Opinion

The UNC-CH faculty is overwhelmingly liberal. That's not good.

The Old Well on the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill.
The Old Well on the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill.

A “liberal education” does not mean you studied under Elizabeth Warren. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities:

“Liberal Education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society).”

The goal of most American universities is to provide students a liberal education, as defined above. But many are failing miserably. You cannot prepare young minds to deal with “complexity, diversity and change” without exposing them to diverse ways of thinking. A school cannot impart “broad knowledge of the wider world” without professors who are familiar with the wider world that exists beyond major cities and college towns.

If a school has a faculty comprised of every nationality, race, and gender identity possible, teaching the same world view, you have no academic diversity whatsoever. You simply have different flavors of Kool-Aid.

UNC-Chapel Hill ranks ahead of liberal stalwarts Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Dartmouth, Duke, and UC-Berkeley in one category: the percentage of liberal arts faculty registered as Democrats.

In 1970, Democrat voter registration among university faculty across the country outnumbered Republicans by 3.5 to one. Nationally, that disparity has soared to 11 to 1. At UNC, there are 23 registered Democrats for every Republican in the departments that address political and social issues, according to Econ Journal Watch.

Many academic departments have a toxic culture that equates conservative thought with ignorance. After I suggested in a previous opinion piece that there was a debilitating lack of political diversity at UNC, one professor queried a mutual friend: “Doesn’t he understand that academics are liberal because that is the way intelligent people think?”

Such hubris is reminiscent of Hillary’s “deplorable” comment. Surely there are more brilliant conservatives working in the technology, health care and financial industries than all the college professors combined. Perhaps the toxic academic culture doesn’t appeal to them.

I received a call last year from a former UNC chancellor. He asked if I would participate in a debate following a video to be shown to retired faculty where I would defend the “conservative” perspective. I chuckled and asked him: “Do you mean to tell me that among the thousands of UNC faculty, the best you can do to find a conservative perspective is a part-time business school professor?” He confessed that, “Yes, we do have a diversity problem.”

That ranks as one of the greatest understatements I have heard. But at least he recognized it as a problem. Apparently, the faculty doesn’t see it that way. They are doing nothing to address the disparity. Academics embrace all underrepresented minorities on campus — except conservatives.

One of the nation’s leading conservative scholars, Robby George, who occupies the chair at Princeton once held by Woodrow Wilson, was recently invited to address the UNC Board of Governors. At dinner the night before, Professor George explained to us why there have been none of the disruptions at Princeton we witness at Middlebury, Berkeley and other campuses involving violent protests, shouting down and censoring conservative speakers. He said, “When students have an opportunity to engage in civil discourse, they don’t feel compelled to engage in uncivil discourse.”

Until UNC can demonstrate that it employs a critical mass of nationally-recognized conservative scholars, like most other leading universities, it cannot pretend to offer a “liberal education.” Fortunately, there are a few thought leaders on campus who recognize this. Let’s pray (not in the classroom) that they will be effective change agents.

Community columnist Michael Jacobs is CEO of Jacobs Capital and on the faculty of UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.
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