By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Public University
This is the final part of a four-part series examining the popular notion that colleges and universities are staffed preponderantly by liberals.
Disclaimer: The below discussion makes some generalizations regarding political affiliations and views among majorities for higher education employees and other demographics in American society. While these generalizations are supported by data, obviously there are always exceptions, and as such nothing in this article is intended to cast labels on or make assumptions regarding the views of any particular individual. Furthermore, the thoughts below are not intended to be representative of American Public University System or any of its faculty or staff, beyond the named author of this article.
In the previous parts of this series, I explained how the leftward political lean of academia in the United States is not a conspiracy of loyalty, but rather a product of critical thinking and scientific reasoning skills applied to modern social issues. I explained that these skills are often learned in the course of graduate education and work in academe.
As such, academicians tend to follow their reasoning to the soundest and most defensible conclusions. And in many cases, those conclusions happen to be leftward political positions.
But this is coincidence, not conspiracy. I was discussing this issue with friends at a dinner party last week, and when asked about where my allegiances lay, I replied — honestly — that I have no allegiances to anything but truth.
If my assessments of the facts and circumstances around the issues discussed in those earlier parts of this series led me to conclusions espoused by conservatives, then I’d be a conservative. But for various reasons — right, wrong, and indifferent — they do not. And so I find myself supporting mostly left-wing policies.
The Political Left Can Espouse Positions Contrary to Critical Thinking and Scientific Reasoning
This is not to say that the political left is correct on every issue. There are serious issues within certain factions of the left at the moment. Examples include the stymying of free speech and a kind of Gestapo-like social justice militarism that alienates more people than it inspires.
These positions run contrary to the critical thinking and scientific reasoning that engenders enlightened leftist views on issues like climate change and gun control. So I reject and denounce the former with the same level of enthusiasm that I support the latter.
Identity politics has become a serious problem in our country, but we need not personally support it. We can choose our positions on various issues a la carte, without regard for deviations across party lines. But in any scenario, critical thinking and scientific reasoning are indispensable tools for forming educated opinions.
Others Besides Academics Can Learn Critical Thinking and Scientific Reasoning
The good news is that academia doesn’t have a monopoly on reason. Critical thinking and scientific reasoning skills can indeed be learned outside colleges and universities.
But in my experience, it’s more difficult to do because of the lack of a road map to one’s self-teaching. And as such, it’s rarer to find these skills among populations that have not had formal training.
But it’s not impossible. So if we’re to arrive at some level of consensus around political issues today, it behooves us all to hone these skills however we can.
I have been and will continue to be an advocate of higher education — for everyone, in all circumstances, in perpetuity. There will always be new things to learn and new ways to improve from one day to the next.
And college is a great way to do that. But it’s not the only way. It isn’t lost on me that some people lack access to or interest in college learning. And that’s okay.
But it is incumbent upon those people to find other ways to exercise their critical thinking and scientific reasoning skills, whether by reading books, watching educational television, listening to learning podcasts, taking free training and courses online, or improving in other ways.
We all share our society. And as such, we owe to ourselves and to every other citizen a basic duty to educate ourselves and make good decisions as members of the electorate, so that everyone prospers.
This is not out of reach for anyone, but it requires time and energy. So if we care about making sound assessments of our circumstances, reaching thoughtful conclusions, and acting on them with smart policies, we each need to make sure we develop the critical thinking and scientific reasoning skills necessary for the task at hand. Whether that leads to a left-leaning position or a rightward turn, so be it.
About the Author
Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Public University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.