Conservative graduate students and professors are a rare breed in the halls of our nation’s ivory towers. Nonetheless, I find myself in the peculiar position of being both a second-year doctoral student in political science and a fervent supporter of George W. Bush. The two don’t exactly go together like Ben and Jerry.
With the outing of my support for the Republican Party, though, I am ignoring the advice gathered by The New York Times’ David Brooks from several prominent professors regarding conservative students pursuing graduate study in the social sciences and humanities: keep your conservative views in the closet.
What do I have to fear? Maybe more than I think.
Robert George, a conservative political science professor at Princeton University, remarked, “If [a conservative] kid applies to one of the top graduate schools, he’s likely to be not admitted. Say he gets past that first screen. He’s going to face pressure to conform or he’ll be the victim of discrimination. It’s a lot harder to hide then than it was as an undergrad.”
Well, I’ve been admitted. And Mr. George is right. It is indeed harder to hide your political ideology. Not because of the Bush-Cheney ’04 button on the ol’ backpack, but because your fellow graduate students — and future colleagues — expect you to be liberal. It’s as if these students have gone through their entire educational careers using the liberals’ edition of Webster’s Dictionary, and the definition for “intelligent” specifically forbids any association with conservativism.
I still remember the day several students from my cohort discovered the scandalous detail that I was a supporter of President Bush and the petrified looks on their Macintosh-loving faces as I gave a riveting defense of the War on Terror. (Disclosure: This column was written with a notebook purchased from the Texas-based, Dubya-supporting, capitalistic leviathan Dell Corporation.)
Though my monologue most likely fell on deaf ears, a familiar response came afterward: “Well, at least you aren’t one of those social conservatives, are you?”
Indeed I am. And though I have probably committed one of the largest faux pas in academia, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My conservative views are, in all likelihood, the reason I was removed from the department graduate-student dinner group e-mail list and the reason I’m not eating my pudding cups with the “cool” kids in the graduate lounge. My views may also explain why I have been repeatedly told to return to the United States of Jesusland.
Unfortunately for many, I have yet to find it on Mapquest.
I decided to come to Madison — a city that boasts more Ph.D.s per capita than any other in the nation — for graduate school to seek intellectual diversity. More often than not, though, this city reminds me of a 24-hour political hack show created by the scandal-ridden Air America and hosted by none other than Al Franken. For guests, Mr. Franken will be sure to invite Progressive Dane’s cronies on the Madison Common Council. The show will also extend a warm welcome to screamin’ Howard Dean. In customary Madisonian style, the liberal radio network has deemed it superfluous to invite anyone politically right of Michael Moore. Go figure.
While the guests will be able to feed this city’s propaganda machine, Mr. Franken’s guest hosts on the show can easily book their travel reservations using Liberalocity.com for the best rates in Madison.
The horse-and-pony show this city so closely resembles aside, the University of Wisconsin and its esteemed School of Liberal Indoctrination have some issues of their own.
As a conservative graduate student at UW, sometimes you feel like a kid who has just been locked out of the family car by your older sibling. You grab the handle of the door when they pretend to unlock it just to face disappointment when you hear the clicking of the locks again, complete with a silly grinning face staring straight at you and threatening to eat your Happy Meal.
This university is the older sibling, enticing you to the campus with flowery rhetoric about open-mindedness and tolerance of diverse viewpoints by the academic community. But when you agree to become a member of this community, you soon realize your sibling was never going to unlock the door for you.
It was all just smoke and mirrors.
Some professors, including Mr. George, tell their conservative graduate students to march on: “We need to send our best soldiers into battle, even though we’re going to lose a few.”
Given I have written this column, I have reported for my semester of active duty. The battlefield will be the UW campus. But, unlike in ordinary battle, victory in this ideological clash shouldn’t be measured in losses. Rather, we should strive for an armistice in which younger siblings never have to be locked out of cars. If a truce can’t be reached, I’d say go ahead with the battle plan: activate the child-restraint systems so the doors can be opened only from the outside.
Darryn Beckstrom (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science and a second-year MPA candidate in the La Follette School of Public Affairs.