Happenings at the University of North Carolina have always been intertwined with the civic life of our state. Chapel Hill is not an ivory tower, as generations of critics have inadvertently recognized. In that spirit I condemn the vandalism targeted at Carolina Review, the university’s conservative student magazine. Violence has no place in a world of critical inquiry and free thought.
To be sure, Carolina Review is not a sympathetic victim. The publication, like right-wing student groups across the country, traffics in crude provocations and seems to have taken as its primary mission the Grand Crusade of “owning the libs.” Despite that, it is a journalistic institution in a country with a free press. It, and other unpopular organs on campus, deserve to operate free from brutish attacks on their physical and cyber infrastructures.
Naturally, the magazine’s editor connected this incident to the alleged political homogeneity of college campuses in America. I will challenge skeptical progressives by saying that this problem does exist. From Evergreen State College to Smith College, from Berkeley to the University of Missouri of all places, the enforcement of a left-wing political consensus has become a central component of campus culture. It is undeniably difficult for an open conservative to get hired in most humanities and social science departments. Conservative speakers are intimidated; right-of-center perspectives are largely unwelcome in classrooms.
But for all those baleful developments, efforts by Republicans–and I do mean Republicans–to shore up conservatism on campus are almost certainly worse than the disease. Carolina Review’s editor called for requirements that new faculty be “ideologically diverse.” This amounts to creating a government-prescribed ideology on campus, and is antithetical to the spirit of intellectual freedom that conservative critics claim to prize. Interventions to stanch protests that campus progressives aim at right-wing speakers likewise stink of an effort to suppress dissent. In the wake of Trump, hostility to dissent is more repugnant than ever.
These and basically every other intrusion into college autonomy that have been proposed by Republicans would only weaken higher education in America. Campus progressives, and even centrists, can be forgiven when they doubt the sincerity of their right-wing critics. After all, North Carolina conservatives have been waging war on the UNC system since Jesse Helms spewed bile at Chapel Hill during his days as a television demagogue. (He continued this habit as a politician-demagogue.) UNC is the crown jewel of the state, and efforts to tamper with it have almost never made anything better.
If they want to make campuses friendlier to right-of-center perspectives, conservatives should challenge left-wing orthodoxy from the inside. Participate in debates. Debate unapologetically. Get Ph.D.’s and write papers. Don’t outsource your grievances to an authoritarian political party that hates the universities and wishes them ill.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.