been true that if you are under 25 and conservative you have no heart and over 35 and liberal you have no brain, but today's conservatism asks that you surrender both.

Eric Knecht is a Rutgers College senior majoring in economics and history.


Eric Knecht

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