Law Professor Challenges UNH President To Hire Non-Leftists

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New Boston Post recently reported comments by the new president of the University of New Hampshire dismissing concerns about ideological bias on university campuses. “I think that people make a little bit more of this than it really is,” James W. Dean Jr. is reported to have said in an interview with a local media group.

I want to challenge President Dean. I teach graduates of major universities such as UNH. And I see the effects of the ideological bias that pervades higher education.

My students are delightful and hard-working people. But they don’t know very much.

I don’t mean they’re stupid. They have the capacity to think. They just haven’t been equipped.

Several times each week for the last eleven and a half years, I have stepped into a law school classroom to teach students how to reason about the law. Every year my first-year students come to class with less knowledge and rationality on which to build. This is not their fault. They want to learn.

I used to be able to assume at least a minimal facility with formal logic and a basic knowledge of Anglo-American and world history. Now my students possess little of either. As a student lamented during a visit to my office recently, “I now realize that no one ever taught me how to think.”

A few years ago, to address these deficiencies, colleagues and I designed a required first-year course and text book on the foundations of law. We want our students to understand the law and think critically about it. The course and book provide remedial instruction in elementary reasoning as well as the big ideas and critical moments in the development of Anglo-American legal norms and institutions.

It’s quite basic stuff — Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

For our students, though, almost everything in the course is a revelation.

This is not to suggest that my students did not learn anything in their undergraduate institutions. They learned all about the different victim groups. They learned not to express any skepticism about prevailing orthodoxies — theological dogmas at some religious colleges (though many of my best-equipped students come from small, religious colleges); leftist ideological dogmas everywhere else. For example, those educated at public and elite private universities know that they should never, under any circumstances, allow their professors to suspect that they understand marriage to be inherently a man-woman union. Nor should they reveal any knowledge of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures or attraction to classical liberal ideas.

My students also learned a political ideology. For example, they know about slavery. They know that it was perpetrated by whites against blacks. They don’t know that slavery was ubiquitous until very recently in world history, or that the first legal arguments for abolition were articulated by Christian jurists drawing upon Christian teachings about the inherent, equal dignity of all people. They don’t know that slavery is contrary to common law, and so had to be instituted affirmatively in Britain’s colonies. (Indeed, they don’t know what the common law is. Some don’t even know that American states were once British colonies.) They don’t know that the Republican Party was formed to abolish slavery (and polygamy), or that Republicans ratified the Thirteenth Amendment and enacted the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1870, and 1875 over near-universal Democratic opposition.

This is anecdotal. But of course my experience is not unique. The evidence of ideological uniformity on higher-education campuses is now too substantial to dismiss. And it correlates with an alarming civic ignorance among young people.

In light of all this, I was struck by President Dean’s insouciance about ideology on campus. He seems aware that others perceive the problem. He even reports a conversation he had about it with “the head of a very conservative think tank.” So, why can he not see it?

Scholars and academic leaders who have spent their careers in elite educational institutions, such as President Dean, are not bad people. They are generally good people doing good work. They are simply products of their environment. Like the proverbial fish, unaware that they are swimming in water, lifelong academics are unaware that people who disagree with the prevailing orthodoxies are submerged silently all around them, holding their breath.

In the same interview, President Dean discusses his intention to increase racial diversity on the UNH faculty and insists that “a university can’t ask people about their political belief when we hire them. That’s illegal.” But the problem is not political; it’s ideological. Ideology blinds academics (just as it blinds other people) to facts and judgments that complicate their beliefs. And unless they work with people who challenge them, they don’t even know what they don’t know.

President Dean need not break the law to increase viewpoint diversity at UNH. Societies of classical liberal, libertarian, and conservative scholars have grown all over the United States. UNH faculty are not prominent among them. If he were to survey the rosters of the James Madison Society, the Federalist Society, the National Association of Scholars, and other groups that keep alive the intellectual traditions that major universities now neglect, he would find many capable — even accomplished — scholars and teachers whom the academy undervalues. They are often more productive than scholars at more prestigious institutions. Though they would contribute intellectual diversity, they do not always check the right diversity boxes on faculty applications, which ask about race, sexual orientation, and other traits that have no inherent connection to viewpoint.

Of course, then he would have to convince his faculty to be open to hiring some of them.


Adam J. MacLeod is professor of law at Jones School of Law at Faulkner University.