Conservatism 101

Terrence George '13

One of the national stories coming out of Brown University this year, ironically, is about conservatism. Newspapers from the Boston Globe to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser are covering a new GISP called “Modern Conservatism in America.” Touted by many conservatives as a small breakthrough in liberal academia and dismissed by leftists as simply the fruits of a liberal institution that allows for such independent study, this GISP (Group Independant Study Program) seems to represent a dichotomy reminiscent of William Buckley Jr.’s “God and Man at Yale” – the conservative student at the liberal institution.

It’s no secret that Brown is one of the most liberal colleges in America, which many students embrace. There is, however, a group of students that oppose the overwhelmingly liberal atmosphere – the Brown Republicans. Terrence George ‘13, the outspoken president of this club, was the driving force behind the creation of this new GISP.

George became interested in creating a GISP on the subject when he noticed that while most of his fellow Brown students were very hostile to conservatism, they generally lacked knowledge on what the ideas of conservatism truly mean. Furthermore, he felt that many of  his current courses presented a gap in their readings; many syllabi include more works from liberal writers than from traditionally conservative writers. George drew his idea from a similar class at the University of Virginia, and after much hard work, he created what is now known as GISP 0018: Modern Conservatism in America. George said, “My intentions for the course are to educate, not indoctrinate. I also wanted students from all across to political spectrum to partake in the class, not just conservatives.”

By the time the class had its first meeting, the newspapers were already talking about a class on conservatism at Brown University.  George himself spoke at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference and even appeared on National Public Radio to talk about the new GISP. The national media painted the GISP as a plight by conservative students to fight against an overwhelming majority at a liberal institution. But this is the wrong way to look at the issue.

This GISP is not a mutiny against the leftist leaders of Brown, nor should it be perceived as such. Conservatives must realize that they cannot view institutions of higher education as the enemy, simply because this only perpetuates the problem of imbalance. Although there is no definite answer as to why most college professors are liberal, one of the many theories is because people percieve universities as places for liberals, many conservatives shy away from joining the ranks of academia and instead enter the private workforce– similar to why very few males become nurses, a profession that many view as a woman’s job.

For this reason, conservatives need to think of college not as a place where professors indoctrinate students, but simply as a place to educate. It would be very encouraging to see more conservatives join the faculty of more elite institutions instead of just writing them off as liberal breeding grounds. If the college campus were intellectually balanced, GISPs like “Modern Conservatism in America” would become unnecessary, since students could learn about conservatism in their regular classes.

Liberals, especially here at Brown, need to understand the struggles that  conservative students face. A recent editorial in the Brown Daily Herald criticized Terrence George for pigeonholing Brown simply as a liberal institution that isn’t open to other ideas. The editors of the BDH overlook some facts. For a student to even create a GISP, a professor must sponsor the class, and finding a conservative professor on campus is no small feat. George ultimately chose Stephen Calabresi, who is a visiting professor from Northwestern University. If Calabresi decided not to teach at Brown this semester, there would not have been many alternatives. At a university that is overwhelmingly liberal, it is very difficult to generate support for any cause that is right of center.

Hopefully, this new GISP will have the lasting effect of making students more open to the idea of learning about the history and ideology of conservatism because this class offers the chance for real intellectual diversity on campus. When presented with both sides of the argument, all students benefit – regardless of their personal ideology. Therefore, for the sake of its students, universities like Brown must actively try to employ a more diverse faculty, and conservatives must also not be afraid to take up the challenge of entering academia.


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About the author

Ryan Fleming '13 is the Editor Emeritus of the Brown Spectator. He is a Mechanical Engineering major from Southern Maryland.

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