In the Loop

Losing the "liberal" from college campuses?

Posted at 10:00 AM on September 26, 2008 by Sanden Totten (2 Comments)

It's no secret that most college campuses have a left leaning reputation. In fact, at some schools it's as if they include a Ralph Nader bumper sticker and a pair of Birkenstock's with every student's acceptance package.

You can trace a lot of that back to the rabblerousing 1960's. But that generation is fading from higher education. The New York Times recently looked into the retirement of the ultra-lefty baby boom professors and found that the educators who are replacing them aren't nearly as radical:

"When it comes to those who consider themselves "liberal activists," 17.2 percent of the 50-64 age group take up the banner compared with only 1.3 percent of professors 35 and younger."

Conservatives have also been working harder to level the playing field in college curriculum. They've been sponsoring programs and lectures that focus on some of "the great books often derided during the culture wars as the history of 'dead white men.'"

In fact, I even noticed on a recent trip back to my alma mater that current students seem have a somewhat romantic affection for the writings of Ayn Rand.

So what do you think . . . are you in college? Do you have kids going off to a school this fall? Or maybe, like me you recently went back for a reunion . . . Are colleges really leaving the left?

It might say something that in his new movie Slacker Uprising, Michael Moore tries to convince college students to get out and vote this November. His appeal (at least in the promo) has nothing to do with left-wing policies and more to do with free Ramen Noodles:

Comments (2)

There is a strange Randite renaissance going on right now on college campuses -- I'm not sure why. I don't really get it, and I don't really believe that people are going to carry those ideals much past the boundary of their campus. But it's weird, and it's definitely there. Ron Paul's attraction on college campuses certainly speaks to a general libertarian drive there, which the Randites make up the radical wing of. My suspicion is that it's mostly political: a response to the sudden ubiquitous invasion of our privacy by the government.

At the same time, there's also a whole new reinvigoration of traditional organizations. In the past few years, I've watched applications for church ordination and Freemasonry suddenly have an influx of twenty-somethings, many of whom are looking for community and a relationship to their world other than "consumer".

Here's my theory: just like in the 60s, our college campuses are being filled with a generation who grew up in ticky-tacky subdivisions and as part of a huge system. Unlike in the 60s, this generation grew up with liberal approaches to identity -- validating people as being perfect just who they are, without pushing for a development of that "who they are" for fear of imposing an identity on them. This has left the generation susceptible to the advertising world's imposed identities, which study after study have shown to be self-destructive, both mentally (e.g. anxiety) and physically (e.g. obesity). The difference in identity source means that instead of identifying the problem as conformity, modern college students are identifying it with isolation. And, hence, the interest in community and tradition.

Posted by Robert Fischer | September 26, 2008 10:10 AM

Interesting theory Robert. Kind of a blow back from the Bowling Alone generation.

I have to admit, the Ayn Rand thing fascinates me too. One theory I had was that college students seek out world views that challenged the powers that be. These days, for your average student the powers that be are left leaning college faculty and staff. Rand's works are a smart and defiant challenge to a lot of those post 60's political notions.

I wonder if the surge in community involvement you are noticing could also be related to the social networking that today's 20 years olds have grown up with. The notion of joining groups and having relationships based solely on that membership is pretty common these days. I don't feel like it was that common ten years ago.

Posted by Sanden Totten | September 29, 2008 12:54 PM

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