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What is difficult either to deny or to quantify is that, especially at the more prestigious colleges and universities, the social climate fosters a strong presumption of liberal like-mindedness and a marginalization of dissent. Being left of center is the norm, and it is freely assumed that other people around you, be they students or faculty members, will share in your joy at the Democratic victories in Congress or your dismay at the passage of a ballot initiative prohibiting racial preferences in college admissions. This can translate into not only a chilly climate for conservatives but in some cases outright hostility.
If a student doesn't subscribe to the campus orthodoxy, the likely effect is not to convert her but to alienate her from intellectual life. Others learn only about a narrow range of ideas. One woman, a Ph.D. student in the social sciences at a Midwestern university, told me recently that when she started reading conservative, libertarian, or otherwise heretical blogs, "it was a whole perspective I had never been exposed to before in anything other than caricature."
When that's the norm, the harm is less to dissenters than to the life of the mind. It's not good for any group of people to spend a lot of time listening only to like-minded others. It is especially bad for a profession whose lifeblood is the exchange of ideas.
Contributing Editor Cathy Young (email@example.com) is the author of Growing Up in Moscow (Ticknor & Fields) and Ceasefire! (Free Press). She blogs at cathyyoung.blogspot.com.