Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Wesleyan University President Michael Roth reports that UCLA’s Higher Education Institute has found that among New England colleges and universities there are 28 liberal faculty members for each conservative faculty member. He concludes that “we need an affirmative action program for conservative, libertarian and religious modes of thinking.”
Having been a conservative (really libertarian) member of a heavily liberal law faculty for my 40-year career, I am not surprised at the ratio reported by Roth. It sounds about right from my admittedly anecdotal experience.
And while I have my doubts about the effectiveness of much that has come to pass as affirmative action for other noble purposes, I rather like the suggestion that it’s time to give conservatives a little boost in the academy.
But as a law professor and author of two books on private property, I was taken aback by Roth’s prideful declaration that this fall Wesleyan “will begin offering courses to cover topics such as ‘the philosophical and economic foundations of private property, free enterprise and market economies.’”
Mind you, Wesleyan will begin teaching these subjects next fall. Contemplate the thousands of Wesleyan graduates, and hundreds of thousands of graduates of other institutions of higher education, who must have little or no understanding of the fundamental institutions that make their prosperous and independent lives possible.
Perhaps I should not have been surprised. As a visiting professor at another law school several years ago I was told that the regular faculty didn’t bother to teach the 5th Amendment “takings clause” in the constitutional law course I was about to teach. That provision, along with the guarantee of due process, guarantees the rights of private property owners against governmental interference. If they were not teaching about those protections, I could only imagine what their students and those at many other law schools were learning in their property law classes.
Private property rights, along with freedom of contract, are the institutions that make efficient use of scarce resources possible. Without property and contract, markets do not exist, and without markets there is no way for individuals and society to put labor and resources to the most productive and rewarding uses. Oh, I’m sure students at Wesleyan and almost every other university have been taught that all we need is love and cooperation, but history tells a different story.
So I am delighted to read that Wesleyan is going to start teaching at least some of its students about private property, free enterprise and markets. Unfortunately, until the university has had some time to implement its affirmative action program, President Roth may be hard-pressed to find faculty members who understand the philosophical and economic foundations of these subjects sufficiently to teach them to students already bathed in anti-capitalist rhetoric in many of their high schools.
But kudos to Wesleyan’s president Roth for recognizing the need, and more so for acknowledging in a very public way what most in the academy deny to be a problem.