I greatly appreciated the recent article on conservatism at Princeton. While I was accepted into many equally prestigious doctoral programs (including Harvard and Columbia), I chose to pursue my doctorate in political philosophy at Princeton primarily because of Robert George. I should note that I dislike labels like “liberal” and “conservative,” because my values and commitments do not line up with those of any mainstream political party — I am, for instance, strongly opposed to both abortion and capital punishment, because I am convinced of the profound and intrinsic value of every human life. Nonetheless, as someone whose views on many controversial issues would typically be labeled conservative, I knew that I would not find many like-minded people among my fellow graduate students or professors at Princeton. Having done my undergraduate degree at Harvard, I was used to this, and have always enjoyed robust dialogue with others whose perspective differs from my own. And I generally found faculty and students at Princeton to be respectful of me and my views. Indeed, I am greatly indebted to professors Melissa Lane and Anna Stilz for agreeing to be on my dissertation committee (along with Professor George) and for providing thoughtful and constructive critical feedback on my work, which was a defense of parental rights in education. Despite disagreeing with my perspective on the topic, they were supportive of the project, and their criticisms helped me strengthen my arguments. Nonetheless, it was also crucial for my education to interact with at least some like-minded faculty and students, and this was made possible largely by Professor George and the James Madison Program, which provided needed intellectual diversity to campus and ensured that “conservative”-leaning voices would not be absent from the campus environment.
The presence of conservative voices is crucial not only to support “conservative” students like myself, but for the academic integrity of the University as a whole. As Jonathan Haidt has pointed out in The Coddling of the America Mind and other works, one of the great dangers to the contemporary university is the lack of genuine ideological diversity. Given the human tendency toward confirmation bias, the absence of voices that challenge reigning orthodoxies is sure to lead to intellectual sloppiness and a decline in academic rigor, as shown recently when several academics wrote fake articles using popular jargon that played to editors’ and reviewers’ biases, and had their work accepted by supposedly serious peer-reviewed journals in fields like gender studies (https://areomagazine.com/2018/10/02/academic-grievance-studies-and-the-c...). Even those who completely disagree with the views of Professor George and the scholars he is able to bring to campus through the Madison Program should recognize that he is doing a great service to the University by ensuring that Princeton retains at least some degree of viewpoint diversity, and so helping to preserve it from mindless groupthink and intellectual corruption.
Editor’s note: The author is an associate professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.