Elephant and Man at Harvard

Particularly now, Harvard ought to make ideological diversity of all kinds a priority

As students and professors continue to take stock of the results of Tuesday’s election, the ideological uniformity of much of Harvard’s population will no doubt dominate campus conversation. Honing in on Harvard’s undergraduates, The Crimson’s pre-election survey affirmed—to an extent—the College’s reputation as a liberal bastion. While we should use caution in using these results to make blanket assumptions about all academic and social contexts in which students discuss politics, the survey points to an overall lack of ideological diversity that should concern faculty, administrators, and students alike, especially at this moment in our history.

The most glaring ideological diversity deficit among undergraduates is the relatively small number of students who identify as conservative. In the election survey, fewer than 13 percent of respondents described themselves as “somewhat” or “very” conservative, compared to over 70 percent describing themselves as “somewhat” or “very” liberal.

In contrast, when a Gallup poll early this year asked Americans to describe themselves as “very liberal,” “liberal,” “conservative,” “very conservative,” or “moderate,” a plurality—37 percent—picked one of the two conservative options, while 35 percent chose “moderate.” In The Crimson’s survey, only 16 percent of respondents picked “moderate.” Most striking, in the Gallup survey, only 24 percent picked one of the liberal choices.

Similarly, while nearly 48 percent of Americans voted for Donald J. Trump in his victory on Tuesday, just 6 percent of undergraduate respondents to The Crimson’s survey preferred him. This number stands in stark contrast to the 35 percent of millennials nationwide who cast their ballots for the President-elect—a testament to his divisiveness, but also a reflection of the insularity of the Harvard bubble.

The causes of this ideological imbalance are likely as varied as the reasons people choose to attend Harvard in the first place, and it would be unrealistic to expect our campus to exactly mirror the political divisions of the country at any given moment. But when the disconnect has grown to such proportions, diversifying political expression in all settings ought to become an administrative priority. The pursuit of “Veritas” which undergirds our intellectual life demands not only that each member of our community be able to debate politics freely, but also that we attend to the multitude of political views that exist in our nation. Stifling this discussion on campus is a disservice to our peers in the campus political minority, and to our own educational growth.

In the same vein, administrators and faculty should take active steps to ensure that students of all political stripes feel comfortable voicing their ideas, especially in the classroom. Concretely, this effort will likely involve actively encouraging the airing of different views, and curtailing unnecessary or inappropriate expressions of political favor by professors. Guaranteeing that more conservative professors teach in subject areas that clearly lean liberal, like the humanities, is also crucial.

This is not to say that Harvard should simply shift its discourse rightwards; the need may differ from department to department. In economics, for instance, more political views from the radical left would likely enrich our intellectual experience in the same way as more conservative views would in the humanities.

Ultimately, this week’s surprises have underscored Harvard students’ need to understand those who disagree with us, however strongly we feel that their views would lead to catastrophe or injustice. Though Harvard will never perfectly reflect the American public’s political composition—nor should it seek to—Harvard students are not exempt from remaining in touch with reality.

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