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Political Wings

20 Oct Posted by in Academics, Business | 1 comment
Political Wings

It’s fairly well known that George Mason harbors several groups of relatively conservative (politically conservative) faculty, including several devoted to free market principles. This is hardly unique among American universities, though the fact that it comes in for some remark is interesting, suggesting a perception among some liberals that proper universities should be uniformly in their bailiwick – a sentiment with which I sympathize but with which I ultimately disagree, given the larger national political realities.

In fact, as should be equally widely known, Mason also has a large number of liberal faculty and units. An occasional attempt to portray the overall University as some rightwing sanctuary is factually inaccurate.

Like most people, I wish of course that everyone agreed with me. But since that is not yet the case – though I keep trying, subject to an effort not to use classrooms as partisan settings – we clearly need to recognize that we have a variety of political impulses in the United States and that a university might logically benefit from a reasonably wide representation. Few academics dispute this at the level of individual faculty and their freedoms, but there’s less clarity on the subject when it comes to clusters or larger units.

First, then: while I don’t mean to dismiss all problems, and while we do need to work on the misperception that someone the whole university is of one political persuasion, I think we might take some pride in having a fair variety of voices in our midst.

This said, there are some issues: We do have occasions, in units on both sides of the political spectrum, when units may make judgments that are less tolerant of political diversity than they should be, when for example political persuasions enter into judgments about candidate suitability. We have also not done a consistently good job in using our political diversity for more active campus dialogue — not silly shouting matches, but more sophisticated discussions about differences and overlaps. For this, we need more interchange not just between political camps but among different academic concentrations, for we effectively have some political islands (again, on both sides) at unit levels. We actually have more subtleties beneath apparently clear labels than some of our own faculty realize, which might mean some unexpected opportunities for constructive discussion.

There’s an undeniable challenge here, ultimately more interesting than the periodic need to dispel external oversimplifications. It will be interesting to see if we can figure out how to make some progress.