Regardless of which side you’re on, one thing is certain: Political tribalism in the United States needs to end. There has never been so much gridlock in Congress, with both sides refusing to compromise — a notable example being the passing of the recent American Rescue Plan which zero Republicans voted for. There are many causes for this increased disunity; the rise of controversial political figures on both sides, media bias and new political donors, just to name a few. However, there is one cause, political bias at the university level, that hits closest to home.
There are three main ways universities contribute to political tribalism: biased grading, peer culture and university attitude. Each one is extremely detrimental to the growth of student minds.
First, unfair grading practices are widespread in U.S. universities. All students have experienced a professor a little too proud of their political views. When this happens, students get two choices: to “write to the professor” to match their views or to stand one’s ground and risk a bad grade. Confirmation bias suggests that professors are more likely to discredit or be skeptical of arguments that run against their ideology. This bias makes it hard for them to grade fairly, even if they are not consciously trying to do so.
Next, peer culture affects the political atmosphere at universities. Some universities, such as University of California, Berkeley and Brown University, are known for having an overwhelmingly liberal student body. For example, Brown has a 60:1 liberal-to-conservative ratio. In contrast, some universities, such as Hillsdale College, are extremely conservative. University of Dallas is a private liberal arts university that has a required Western Civilization course sequence, forcing students to focus on the Western world. Western Civilization courses give students a Eurocentric view of the world, failing to see beyond the United States and Europe.
When a student enrolls in a university that has drastically opposing views of their own, they may face ostracization and peer pressure to conform to the majority. Especially with the recent increase in the U.S.’s political divide, more and more people are unfriending others for having different political views. This extreme pressure to conform to the norm, especially on college campuses, is unhealthy. Education is about having the intellectual freedom to choose what to think; universities full of peers forcing others to have a particular view are detrimental to personal growth.
Although universities may not be fully responsible for peer pressure, they are responsible for the polarized university attitudes. Many colleges try to align their views with their students to prevent backlash and scandals. For example, Hillsdale College often appeases its right-wing donors by supporting Republican practices, such as putting up a statue of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
Some liberal universities make the same mistake; USC, in an attempt to appear socially responsible, often overly tries to appease to liberals. USC professor Greg Patton came under fire for saying a Chinese word that sounded like a slur in English. Although there could be other motivations for this decision, USC is under pressure to act socially responsible, which may affect some of their decisions. The University not only attempted to put up a progressive front but also ended up isolating Chinese students. Colleges’ decisions to appease its allies through political signalling is destructive to students’ education.
Universities often are pressured to respond in liberal or conservative ways to events, creating a general universitywide political attitude. This can isolate those who do not fit in and makes it difficult for students to think independently.
Although universities are only one cause of many to political tribalism, its effects are extensive, as students learn and form their political opinions on college campuses. In turn, students may carry these prejudices and biases for a lifetime. Many elite universities perpetuate biased grading, peer culture and university attitude, and USC is no exception. In college, students should get the intellectual freedom to form their own views from what they learn, not from what their peers think or what their university supports.