DENVER–There’s a push underway for more conservative thought at the University of Colorado, and it’s not just coming from the College Republicans.
The University of Colorado Board of Regents spent an hour at Tuesday’s meeting discussing how to expand intellectual diversity on campus by drawing more right-of-center professors.
Republican regent James Geddes warned that if the universities continue to hire faculty from the same left-liberal ideological spectrum, “that’s a dead department. It’s dead.”
“Nobody’s going to challenge anyone else, nobody’s going to debate, because they all think the same,” said Geddes.
The debate comes a month after the University of Colorado Boulder named Steve Hayward its visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy, a first-of-its-kind position funded with $1 million in private donations. And while that’s a good first step, say conservatives, it’s not the same as having a truly diverse faculty.
“I’m not suggesting every side of every fence needs to be represented,” said Geddes. “But when you talk about the difference between liberals and conservatives in the United States, there’s a fence with a lot of people on both sides.”
The panel made no specific policy decision, but several regents called on chancellors at the four campuses to focus on the board’s guiding principles, the sixth of which calls on university officials to “[p]romote faculty, student and staff diversity to ensure the rich interchange of ideas in the pursuit of truth and learning, including diversity of political, geographic, cultural, intellectual and philosophical perspectives.”
Those on the outside are watching as the board wades into uncharted territory. While conservatives have for decades bemoaned the ideological and political imbalance at most campuses, Tuesday’s discussion may mark the first time a major university has taken up the issue at the highest levels of leadership.
The nine-member board, which is elected by Colorado voters, has a Republican majority, with five Republicans and four Democrats.
“It’s great that the regents are willing to ask the question, ‘Is there intellectual diversity on the CU campus?’” said Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute and a CU Boulder graduate. “It would have been really nice if they had asked that before I went there.”
Prior to the discussion, chancellors gave presentations on how their campuses are working to implement more intellectual diversity, which included a certification program in Western Civilization and student efforts to bring conservative speakers to campus.
Regent Irene Griego, a Democrat, said the universities were doing an “impressive” job of implementing the guiding principle on diversity.
“It really does show us our campuses are taking this very seriously of looking at what we need to do to enrich our curriculum, what we need to do to develop structures that represent all thinking,” she said.
But Republican regent Steve Bosley said the reports failed to address the core problem: lack of faculty diversity.
Any department head “knows his or her faculty. If the vast majority represent one philosophical perspective, then when you fill the position, you have the opportunity and responsibility to find someone to add balance,” said Bosley.
“I’m proposing for the board to ask the campuses to advise us for our consideration of how you report to the board on these items: the status, the goals, how you measure, how often you report,” said Bosley. “What I’ve heard today, and I haven’t had time to digest it totally, is that there’s no problem, there’s nothing to consider.”
Democratic regent Stephen Ludwig raised questions about how universities would go about determining the political leanings of job applicants without delving into voter-registration records.
“The other challenge is, ‘Who is a true conservative?’” said Mr. Ludwig. “I think that argument comes up on a fairly regular basis, about who is conservative and who isn’t, and who gets to decide what that is, if that’s a basis for hiring.”
Asked for his input, Tyler Quick, a senior at CU Boulder, suggested that conservative thought was inconsistent with campus safety.
“I do worry sometimes when we lump all kinds of diversity together that we tend to ignore the fact that for students of color, for queer students, for transgender students, for a lot of women on campus, there is a real tangible effect on your quotidian life based on certain students not having perspectives that are really necessary to have,” said Quick.
He said he would “challenge the assumption that all Boulder faculty are somehow commies,” which drew the ire of Republican regent Sue Sharkey.
“That’s a joke? I didn’t find the humor,” said Ms. Sharkey. “That’s an overstatement, and it diminishes the case we’re trying to make here.”