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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

The Off-Brand Opinion: How to approach the absence of conservative professors at Vanderbilt


We live in a Postmodern age. The philosophy of Postmodernism, so emblematic of present-day society, dictates that there is no objective truth or falsity; if there is any “truth,” it is subjectively contained within social constructs. Some may disagree with the claim that the social environment in America is Postmodern. For evidence of society’s progression toward subjectivity, I point to the common agreement on gender’s potential fluidity, the antithetical portrayal of “objective” news by Fox News and MSNBC, or maybe even your TA’s disagreement and consequent poor marking of a paper in a Humanities class.

Imagine you are, in fact, writing a history paper for a professor who specializes in the study of ancient Thracian culture. The niche subject matter is so narrow that it is exclusively studied by this one professor. The professor has taken a definitive stance on his analysis being the only possibly correct interpretation of the material. If you are the average student, you delegate authority to the wise professor, absorbing the content taught as objective history. If you disagree, you are the anomaly. In this case, do you write a fervent rebuttal of this professor’s personally significant life work? No – unless you want to ruin your shot at achieving a GPA sufficient to attend graduate school or land an offer to a meaningful job.

The above theoretical is meant to show how easy it is for a professor to propagate his or her particular truth in an inherently subjective subject area without any hinderance. There is a marked distinction between the objective past and subjective history, which is a collection of accounts about the past. When the history professor promotes his personal view as the truth, he dismisses any other competing view as possibly valid. In the event that every history professor is like this at Vanderbilt, there would be no meaningful investigative classes in which students could develop their creativity and critical thinking skills. In the event that every professor at Vanderbilt holds the same ideology, there would be no positions of authority advancing its converse or other diverse worldviews. I am thankful to say by my experience as a history minor the former situation is not a reality. However, by my experience as an individual who can read numbers, I know that the latter is the set of circumstances here at Vanderbilt in 2019 – passing MATH 1200 is not even a requirement.

The Federal Election Commission tracks contributions of each individual whose donation to a campaign aggregates over $200, specifying amount, date of receipt, contributor’s full name, mailing address, occupation, and employer. According the FEC, there were 632 individual contributions from Vanderbilt professors during the 2015-2016 presidential election cycle. 628 were directed to the campaigns of Democrats; a measly 4 to Republicans. Breaking that down – 99.37 percent of the individual contributions from Vanderbilt professors went to Democrats’ presidential campaigns and 0.63% went to Republicans. The dollar amount contribution shows a compilation of $75,737.87 (98.5 percent) to Democrats and $1,150.00 (1.5 percent) to Republicans.

To be clear, it is feasible for one individual to make multiple contributions. For example, there were a mere three professors that actually donated over $200 in toto to Republican campaigns. One professor donated to primary candidate Marco Rubio’s campaign. The now-retired professor Carol Swain made a singular donation to Donald J. Trump For President, Inc. Lastly, another professor first donated in the primary to the Rubio campaign and presumably transitioned to support Trump in the general election with a second contribution.

With these overwhelming statistics, I do not want to make a crusader’s call to lobby the school administration to hire more conservative professors. First off, there is simply a national deficiency of qualified conservative professors elsewhere for a number of reasons – one being that there is an echo chamber culture cyclically reinforcing already held beliefs. There has been a bit of a cascading effect in the past few decades. Hiring conservative professors might remove the ceiling from the echo chamber, but it will not necessarily solve the issue raised above in which the professor contextualizes the objective truth in light of his or her view.

There is seeming absurd hypocrisy in the fact that political liberals are often more subjective or Postmodern in thinking, but are able to be very objective in unquestionably rejecting a conservative ideology. Earlier this year, three scholars released 20 research papers using meaningless buzz words and phrases to jump to equally baseless conclusions. Seven of these articles were accepted for publications in peer-reviewed journals. Aside from any political considerations, lecturer at Harvard Yascha Mounk cautions, “Some academic emperors – the ones who supposedly have the most to say about these crucial topics – have no clothes.” This is the precise sentiment I would like to convey.

When any professor, conservative or liberal, is willing to accept subjective nonsense as objective in their particular field of study, they cannot be trusted as an authority. When a professor tries to offhandedly transmit their subjective political beliefs as a fact, they cannot be trusted – nor can students be expected to maintain the integrity of their beliefs in the coursework. If academia is willing to accept Postmodern ramblings in the fields of sociology, philosophy and other areas then it ought to be held to the same standard of acceptance with regard to the tolerance of political beliefs.

Contrary to what the growing chorus of voices on the right is saying, many liberal professors can be trusted to respect the academic freedom of their conservative students. They simply must be transparent in admitting their political bias if they are going to speak to political issues. The same standard applies for conservatives on college campuses. As students, we must simply be aware of the facts at hand; the odds are heavy that you will never encounter a conservative professor in classes at Vanderbilt. Dealing with this reality, the conscientious student will choose their mentors with great care in search of honest professors who are committed to intellectual diversity. These professors, regardless of political ideology, will make you a better person and enhance your ability to defend what you believe in. I, for one, am very grateful for the professors that have been open minded enough to deal with me fairly.

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About the Contributor
Danny Harris, Former Author

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5 years ago

It seems to me that colleges and universities put so much emphasis to assure diversity in the study body, that they should strive for the same in professors that teach those students. A win-win for students.