Culture,  Politics

Do Liberals Stifle Intellectual Diversity on Campus?

NPR hosted a fascinating debate at George Washington University on this proposition: “Liberals are stifling intellectual diversity on campus.” All four debaters were liberal, but two of them argued in favor of the proposition (Greg Lukianoff, Kirsten Powers) and two of them against (Angus Johnston, Jeremy Mayer). Students in the audience were polled before and after the debate about their agreement with the proposition. This allows everyone to see what people’s views were coming in and whether they were persuaded to adopt a different view as a result of the debate. Here are the results:

PROPOSITION: “Liberals are stifling intellectual diversity on campus.”

Audience Response:

Before Debate

After Debate









[not announced]

In short, after both sides presented their cases, a sizable majority were persuaded that liberals are stifling intellectual diversity on college campuses. For anyone paying attention, this shouldn’t be a surprising result. It will probably be most surprising to liberals. Why? I think Kirsten Powers answers that question well in her closing statement:

If you’re part of the dominant culture, which, on university campuses — as we’ve established — is primarily liberal — it’s easy to mistake your beliefs for objective truth. It’s also easy to imagine there are no reasonable or intelligent people who think differently on important topics, because you’re not encountering them. I know this because I’ve lived most of my life in the liberal bubble. There were two experiences that took me out of this. One was becoming a contributor at Fox News. And the other was a later in life conversion to Christianity. I can remember actually saying to somebody that I was debating at Fox that Harriet Miers — who George Bush was — had nominated for the Supreme Court — didn’t count as a female appointment, because she was a conservative and an evangelical Christian. I’m embarrassed, frankly, that I ever thought that. It was a prejudiced view, and unfortunately, I wasn’t alone in my prejudice.

If you have time, you can listen to the debate below, download the audio here, or read the transcript.


  • Curt Day

    This is a real general statement when considering its data sample is rather small.

    From my past teaching experience I’ve seen both liberals and conservatives stifle debate. And I’ve seen liberals and conservatives foster debate.

  • James Harold Thomas

    Mayer: “We also have seen the conservative movement have a hostility to science which it didn’t have 40 years ago. So, in our survey, we found, contrary to earlier ones, that natural science professors were moving to the left. Well, if a party attacks evolution, you’re going to lose a lot of natural and social scientists because we happen to believe in the scientific method.”

    So those who disagree with naturalistic evolution are categorically rejected from professorships because the powers that be have declared I.D. and creation science to be against the scientific method. He just proved the debate proposition. Normally that’s a good tactic, but he was on the con side.

    If there had been an actual conservative on the panel he might not have gotten away with this.

    • James Stanton

      There are conservatives who believe in evolution. I think the last poll I saw on the question put it at around 40% or so.

      “So those who disagree with naturalistic evolution are categorically rejected from professorships because the powers that be have declared I.D. and creation science to be against the scientific method.”

      I happen to believe in creationism but I’m not sure that it is testable.

      I’ll have to listen to this discussion tomorrow but I’ve always thought that the reason there aren’t more conservative voices among faculty is that conservative don’t tend to be attracted to either many of those fields or to teaching them. I’ve met many conservatives in business courses and have been exposed to conservative propaganda from a few professors.

  • brian darby

    This was helpful, I was wondering on your campus Dr.Burk if any teacher held to the validity of the evidence that supports the Theory of Evolution and spoke about it but maybe not taught it to students would they continue to work for the University you teach at? Thank You.

  • Jay Miller

    Reminds me of a comment my wife heard during doctoral studies at a public university. A classmate who had come from the DC area was a good liberal but was concerned about the new “political correctness” that she saw coming at that time. As a liberal she felt it would be a bad thing because it would eliminate genuine discourse and exchange of ideas and trade if for adherence to a liberal orthodoxy instead. Seems like this liberal woman’s concerns were well founded based on what we see happening now.

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