Campus Administrators’ Bias and the Attack on Free Speech
Updated: Mar 16
Almost since the start of Power Line in 2002, American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has reported with dismay the descent of American colleges and universities into a leftist bastion of illiberalism. Most of their focus has been on professors, and not without reason. They are the ones who have degraded the teaching of humanities through their obsession with identify politics and disdain for Western Civilization.
However, Samuel Abrams came away from an ATHENA Roundtable Conference believing that administrators, not professors, are the primary culprits on American campuses today. The ATHENA Roundtable Conference is a program presented by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). ACTA is an independent, nonprofit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities.
The threat posed by the ever-growing ranks of college administrators was pinpointed in an address by Abrams. He’s a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College who has not only fought courageously for academic freedom, but also studied, as an empirical matter, the threat to it.
Abrams explained that, compared to administrators, college professors exert limited influence on the lives of students. They teach relatively light course loads, have limited visiting hours, spend most of the day on research, and then head home to their family (if any).
Administrators, by contrast, are embedded in their colleges. Some live in dorms where they adjudicate disputes that, in better times, students worked out for themselves. As Abrams puts it in his American Enterprise Institute (AEI) article: Today, many colleges and universities have moved to a model in which teaching, and learning is seen as a 24/7 endeavor. Engagement with students is occurring as much—if not more—in residence halls and student centers as it is in classrooms.
Schools have increased their hiring in areas such as residential life and student centers, offices of student life and success, and offices of inclusion and engagement. It’s not surprising that many of the free-speech controversies in the past few years at places like Yale, Stanford and the University of Delaware have concerned events that occurred not in classrooms but in student communal spaces and residence halls.
The Difference in the Attitudes of Student-Facing Administrators and Professors
Abrams surveyed the “student-facing” administrator class—those whose work concerns the quality and character of a student’s experience on campus. He found that liberal staff members outnumber their conservative counterparts by a ratio of 12-to-one. Only 6 percent of campus administrators identified as conservative to some degree, while 71 percent classified themselves as liberal or very liberal. On New England liberal arts campuses, liberals outnumber conservatives by a 28-to-one ratio!
The leftism of this cohort is significantly more pronounced than that of professors, which is pronounced enough.
The difference in the attitudes of student-facing administrators and professors is even more stark when it comes to free speech. Samuel Abrams told us that somewhere around 10 percent of professors participate in “shout down” style protests or encourage their students to do so. For the administrator class, the number is more than 40 percent. (These numbers are from Abrams’s memory).
Less than 20 percent of professors believe these kinds of protests are a good idea. By almost a two-to-one ratio, student-facing administrators believe they are.
Radical students engage in aggressive protests, such as occupying the office of the college president. One of their demands is that the college hire more diversity coordinators, sex harassment specialists, etc. The college complies.
The new hires foment grievances and encourage new protests. The protests result in the hiring of still more agitator-administrators.
The problem of administrative bloat at colleges and universities is well recognized by Joe Asch who painstakingly documented the problem at Dartmouth. However, it wasn’t until he attended the ATHENA Roundtable that he fully understood the relationship between the problem of bloat and the assault on academic freedom.
Colleges could ameliorate both problems by cutting back on diversity deans and other student-facing staff members. It’s clear, however, that this isn’t going to happen. If anything, the ranks of these grievance mongers likely will continue to swell, and free speech on campus likely will come under even more intense attack.
Marxist Professors or Sensitive Students?
Students should complain about professorial indoctrination, because it is real and it is loaded heavily on the left, most notably in the social sciences and the humanities. One recent ghastly example that received woefully inadequate press attention was a true thought reform program at the University of Delaware.
In this program, all 7,000 residents of the university’s dormitories were required to attend coercive and unabashedly ideological “treatments” (the actual term administrators used) with the explicit goal of getting students to adopt specific points of view with regard to issues such as morality, environmentalism, and sexuality. Resident assistants were required to give students questionnaires on what races and genders they would date with the goal of getting students to be more open to dating other races or genders.
One student, who in one of these exceedingly creepy “one on one” sessions answered, “none of your damn business” to the question “When did you discover your sexual identity?” was written up by an RA and reported to the administration. That’s only the tip of the iceberg and, shockingly, the Residence Life program at the University of Delaware still seems to believe this was a good program.
It is chilling that we are raising a generation of citizens who believe it is their right to mandate the appropriate views that other citizens should have. It’s a formula for totalitarianism.