Boots & Sabers

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0721, 11 Mar 20

Preserving small ‘l’ liberal education

Here is my full column for the Washington County Daily News.

When one enters higher education to pursue a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree, there are two main objectives. The first objective is to learn a lot about a particular subject like math, history, business, or any of hundreds of other major areas of study. The second objective, and the one that differentiates a liberal (classical liberal – not political liberal) education from a vocational education, is to gain a broader knowledge of the world.

The heart of a liberal education is that second objective. It is why students are required to take classes that do not have anything to do with their major. It is also why students spend more money and spend longer in school to earn a bachelor’s degree. For many people, going to university is their first time outside of the bubble in which they grew up. It is their first time away from their family, church, neighborhood, childhood friends, and cultural roots. A good university education offers a wide range of information and multiple viewpoints to give students a broader perspective of the world around them. A good university education also equips students with the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate a big, diverse, exciting world.

Unfortunately, most universities have abandoned a small “l” liberal education in favor of a big “L” Liberal education. Instead of offering a broad perspective from diverse perspectives, they offer a narrow perspective from a hyper-orthodox view. Whether the subject is related to global warming, abortion, unions, gun rights, health care policy, or any other important issue, there is only one perspective tolerated on most university campuses – the Liberal viewpoint.

The reason is simple. The vast majority of university faculty members are extremely liberal. For example, consider the political donations of faculty members. The best way to tell what is important to someone is to see where they spend their money. According to, 97% of all political donations given by employees of the University of Wisconsin system in the 2020 election cycle so far have gone to Democrats. Only 3% have gone to Republicans.

Lest you think that such lopsided political affiliation is an artifact of the Trump era, the percentage was 98% for Democrats in 2014 and 95% in 2012. To put that in perspective, a student takes about 40 college courses with 40 professors to earn a bachelor’s degree. There is a very good chance that a student attending a University of Wisconsin school might complete their degree without ever having anything but a politically liberal professor. In some majors, it is a virtual certainty that a student will never hear anything but a liberal perspective.

This is one of the reasons why it is so important for universities to invite non-liberal speakers to their campuses. For some students, it will be the only way they will hear a conservative, libertarian, or even a centrist speak without leaving campus.

Sadly, too many universities have tolerated, or even encouraged, the rise of the cry bully on campus. These sniveling tyrants wrap themselves in their own righteousness to bully other people into silence. If challenged for their intolerance, they cry “victim” and demand a safe space. These are the petty bullies who have been protesting and shouting down conservative speakers on university campuses to the point that some universities have stopped inviting conservatives to speak at all for fear of violence.

The University of Wisconsin Regents deserve credit for pushing ahead with a policy to punish cry bullies who would intimidate others into silence and preserve universities as a place for diverse thoughts to be heard and debated. In October, the Regents voted for a policy that would require that a student be suspended if they twice “materially and substantially disrupted the free expression of others.” Upon the third violation, the student would be expelled.

The policy is needed to ensure that universities can be a place of free expression and diversity of thought. The policy does not prohibit any student from offering a different perspective or even protesting a speaker they dislike. It simply discourages students from disrupting other people from speaking and sharing their views. That is what free expression is all about. Universities used to know that and the UW Regents are reinstilling that principle of small “l” liberal education.


0721, 11 March 2020


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