Many conservative activists claim universities and colleges around the nation are too politically liberal. Many conservatives on college campuses, Texas State included, feel that they are outnumbered, marginalized and oppressed because of their colleges’ “leftist” ideals.
Conservative political commentator and columnist Ben Shapiro even published a book in 2004 titled Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth that claims to expose the leftist agenda universities impose on their students. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos has gotten behind this rhetoric as well and said education establishments are telling students what to do, say and think.
Now, in an era of extreme political divisiveness, the split between liberals and conservatives is even more apparent and opposing. There are groups on either side that believe the other has an agenda to actively push. College campuses are usually a hub for liberal and leftist ideas, so it is somewhat rational for conservatives at these schools to feel outnumbered. College students are liberal when it comes to social issues, usually. The claim that these universities are pushing a leftist agenda, however, is illegitimate and not rooted in facts.
Research conducted Interfaith Diversity Experiences & Attitudes Longitudinal Survey took a national sample of over 7,000 undergraduate students at 120 four-year colleges and universities and found among this sample, 48 percent viewed liberals more favorably after their first year of college. However, 50 percent viewed conservatives more favorably after their first year as well. Thirty-one percent of the students also developed negative feelings towards conservatives. But, the same happened toward liberals, as 30 percent of the students developed negative attitudes for liberals. In summation, colleges do not make students more liberal but rather teach students how to recognize the value of a wide variety of political viewpoints.
Colleges are not actively trying to indoctrinate their students into becoming raging liberals but rather provide an environment for students to encounter people with opposing political views as theirs and learn how to respect these different ideologies. This happens regardless of the students’ political alignments. Students are taught how to think, not what to think.
The claim that universities are liberalizing their students is not a factual one. What is factual, however, is that an increasingly more leftist political alignment comes with more education. The Pew Research Center claims there is a wider ideological gap between more educated adults and less educated adults. What they found is with more education, people tend to have more liberal views. The amount of people who liberalize after college rises even more when you look at postgraduate and doctoral students.
The Pew Research Center also found Democrats are more likely to be more educated than Republicans, with 54 percent of degree holders identifying as Democrats or left-leaning, compared to 39 percent of degree holders who identify as Republicans or right-leaning. Democrats have only recently become the party of college graduates, however. Twenty-five years ago, the roles were reversed, with Republicans having more college degrees.
Higher education environments are often the only places where students are formally taught about gender, sexuality, sociology, social issues and other identity-based topics. These topics all have a hold on some hot-button social issues in politics today, mostly surrounding legislation that disenfranchises marginalized communities. After being educated on these topics, students may find themselves more sympathetic to these identities and will tend to not agree with legislation that oppresses particularly vulnerable populations.
With more education, especially secondary and post-secondary education, comes more tolerance. Colleges and universities are environments where students encounter a diverse group of people. After spending four or more years in these institutions, students are expected to leave with a broadened mindset. Colleges and universities are not indoctrinating their students to become liberal, but instead are teaching their students to be more sympathetic towards the struggles of their marginalized peers. Socially, colleges are more liberal, but this is just a side effect of more education.
– Carissa Liz Castillo is an English senior