Contrary to popular belief, the problem with U.S. higher education is not too much politics but too little. Far from being bastions of liberal bias, American universities have largely withdrawn from the world of politics. So conclude Bruce L. R. Smith, Jeremy Mayer, and Lee Fritschler in this illuminating book. Closed Minds? draws on data from interviews, focus groups, and a new national survey by the authors, as well as their decades of experience in higher education to paint the most comprehensive picture to date of campus political attitudes. It finds that while liberals outnumber conservatives within faculty ranks, even most conservatives believe that ideology has little impact on hiring and promotion. Today’s students are somewhat more conservative than their professors, but few complain of political bias in the classroom. Similarly, a Pennsylvania legislative inquiry, which the authors explore as a case study of conservative activism in higher education, found that political bias was “rare” in the state’s public colleges and universities. Yet this ideological peace on campus has been purchased at a high price. American universities are rarely hospitable to lively discussions of issues of public importance. They largely shun serious political debate, all but ignore what used to be called civics, and take little interest in educating students to be effective citizens. Smith, Mayer, and Fritschler contrast the current climate of disengagement with the original civic mission of American colleges and universities. In concluding, they suggest how universities can reclaim and strengthen their place in the nation’s political and civic life.
Bruce L. R. Smith is a visiting professor at the School of Public Policy at George Mason University. He was previously professor of political science at Columbia University and a senior staff member of the Center for Public Policy Education at the Brookings Institution. Jeremy D. Mayer is associate professor at the School of Public Policy at George Mason and the author of Running on Race: Racial Politics in Presidential Campaigns 19602000 (Random House, 2002). A. Lee Fritschler is professor and director of executive education at the School of Public Policy at George Mason and a former vice president at Brookings. He served as assistant secretary for postsecondary education from 1999 to 2001 and as president of Dickinson College from 1987 to 1999.