Anthony Dent fancies himself a Conservative trailblazer. Since his time at UNC, he has faithfully fought the good fight for conservative ideals against the forces of progressivism. I like Anthony Dent and consider him a friend. But I think it’s worthwhile in the name of dialogue and fair representation to challenge some of his claims and assumptions in the piece he recently wrote for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.
In my normal style, I’m going to go right down the line and address these ordinally.
Dent starts with his life-long dream: the opportunity to spar with “Bush-bashing, tree-hugging, atheistic liberals.” I consider myself a Bush-bashing, atheistic libertarian, so I was a little hurt here. Anyway, sadly, the Dentian dream was grounded in barely a kernel of truth about the ideological makeup of the actual university.
Of course, the real Carolina was not quite the ideological war zone of my high school imagination. Most of the students and faculty, although liberal, had the best of intentions and were very nice people.
Pat on the head for being well-intentioned and nice.
Dent then goes on to explain that there is a “blatant lack of support for non-leftist ideas.” I think to a large extent, this is quite true. Insofar as elements of campus are political, there is a bias toward progressive ideas. I emphasize the above because I think it’s overstated how political universities are. I believe universities are bastions of progressive thought, but that doesn’t mean that’s all or most of what they are. Much if not most of what’s done here is positive, not normative. you could maybe argue some positive sciences like economics are really politicized, but they are at least aspirationally positive. You’ve got a bunch of quixotic poli-sci majors running around doing activism and bickering with each other, but I would posit that they dramatically overstate the extent to which the campus is political and ideologically polarized. They sit in an echo chamber, basically.
Having said that, this is a campus where I have heard a centrist — Erskine Bowles — praise Paul Ryan. I could have heard Andrew Breitbart. And I have heard Jonah Goldberg. It’s not that liberal.
Next. This is the real meat, if you’re a casual reader.
A current controversy about campus speakers reveals the university’s true ideological colors—and its basic unfairness. At UNC, student groups seek support for outside speakers from the student government, which controls roughly $500,000 in student fees for that purpose. While it sometimes supports requests by the College Republicans, this year it refused to pay an honorarium for Ann Coulter, invited by the College Republicans.
This is a gem. I don’t think Anthony means to act this way, but what I read here is what I believe to be a basic progressive argument for what is “fair.”
After having exhaustively recounted how progressive UNC is, Anthony is bemoaning the elected, presumably representative, legislative body of the students having not given $15,000 to bring Ann Coulter — a woman who Anthony concedes hardly represents intellectual conservatism well, anyway.
So what is “fair” here? I’m gonna deep-dive but hang with me.
As a libertarian, I think of “fairness” really procedurally. I would love more Cato scholars to come to UNC, but I am fine with more progressive speakers because there are more progressive students, more progressive organizations, and a largely progressive student assembly who I tacitly consent to distributing money I pay as a student. I’m down with the rules, so I won’t dispute the winners. This sort of touches on the paradox of democracy where we can have substantive disagreements on outcomes but procedural agreement simultaneously, but that’s not really worth getting into.
What I believe Anthony is arguing is that there is an odious structural inequality at UNC — one that has progressive institutions that control the fiscal commons and wield all the power of bringing speakers to campus against conservative minorities. If anything, This seems reminiscent of feminist frames of viewing power and oppression as well as progressive critiques about fairness as a distributive outcome rather than a procedural one. A pure conservative retort might be that if there were more conservative students there would be more conservative speakers — the market for ideas is responding and the system is working. The ideological inequality in speakers is an affirmation, rather than a condemnation, of that.
Anyway, for Anthony, we will not have an ideologically “fair” university until it engages in ideological balancing that gives equal opportunity voice to conservatives. Does a policy like this sound familiar? Affirmative action? Or simply think of the “fairness doctrine” that progressives wanted to institute in talk radio a few years back. This is couched nicely in rhetoric about liberal lightweights getting funded over ANN COULTER to appeal to our sympathy, but that’s not an argument for funding Ann Coulter — it’s an argument for not funding liberal lightweights.
Ok last big quote.
Sometimes, the pervasive liberalism at UNC can be wearying. Liberals wield political correctness as a weapon against conservatives; they stifle serious debate with a litany of baseless accusations: “Why do you hate the poor,” “why do you hate minorities,” “why do you hate gays,” etc. After representing College Republicans during a debate one spring, my Twitter feed was full of tweets calling me stupid, fat, and worse.
At times, I was tempted to become bitter and try to use those same tactics against the left. But I had a great example of how to deal with such animosity in the great conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. He was witty, charitable to his political opponents, and had many friends on the left, but was still one of the most effective champions of conservative ideas this world has ever seen. He learned and utilized the vocabulary of the left, an important tool for persuasion.
I lied a little — I’m not going to completely approach this ordinally. Back to the beginning of the piece.
As a life-long conservative, I saw universities as battlegrounds of ideas before I came to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Some people actually see this as a battle where we come to spar each other. I believe Anthony Dent sees this as a battle. A battle is a good analogy for someone who believes in the rectitude of their position so strongly that they will fight to destroy the diametric opposition. But this isn’t an analogy for people who are serious about being what’s called “open-minded.” And for someone who is allegedly advocating for a diversity of thought, I find it a curious way to think about the ideal campus life, but I think it’s awfully telling and sincere. But I sadly suspect that the awkwardness of his argument for fairness reveals that what Anthony is really advocating for is more of what Anthony likes.