Navigating the Halls of Liberal Academia: A Guide for the Campus Conservative

National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.
William F. Buckley Jr, National Review Founder

February 7, 2022

“One must recently have lived on or close to a college campus to have a vivid intimation of what has happened. It is there that we see how a number of energetic social innovators, plugging their grand designs, succeeded over the years in capturing the liberal intellectual imagination. And since ideas rule the world, the ideologues, having won over the intellectual class, simply walked in and started to run things.”

Over half a century has passed since the inaugural issue of National Review, and Buckley stands vindicated. Conservatives giving up academia and allowing the ideologues to run things is without a doubt one of the worst mistakes they ever made.

The academic communities of the vast majority of college campuses across the United States are predominated by a left-wing status quo of some sort. Some of the more notable (and most extreme) cases include UC Berkeley, where the supposed “Berkeley Antifa” movement stalked and harassed the Berkeley College Republicans while they were holding their regularly scheduled meetings.

Or when in 2019, a conservative activist on Berkeley’s campus was physically assaulted during a campus recruitment drive for the university’s Turning Point USA chapter.

Or more recently in October of 2021, when UCLA professor Gordon Klein was promptly suspended from his professorship for refusing to grade black students with more leniency than white students on his final exam, and had his character attacked by the university administration on Twitter. He was last heard to be bringing legal action against the university.

It’s become clear that conservatives have lost much institutional power and leverage in American academia. A survey, published in the Econ Journal Watch in 2016 found that liberal professors outnumbered their conservative colleagues by nearly 12 to 1.

In an age where conservative thought is far from fashionable, and where being a politically outspoken conservative at many of America’s academic institutions can give you major problems regarding your social life, or even grades, it is important to have a gameplan if you’ve already paid your enrollment deposit.

As a current sophomore undergraduate student at Baylor University, who recently transferred from a small liberal arts college in the middle of New Jersey, the overbearing left-wing predominance in American academia is all too familiar to me. From mandatory anti-racist training as a freshman (ideologically progressive pedagogy), to even the seemingly trivial things, like a professor dropping the occasional snobby joke intended to ridicule the Republican Party. The entire class laughs, and you nervously play along, lest you’re found out to be an imposter behind enemy lines.

What is a conservative student to do in an unprecedented age of anti-conservative academia? As someone who has seen this phenomenon first-hand, I have compiled a list of ways that can be used to effectively mitigate, or even fully counter the damage that may be dealt to you, the campus conservative, at an overwhelmingly liberal institution. 

First: Never bow down to the mob, no matter how tempting it may be. Those who actively seek pleasure in persecuting those who they consider to be political undesirables usually do so by means of numbers. Cancel Culture is certainly a common term for it, but at the end of the day, it’s typical torches-and-pitchforks behavior.

If you find yourself in the worst-case scenario—being mobbed by a group of angry students for stating a controversial, politically undesirable opinion on campus—remember that apologizing is never the answer. You will certainly be demanded to give an apology but make no mistake: no apology from you is genuinely desired.

Despite their fashionable slogans regarding justice and fairness, it is unlikely that they will have any intention of endowing you with such treatment. Angry mobs do not seek justice, but rather vengeance. If they were truly seeking justice, such an angry caravan of disgruntled left-wing college students would never have formed in the first place.

When you are told to apologize, it means they’re trying to force you to walk back your words and submit to their line of thought. No matter how well-spoken or thoughtful your apology may be, it will merely be used as a means of degradation against you. You will be made an example of, and in addition to being banished from the campus community, you will have forfeited your dignity as a result of caving to the whimsical demands of the mob.

Resisting the urge to submit under pressure is certainly easier said than done. It requires a certain amount of mental fortitude and courage to be a politically active conservative on campus. In politically turbulent times such as ours, you have to accept that there will most likely be some people who will walk out of your life due to conflicting political views. It is an unfortunate rite of passage for the conservative in an age where nonstop “progress” is the new fad and all aspects of right-wing thought are denounced as regressive, derogatory, or outdated.

