A Learning Opportunity

“You are sieging Troy, and you have no Trojan horse.”

Edmund BurkeI once said this to a group of conservative strategists who asked me for my opinion, as a conservative student at a “left-leaning” elite institution, on how to “take back college campuses.” As I have made abundantly clear in all of my writings on this subject, I do not believe conservative students face any significant adversity on college campuses. I am, however, deeply disturbed by the direction that the American education system is headed. I have heard conservative strategists firsthand question whether or not youth are a worthwhile investment for conservatives. Young people are the lifeblood of any movement, and yet, conservatives have almost no infrastructure in place to ensure that students engage with conservative philosophy at all. This is not to suggest indoctrination— I am quite confident that conservative ideals, when framed as acceptable ideological options, will prevail in the free market of ideas. But even if our goal was indoctrination, we would be utterly incapable of it. Education, as we all know, has come to be dominated by the Left. So, the question, as I was asked, is how do we even the playing field?

To me the answer is quite obvious— students need conservative professors. At most elite institutions, less than 10% of faculty identify as conservative, and the statistics are not much more favorable at most universities nationwide. Perhaps even worse, K–12 education is also deficient of conservative teachers. It is perfectly possible, and even likely, for a student in America today to go through seventeen years of education without having a single conservative instructor. The fatal flaw of the conservative movement’s strategy to attract youth is that it is making no concerted effort to “take back” academia with an influx of well-educated, deeply intellectual conservative pedagogues. Moreover, there has been more effort spent in abandoning the college “battleground” altogether by actively discouraging college attendance for young people. It is undeniable that this academic crisis is jeopardizing the future of the conservative movement.

But where are these conservative professors? Are they being blocked out by liberal institutions? While it is possible that there is some institutional bias, there is not much research that suggests the conservatives are systematically being turned away by academia. Rather, there is much research that suggests the opposite: conservatives have turned away from academia. At conference after conference of conservative student activists, I have asked the question, “Who else wants to be a professor?” Only a few hands, if any, go up. Finance, consulting, law, medicine, engineering, military service, and business— these are the paths that attract conservatives. I find it fascinating— concerning, but fascinating— that more conservatives would rather sell insurance policies than teach America’s youth.

There are certainly economic answers to some of the questions concerning America’s lack of conservative teachers. Jobs in K–12 education do not only pay notoriously low wages, but education majors— which many public-school districts prefer over specialized majors— are among the lowest scorers in terms of GPA and standardized tests. Securing university professorships not only takes more than a decade of higher education, but the job market for those positions is also one of the most competitive and over-saturated. Even at Dartmouth, where conservative students could have a competitive edge in securing jobs in academia compared to lower tier university students, when given the option between a six-year PhD program and a job in finance, Dartmouth’s conservatives overwhelmingly pick the latter. So, what, then, can be done?

With regard to K–12 education, conservatives must join their liberal counterparts in a comprehensive re-evaluation of education standards, the socio-cultural position of teachers in society, and the pedagogical training of educators. While conservatives have initiated a righteous move in returning educational decision making to local governments, they have not made any attempt to heighten the importance of education or critically evaluate what the goals of education should be.

The conservative movement has been reluctant to encourage or support conservative students to seek graduate degrees that would lead them to academia, even though there are countless scholarships for politically active conservative students interested in law, foreign service, and public policy. For those organizations that do support non-professional academic pursuits, they primarily focus on political economy, government, and economics. For conservative students who desire a degree in the humanities—a cohort that is vastly underrepresented— there is minimal support available from conservative organizations. Conservatives have fought against the founding of “identity” departments like Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies— departments and areas of academic discourse that are not disappearing anytime soon— instead of supporting conservative students in becoming experts in those fields. The conservative condemnation of these “identity studies” departments is ineffective and out of touch. Instead, conservatives ought to abandon their condescension and meaningfully, honestly, and rigorously engage with these fields of study.

Organizational financial support would certainly make graduate studies more enticing, but money alone is not enough. Once that support is in place, active recruitment must be the next step. Both the Left and the Right have adopted the practice of recruiting, training, and grooming viable candidates for political positions. The same must be done for finding conservative students that show potential for academic pursuits. Not only will this help reinforce academia as a realistic option for young conservatives, but it will also legitimize the crucial, but currently waning, place of intellectuals and academics in the conservative movement. This revitalization of fierce, conservative intellectualism is imperative— conservatives must initiate a call to teach.