The Liberal Blind Spot

The university has been described as the marketplace of ideas. But what kind of marketplace is it? If you went to a store that only sold one kind of cereal, or one brand of soap, what would your think? Would the lack of options make you want to consider shopping somewhere else?

That’s how Nicholas Kristof describes the academy in his recent New York times piece “A Confession of Liberal Intolerance.” He describes the university as more of a monopoly of a certain kind of thinking than a diversity of perspectives. Kristof, a graduate of Harvard who went on to study law at Oxford and Arabic in Cairo, is able to speak from his own experience. And what he sees going on in higher education is a desire for the kind of diversity that can safeguard a monolithic worldview. “We’re fine with people who don’t look like us,” he writes, “as long as they think like us.”

George Yancey, an African American professor interviewed by Kristof, said, “Outside of academia I faced more problems as a black. But inside academia I face more problems as a Christian, and it is not even close.”

There is a demonstrable bias against conservatives on campus, particularly if they are evangelical Christians. Jonathan L. Walton, a black evangelical and a professor at Harvard, told Kristof that the opposition to his Christianity is similar to his experience with racism: “The same arguments I hear people make about evangelicals sound so familiar to the ways people often describe folk of color, i.e. politically unsophisticated, lacking education, angry, bitter, emotional, poor.”

It might be helpful to clarify the definition of the university from “the marketplace of ideas” to “the marketplace of a particular kind of ideas.” For example, Kristoff says that you are more likely to meet a faculty member who is a Marxist (18% of social science professors) than you are to meet a Republican (2% of English professors).

I’m writing this from Boston where I’m spending the week with worldview students from Boyce College. Yesterday we toured Harvard, today we will visit MIT, and tomorrow we will walk the beautiful campus of Boston College. I love to introduce those in our worldview program to students from these campuses who are strong in their Christian faith. But Kristof’s article reminds us that while their faith might be welcome as students, it could be a major obstacle should they desire to join the faculty.