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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Choosing a College, as a Conservative

Volokh and David Bernstein have been having a discussion on what a conservative or libertarian student should look for in a university, given the intolerance that often exists on campus. I'm thankful that although I (kind of) chose to go to a very liberal school (kind of because Carleton was the only place I got into), I was for the most part treated with respect, and nobody held my differing opinions against me. However, I was constantly called on to defend my differing views, which at some points just illustrated to me why I was right, and at some points I had to reevaluate. I understand that some students are concerned (and with good reason) that at some schools a vocal conservative worldview will lead to harsh repurcussions, including action by the administration and by fellow students. However, I do think that conservative ideas can survive the crucible, and shouldn't be babied as much as some other idealogies are. And it concerns me that if one goes to a college where one's ideas are never challenged, the ideas become not living parts of one's worldview, but rote, unthinking, and dead vestiges of an earlier life and mind.


Hmmmm, how to comment without being overly longwinded (fingered?)...
I remember taking a lot of things into consideration when I was deciding where to go to college. Scholarships were a significant part of it, as was distance from home, size, these sorts of things. Politics were part of my final decision, but not in the way Bernstein et al are discussing. I knew that if I was arguing with my civics/poli sci teachers in high school things weren't going to change much (let's face it, I'm an argumentative guy) once I went to college. So I went to Drake (in Des Moines, IA, if you're unfamiliar) at least in part because I thought that being in college in Des Moines for the Iowa Caucuses would be cool. And it was, except that I didn't really take into account at that point that we would have an incumbent, and thus no real contest, in 2004. Caucus season (and the extra year tacked onto the presidential campaign as a result) was still interesting up close and personal (I've told the Joan Jett story here before, right?).

Now, as I have mentioned here before, I majored in Environmental Science and Policy, and not just because I'm a masochist. I was (am) really interested in the environment, I was good at science, I was already planning on going to law school so I knew that major didn't matter a whole lot, and also into politics. It was probably the most liberal department on campus, but I never had any real problems, even as I was very skeptical of climate change, was pro-nuclear energy, etc... Professors were respectful, other students were a mixed bag, but I got pretty good grades and found other people to hang out with. The same was true in other departments (poli sci, philosophy), at least from what I observed.

Clearly Drake isn't as liberal as lot of schools, but neither is it Hillsdale. I once complained (well, it wasn't the only time I ever complained) to the editor of the student newspaper about its crappy liberal opinion columns, and thereafter was stuck writing crappy conservative columns.

The biggest reason that it's harder to be a conservative at a lot of colleges is that liberalism is the default position; lefties can go with the flow and pull off good grades, conservatives have to go against the flow AND be smart about it, pulling in a lot more from outside of class. This isn't to say that there aren't/weren't smart liberals and not incredibly bright conservatives at Drake or at any college, only that while a parrot can sound reasonably smart, there is no such thing as a magical reverse parrot. But I'm with James on this one, the conservative mind needs exercise to be strong. Any hey, there are plenty of groups out there to help you out (all of them linked on the side), like LI, YAF, ISI, and FIRE, in addition to other local groups and College Republican chapters (if we could get a CR chapter together at Grinnell, it's possible anywhere).
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