The only time you should ever genuinely consider apologizing is if you’ve said something truly reckless, worthy of condemnation from both the left and the right. In general, though, unless you’ve engaged in political fodder that is objectively deplorable in the context of contemporary Western society, you would do well to resist the urge to apologize.

Second: Find like-minded, politically active people on campus. This one requires a bit of initiative on your part. College is what you make of it and being intentional about all the relationships you make is important. Luckily, even the most liberal academic institutions generally have some sort of College Republicans club, or even a Turning Point USA chapter.

Whatever it is, join it. In an environment of left-wing predominance, finding those who agree with you is important. It will give you some much-needed comfort and a sense of security during times when you’re feeling especially outnumbered. Finding an environment where your opinions, ideas, and insights are valued by other people is important for anyone intending to have a decent quality of life. Make the effort to get out of your dorm room and find places that at the very least will enthusiastically tolerate your views in the name of civil discourse.

Third: Cherish your apolitical relationships. I find this to be an extremely underrated piece of advice when managing the politically turbulent environment of the modern-day American college campus.

Not all of the friends you make will be pleased with your political views, but some may have different reasons for their discontent. It is important to be able to discern who is genuine and who isn’t. And as such, be sure to disconnect yourself from the political battleground every so often and give people the benefit of the doubt.

People aren’t all bad, and some may simply harbor a genuine disdain for American political theater in general. If you manage to befriend some of these seemingly rare individuals, cherish them. These individuals are those who are capable of loving both the liberal and the conservative. Remember that not everything in life is a matter of left or right, conservative or liberal. Sometimes people just are, and you would do well to allow yourself to just be, for the sake of your own sanity (and theirs).

Fourth: Know your stuff. This one is self-explanatory. In the American political landscape, there exists wise conservatives and not-so-wise conservatives; wise liberals and not-so-wise liberals, and so on. No one likes a man who, rather than admitting that he is simply not informed on the matter, will ramble on in hopes of convincing his audience of his fictitious insightfulness.

Treat your political opponents with good faith, even when they don’t afford you the same treatment. Never allow yourself to devolve into the mere exchange of blows. Conservatives aren’t necessarily rare, but increasingly so is the intellectual conservative. Strive to be the latter.

Fifth: Read and write. If you call yourself a conservative, yet you’re unfamiliar with any of the works by Patrick Buchanan, Russell Kirk, or Roger Scruton, it would do you well to read them. If you find yourself never having heard of Edmund Burke, take a political philosophy course, they’ll almost be sure to cover him, and be sure to read his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Immerse yourself in the intellectual foundations of the political philosophy you subscribe to.

Furthermore, write something. Learn how to properly articulate your thoughts on the page. Consider submitting an article draft to your university’s newspaper, or your favorite digital conservative magazine.

Sixth: Be vigilant about social media. The internet is a fascinating and strange place. What is perhaps most unnerving about it is the permanence of it all. Everything that you say or do, generally speaking, is online forever. Even if you delete a social media post, someone could very well have taken a screenshot, effectively immortalizing your comment. 

Do not confuse this warning as me trying to tell you to avoid being controversial. Controversy is inevitable if you seek to become politically active on social media. You will be engaging with controversial topics that are highly contended by both sides of the aisle. You will take stances on abortion (a pro-life choice, most likely). You will take stances on the Constitution (against a whimsical, unwritten one, I hope). You will take stances on gun control, racialized K-12 curriculums, transgenderism, and a whole host of other topics in which any dissent against the predominating narrative can unleash a political firestorm against you.

However you choose to approach this controversy, be sure you do it in a clear and concise manner. The last thing you want is for words to be taken out of context to the point where various institutions (like your school) begin to take notice and persecute you.

Should they persecute you unjustly, despite your best efforts to maintain a high level of diplomacy, fight to the very end. But if you can avoid such a confrontation, make every effort to do so. In general—Remember to be yourself, as cliche as that sounds. You will go through hard times in college. Some of those may be politically motivated, but most will not. Be vigilant in how you conduct yourself, learn how to articulate yourself clearly, and surround yourself with those who can be trusted. Focus on your studies, and don’t lose your sense of empathy or compassion in the midst of all the slings and arrows you may endure.

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