Noble: My campus, right or left

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama reached out to both sides of the aisle, appealing to Republicans and Democrats to forge principled compromises. Whether or not his centrist tone is genuine, the Yale community would be well served to seek out more balance in the political discourse on campus.

Last semester, a classmate labeled me as the “token conservative” in my seminar on Genocide and Ethnic Conflict. While generally not shy about my political beliefs, in the classroom, I prefer to be the quiet conservative. But one day in discussion, the anti-American sentiment just got to be too much. Worse, it was riddled with ironies: those who had sharply criticized the Bush administration for its efforts to promote democracy and human rights around the globe were advocating for a more active U.S. presence abroad; those who rejected the notion that America is an exceptional country now made the case that there were no limits to her power; those who lacked faith in our justice system professed naive hope in organizations like the United Nations. So I quit biting my lip, spoke up, and a lively class discussion began.

Raised in Massachusetts, I’m no newcomer to playing political defense. I can’t recall exactly when I picked up National Review or The Weekly Standard for the first time. I do know that my grandfather gave me F.A. Hayek’s “The Counter Revolution of Science” when I was a freshman in high school. I can’t quite pinpoint when I “came out of the closet” as a conservative. But I vaguely remember sitting in sophomore year French class defending George W. Bush during a discussion of the 2004 election. Too bad my French wasn’t better.

Perhaps registering as the first Republican in my family was an act of youthful rebellion. If polos, button downs, or skirt suits are the uniform of a rebel, maybe you could say so. But my parents supported my independent streak. I sometimes wonder whether I’d be a good liberal Democrat or a better-adjusted moderate if I hadn’t had to endure a left-wing high school education.

Then I got to Yale, where my ideology finally found limited company, but company nonetheless. And yet, while Yale is a reasonably safe place for conservatives, it does not support nor does it suit the serious development of conservative ideas.

Indeed, while Yale boasts students from across the globe, it falls utterly short in providing intellectual diversity on campus. Admittedly, this problem is not exclusive to Yale, and it reaches beyond the commonly cited statistics of faculty political contributions, course offerings, or graduation requirements. One need only glance at the long roster of guest speakers that visit campus any given semester to see evidence of ideological homogeneity. College, we are told, is supposed to challenge assumptions, introduce new ideas, and educate a generation of critical thinkers. But the imbalance in the political discourse on campus is antithetical to a liberal arts education. This works against students of all political stripes.

The case for intellectual diversity at Yale for the sake of education should be clear. It is also important to consider its value outside these Ivory Towers. When Lionel Trilling wrote in 1950 that there were no conservative ideas in circulation, he was careful to underline the danger of political movements lacking in ideas. Today, the Left not only hypocritically sings the song of diversity (which is selective in practice), but also insists on the intellectual bankruptcy of American conservatism.

In fact, their latest target, the Tea Party movement, would be best moderated by normalization within political discourse, instead of excommunication from it. The same principle applies to the conservative movement more broadly. If the university is not the appropriate forum to infuse conservatism with intellectual credibility, what is? Think tanks removed from everyday campus life?

Those unsatisfied by sound bite politics — liberals and conservatives alike — would benefit from more political diversity on campus. It would not hurt liberals to learn about what they do not believe — and give reasons why. Similarly, campus conservatives could refine their political philosophies by more than just reading Milton Friedman on the train to an internship in Republican politics. By creating a more balanced dialogue on campuses across the country, we could teach students to grapple with genuine differences of opinion in a civil manner. Call me an optimist, but this could even have a positive ripple effect on the divisively partisan tone in Washington D.C.

Lauren Noble is a senior in Pierson College.

Comments

  • River Tam

    Hear hear.

    Ms. Noble is my favorite columnist in the YDN for a reason.

  • SY

    Why does reading Hayek, in or “out of the closet”, make a girl seem sexy and a grandfather happy? I predict that in few years the conservative girl (like the Asian girl obsession now) will be the new attraction on campus. Ms. Noble is just ahead of the times.

  • yalebird

    Ms. Noble:

    I would agree with you about the Tea Party; however, the problem with the Tea Party movement is precisely that it is extremely heterogeneous. How can I critique the Tea Party on any ideological terms when it has no leadership, no core thinkers? I keep seeing Facebook groups that claim to represent “the REAL Tea Party”. Apologies, but how do we normalize something so nebulous?

    But that’s really a different discussion. Absolutely I agree with you that some definitions of conservatism have developed a kind of stigma in certain circles, much like certain definitions of liberalism (though these are also such broad and subjective terms that I can’t even pretend to have an informed opinion on general trends).

    “If the university is not the appropriate forum to infuse conservatism with intellectual credibility, what is?” Isn’t it obvious? The mainstream media. You make reference to think tanks that are removed from campus life, but aren’t campuses themselves removed from large, politically active segments of the American population? The Rush Limbaugh Show is apparently the highest-rated talk radio show in the United States. Who better than he to make considered conservative arguments to America?

    One last point, relatively minor considering that it addresses the core concern of your piece: I don’t know what you’ve been taking here, but I’ve had courses with professors who are right-wing, left-wing, Marxist, libertarian, liberal, offensive realist. Quite apart from a lack of intellectual diversity in the student body or in guest lecturers, I just can’t see your point with regards to the faculty – and if there’s any group of people on campus who are going to have the most impact on students and even society as a whole, it’s going to be the faculty.

    Otherwise, much respect for a well-written article.

    Yalebird

    Also,

    @SY: “Asian girl obsession”…huh?

  • farriers2cents

    I heard a comment the other day, ” I can’t tolerate intolerance.”;this is the sentiment that seems to roar through the masses of liberal America. From my own vantage point this is hypocrisy in its truest and most devastating form. True, because the same issue you are working to overcome, you provoke,and devastating because the intolerance you speak of you don’t tolerate to help, encourage, or discuss with the people that you see as those who need the help. The outstanding issue in this country is unity in diversity, we want both but have need of understanding before we can ever face the situations of a diversified union where we can stand together with different beliefs without the belligerence coming from every angle. I, as an un-registered Conservative and Christian, have encountered this on multiple, if not every front and I am genuinely disgusted with the lack of truth in this “tolerance movement”; I hope people with all beliefs and backgrounds can one day unite to make America the country she deserves to be.
    Kudo’s on a well written, courageous, and personally
    admired article

  • complexphenom

    I love you? Really though, you’re so right.