Thinking liberally about conservatives

Alan Duff

Lawrence may be the most liberal university ever. Probably more so than most art schools, and that’s quite the accomplishment. Though the name says it all, the only place more liberal than an art school is a liberal arts school.

There are a lot of benefits of going to a small liberal arts university, from a diverse education path, to instant access to teachers and an administration that’s willing to work with the students. There are some downsides, petty though they may be. The only on-campus food is provided by Bon Appétit, which, after a year or two, can become less than palatable.

More noticeably, there is an astounding lack of conservatives and their ideas and arguments on campus. It does not matter if they’re socially, fiscally or religiously conservative. It is surprising how few of them there are.

At first someone may think they’ve reached a liberal heaven upon this announcement, but it isn’t really the case. It’s a problem for anyone that wants a truly liberal education because there is no diversity.

When students don’t ever meet conservative peers and when liberal ideas are never challenged outside of the classroom in college, students are missing out on important life experiences. I’m not going to debate which side is right or wrong here, there’s enough of that in Congress for everyone.

Instead, consider how this situation contributes to a person’s knowledge and ignorance. Students cannot learn how to think differently about ideas when everyone thinks and feels the same about certain issues.

There is never a competing solution about social and fiscal problems that can be brought up. If everyone agrees with you and thinks the same way as you do, then what do you learn? You reinforce your own ideas instead of challenging them.

More importantly, when there is no friendly face to identify the opposite side, it’s easy to make a whole group of people seem inhuman and different in every way. It will be tempting to disregard their ideas as irrational or wrong without even considering their perspectives.

Now this probably isn’t true of everyone at Lawrence, but in a school that celebrates many ideals of freedom and liberation on so many fronts, it fails to acknowledge that liberal ideas, the very ones that believe in tolerance and openness, are tolerant of all ideas but those that exhibit something that’s more conservative.

It’s easy to see what is wrong with an idea or policy you don’t agree with, rather than appreciating what is well-argued and thought out about it. I wish more of that would happen.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution to this conservative diversity problem facing Lawrence unless the Admissions Office widened their scope of diversity recruitment to include political orientation. 

There are ways for Lawrence students to broaden their knowledge of competing ideas. Don’t just watch The Daily Show, but try to read The Wall Street Journal or Fox News. It may not be what you think is right, but it’s different, and you will find yourself asking yourself a very liberal question: Why?

Ultimately, it is everyone’s choice if they want to have their ideas challenged or not. I would just hope we could all be open to think critically about our beloved liberal ideals.

Or maybe you disagree with me — good. Think about why you do.