What We Truly Believe

Harvard, Richard M. Nixon liked to say, was "the Kremlin on the Charles."

But the reputation that gave the University its moniker has changed. Today, Harvard students, who stormed University Hall in 1969 to protest the presence of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) on campus, overwhelmingly support bringing the organization back, despite its exclusion of gay men and lesbians.

Some students point to small ideological defections as indicative of a larger erosion of liberal principles on campus.

But appearances can be deceiving.

Fully half of students polled in a recent Crimson survey of 325 undergraduates identified themselves as liberal. A third said they were moderate and only a sixth, self-identified themselves conservative.

Whatever has changed at Harvard, it is still far more liberal than the U.S. population at large.

But there are signs that Harvard sometimes eschew the liberal ideology for practical concerns.

There is substantial disagreement about issues that were once liberal mainstays--almost a third of students polled supported banning race-based affirmative action, far more than the number of students who described themselves as conservative. Less than half support race-based preferences. Only 43 percent of students polled agreed that the death penalty should be banned.

Yet these particular issues, say scholars of politics and civic life, have always been among the least tightly held tenets of liberalism--and do not indicate an aversion to progressive principles.

"Misgivings about racial preferences extend beyond conservatives," says Ramesh A. Ponnuru, a senior editor at the National Review, a conservative opinion magazine. He cited recent initiatives to curtail affirmative action in California and Washington that have received support among Democrats.

Overall, while Harvard students may not be as liberal as they once were, students remain staunch supporters of much of the liberal rubric.

As a student body, we are confident in government's ability to affect change in society--only 21 percent of students polled disagree that government is an effective body for solving social problems, and students overwhelmingly disagree with the notion that big government is a threat to our country's future.

In contrast, national politicians of every ilk have recently distanced themselves from ideas of expansive government with broad social mandates.

"There's a reason that Bill Clinton felt it necessary to say 'the era of big government is over,'" Ponnuru says.

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