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George Boardman: It’s time to start affirmative action program for campus conservatives

Observations from the center stripe: Take over edition

OLD DEFINITION of a reporter: A fellow who walks around with a can of gasoline looking for a smoldering fire. That function’s been taken over by social media … WHEN REPUBLICANS talk about cheap health insurance after they repeal Obamacare, they’re talking about junk insurance and catastrophic insurance. Either can bankrupt you … DONALD TRUMP demands total loyalty from his underlings, but doesn’t hesitate to throw them under the bus. Maybe that’s why there are so many leaks in The White House … THE NBA playoffs have been boring because the Warriors are so dominant … IN AN era when people are loathe to admit they’re wrong, new Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte deserves props for apologizing for body slamming a reporter …

This is the time of the year when America's colleges and universities invite wise, accomplished or just popular adults to address the commencement exercises for graduating seniors, generally to enlighten them on what it all means.

This assumes the invited speakers have passed the unwritten but powerful liberal litmus test applied by the faculty and students. If they fail this test, they are likely to get a cold shoulder (Vice President Mike Pence at Notre Dame), be booed (Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at Bethune-Cookman) or disinvited (Senator John Cornyn at Southern University).

Such rudeness is not front page news anymore because it has been going on for at least two decades, a manifestation of the trend that has made conservative professors and their ideas endangered species at our leading colleges and universities.

It has reached the point where we may need an affirmative action program to increase the political pluralism on our campuses, especially in the social sciences. What's good for one minority should be good for all of them.

There's plenty of evidence to make the case. A couple of recent studies show that less than seven percent of professors in the social sciences self identify as Republicans, as opposed to 24 percent in business, 23 percent in engineering and 23 percent in health sciences.

In sociology, Marxists outnumber Republicans 4-1! It's no wonder that Republican students are three times as likely as their peers to feel intimidated sharing their political views in class, and that they tend to gravitate toward majors in business and the natural sciences.

This kind of intimidation isn't limited to the classroom. Take the experience of Jonathan Chow, a senior history major at U.C.-Berkeley and a member of the Berkeley College Republicans:

"It's nice to talk openly about my political opinions, but it comes with a price. When I staff the group's table on Sproul Plaza, strangers come up to yell at me — and not in a fun 'I want to debate you' kind of way. They call me a bad person. They ask where I'm from (my family is from Cuba) and then they tell me to go back there. I've even been physically attacked."

(For fans of irony, it should be recalled that the Berkeley Free Speech Movement started in the '60s when campus cops tried to restrict the expression of political ideas by student organizations in Sproul Plaza. Maybe it's time for a conservative FSM in the People's Republic of Berkeley.)

Liberal students have few of Chow's concerns because they are protected by trigger warnings, safe havens, and highly restricted free-speech zones on their campuses, guaranteeing they rarely if ever have to hear a discouraging word. That is starting to change.

Colorado, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia recently passed laws that remove free-speech zones that limit protests to small areas, and discipline students who interfere with the free-speech rights of others. Several other states, including California, are considering similar measures.

"The motivation is just to ensure there truly is free speech on our campuses in California," said state Senator Jim Neilsen, who's sponsoring SB 472. The cattle rancher has an unlikely ally in Nicolas Tomas, a public interest law student at Cal Poly Pomona who is also a fervent vegan.

Tomas was busted at Pomona for distributing pro-vegan leaflets outside the school's free-speech zone — we're talking 144 square feet on a campus that covers 1,438 acres — and ended up suing the school for infringing on his First Amendment rights. The case was settled in Tomas's favor for $35,000.

Tomas said he would lobby for Nielsen's measure. "I find it really great to team up with the cattle rancher," he told the Los Angeles Times. "It really symbolizes the issue. Free speech at its finest is two people disagreeing with each other and saying, 'Let's discuss it.'"

Neilsen's bill made it through two policy committees, but was moved to the suspense file May 25 by the Senate Appropriations Committee after the University of California complained enforcing the measure could add millions of dollars of cost for administrative, security and legal fees. (Nobody should doubt the master bureaucrats when they say this, but the solution is to raid the president's slush fund.)

Technically, SB 472 isn't dead, but it's unlikely to come up for a vote this session. The Democrats who control the committee and the senate should be ashamed of themselves.

Students like Tomas give us hope the marketplace of ideas isn't dead yet (heck, Harvard has named a conservative dean of its law school), but I would be more confident if conservatives found a more welcoming environment on our public college and university campuses. That was part of the argument used to justify affirmative action programs for blacks and other minorities.

William G. Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, contended that racial diversity helps students "to learn from their differences and to stimulate one another to reexamine even their most deeply held assumptions about themselves and their world."

Bowen expressed a noble idea, but it has become another example of the rule of unintended consequences. Race and gender have so dominated the social studies curriculum that white male students are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Certainly, liberal students aren't being challenged to "reexamine their most deeply held assumptions…"

It's time to redress the imbalance by recruiting more conservatives to teach the social sciences, and take measures to make sure our campuses are truly open marketplaces of ideas where advocates of minority viewpoints don't have to risk physical or verbal abuse.

When the conservative voice is silenced or muted in these debates, people end up preaching to the converted.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.