A recent Guardian article is headlined ‘Elite universities aren’t hotbeds of ‘wokery’: our research shows they’re rife with racism and classism’.
Now, authors aren’t usually responsible for their headlines, but in this case they’ve got no excuse. “It has become common,” Kalwant Bhopal and Martin Myers write, “to view elite universities as places of left-leaning “wokery””. You don’t say! But according to the authors, this is a “deliberate mirage”.
As evidence for their claim, they point out that students from wealthy backgrounds who went to expensive schools are overrepresented at elite universities, and that students from more modest backgrounds, including racial minorities, sometimes feel unwelcome there. There’s obviously some truth to this.
The problem, however, is that it’s not evidence for the claim Bhopal and Myers are making. The existence of snobbery in some parts of the student body does not negate the existence of woke activism in other parts of the student body – not to mention the faculty and university administration.
The authors argue that “beyond the culture wars caricature”, Oxford, Cambridge, Yale and Harvard remain “highly conservative institutions”. I beg to differ.
First, there’s DIE (diversity, inclusion and equity). If the aforementioned institutions were “highly conservative”, they’d employ armies of staff to promote conservative values, such as tradition or individual liberty. Instead, they employ armies of staff to promote progressive values. These days, you’re more likely to see an LGBT flag flying over an Oxbridge college than you are to see a Union Jack.
Second, there’s cancel culture. In the US, scholars are ten times more likely to be targeted for expressing right-wing views than for expressing left-wing views. And as I showed in a recent Substack article, incidents of cancel culture are most common at elite colleges. Which has seen the highest number since 2015? You guessed it: Harvard University. (Stanford is second and Yale is ranked 13.)
Third, there’s the views of the academics themselves. Sure, there might be one or two Tories lurking in Cambridge, and the occasional Country Club Republican at Yale. But by and large, the people working at elite universities are progressive in their politics. In fact, a recent survey of Harvard academics found that just 1.5% were conservative – compared 82% who were liberal (in the American sense).
So yes, you can argue that elite universities are “highly conservative”. You just have to ignore the values promoted by administrators, the antics of student activists, and the views of academics themselves.
Elite universities aren’t just a little bit woke. They’re among the wokest institutions in society.
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