The argument for ideological diversity on campuses is strengthened by the growing political polarization in society. Political polarization is costly, because citizens then are more likely to dismiss a policy position based on the identity of its supporters and opponents than on the merits. Polarization also makes it harder to reach compromises, and compromises are more often likely to lead to political stability than ideas with a more narrow range of ideological support.
One of the reasons for polarization appears to be that citizens today are more able to live in ideological and partisan cocoons than in the past. They can look at the websites they like and not at those that might challenge their views. Cities and towns also sort themselves out more by political beliefs. Those opposing the predominant views of the their current residence are more likely to move to a more politically hospitable climate. Apparently, Republicans and Democrats even choose to follow different celebrities although they do admire a golfer or two in common.
The most obvious place where citizens should learn to interact with ideological opponents and confront arguments that will challenge their views is the university. But this experience is less likely if the gatekeepers of ideas are almost uniformly of one political persuasion. And so many of our modern universities are ideologically monochromatic.
It is hard to suppress schadenfreude about the recent ruling of the National Labor Relations Board giving graduate students the right to organize labor unions. Elite universities are united in their opposition, but these same institutions are dominated by left-liberals who want to expand the reach of unions in businesses. Most of their professors approve of increased regulation on everyone but themselves. The NLRB is giving them a taste of their own medicine.
Universities are in fact a much more hierarchical world than most businesses with a vast gulf in compensation, prestige, and autonomy between tenured professors and everyone else. If critical university theorists were as much in vogue as critical race theorists and radical feminists, we would be treated to endless papers on the oppression of university hierarchies. But for some reason universities don’t produce such advanced thinkers.
Nevertheless, given the baleful effects of this ruling, we should contain our glee. First, the university is not the factory floor, and graduate students are essentially students, not employees. Teachers are mentors of students, not their bosses.
Hillary Clinton has received substantial criticism because of the large fees she has gotten to speak on college campuses. But the universities are also worthy of criticism. What possible justification is there for universities to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to any politician for a speech? Universities aim to advance knowledge; politicians aim to advance themselves. Universities should value truth. Politicians are known for spin.
There is nothing wrong with welcoming politicians to campus. Students must use what they learn at college to critique the world, and politics is a worthy subject for interrogation. But the question remains why pay politicians to do it, when other aspects of college life in need of funds, such as instruction, facilities, and financial aid, are closer to the core mission of the university.
Such payments reveal two troubling aspects of the modern university.