In an interview with The Crimson earlier this year, one of Harvard’s most prominent conservative thinkers, Harvey C. Mansfield ’53, argued that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has not hired a conservative in at least a decade. Anyone who has taken a course with Mansfield knows how the 91-year-old political philosophy professor despises the University administration. Yet Mansfield’s complaints aren’t just those of an old crank mourning the loss of the Harvard of 1953 — rather, they reflect the very real and disturbing decline of ideological diversity at this school.
According to a recent survey by The Crimson, fewer than 2 percent of Harvard’s faculty identify as conservative, compared to more than 80 percent who identify as either very liberal or liberal. The trend is similar with students: The share of incoming conservative-identifying students last eclipsed 13 percent in 2014. Given the statistics, Mansfield’s concern about conservative hires is quite plausible — and clearly reflective of broader institution-wide trends.
The discrepancy between liberal and conservative views at Harvard is especially striking given the University’s commitment to “diversity in all forms,” which it maintains “creates the conditions for dramatic and meaningful growth.” As I’ve argued, Harvard is right that ideological diversity is a prerequisite for serious academic inquiry and good-faith attempts to discover the truth. Yet while Harvard has made tremendous strides in increasing racial and ethnic diversity, it has utterly neglected to ensure a more even political balance among its students and faculty. Although ideological variety is the surest mechanism that forces students to consider new ideas — more so than the color of their peers’ skin or their classmates’ sexuality — the University has completely reneged on its commitment to diversity of beliefs.
Instead, University hiring and admissions practices have fostered an atmosphere where liberal voices are the dominant force on campus, and conservative-minded individuals feel pressure to self-censor their beliefs or publish their opinions anonymously. While the lack of ideological diversity does not matter in the hard sciences, where an instructor’s political leanings do not affect how they present the subject matter, humanities professors’ political identities likely impact how they teach material.
I’ve argued in this column that Harvard’s curriculum should be restructured to force students to engage with a variety of perspectives, but this reform is insufficient alone; the University also needs to hire teachers with varied viewpoints.
The challenges the University faces are real: Harvard Professor Lawrence H. Summers, a vocal advocate for ideological diversity on campus, has pointed out that academia inherently skews progressive because individuals who like capitalism are more likely to work in the private sector. To compound the situation further, a majority of graduate school alumni identify themselves as either consistently or mostly liberal, meaning the pool of conservative thinkers to draw from is small in the first place.
Yet if Harvard seeks to live up to its reputation as a leading research university, it should throw its resources behind recruiting conservative thinkers. The school is adept at recruiting top-tier talent in fields such as physics, medicine, and history. Why not apply the same commitment to hiring conservative intellectuals?
To many Harvard students — whose political orientation skews left — a push for more conservative faculty may seem backward and out-of-touch. I myself, a moderate liberal, sometimes fall into the trap of feeling that we need not lend credence to opinions that I consider ridiculous. Yet at the same time, conservative beliefs still enjoy broad support in this country, and dismissing them because we personally disagree with them would be provincial.
Broadening political representation in Harvard’s faculty is no easy feat, but as students who desire a robust education, we should not settle for homogeneity in our classrooms. Diversity in all its forms was never meant to be easy, but that does not mean we shouldn’t try.
Jacob M. Miller ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Mathematics concentrator in Lowell House. His column “Diary from an Echo Chamber” appears on alternate Thursdays.