Commentary, Opinion

The myth of conservative persecution on university campuses

Campus groups representing the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), including McGill’s Conservative Association, were criticized by the Canadian Association of University Professors last week for distributing cards encouraging students to vote Conservative “because you can only hear the same left-wing talking points from your professors so many times.” 

Scheer defended the campaign material, saying it was just supposed to be funny, but many conservatives complain more seriously about the presence of a left-wing bias on university campuses. In reality, contemporary left-wing political values which manifest at McGill do not jeopardize the safety or freedom of expression of conservative students. They can, in fact, serve to address issues that affect marginalized groups and bring new voices into academic discourse. 

 That University professors tend to lean to the left of the political spectrum is true for the most part. However, this is not due to discrimination against conservatives in hiring processes: Studies have shown multiple reasons for the shortage of conservative professors. Most significantly, conservatives are more likely to get jobs in professional fields like business and therefore are less likely to pursue a Ph.D. Differences in values and priorities are the biggest factor in the diverging political tendencies of university professors

Regardless of this trend, the idea that university professors employ a set of “left-wing talking points” is an oversimplification that undermines the work of academics. For example, certain critiques of capitalism, like its disastrous effects on climate change, are backed up by research. Additionally, most professors engage with texts which represent a wide range of perspectives and tend to welcome respectful debate in their classes, conferences, and even office hours regardless of their personal opinions or research. Universities are designed in part to allow students to develop their critical thinking skills, and all students can benefit from criticism of their views both inside and outside the classroom. 

One should also consider that many policies put into place or promoted by conservative governments and figures continue to hurt historically disadvantaged groups. In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney recently lifted a ban that protected students against the risk of their parents being notified of their membership in Gay-Straight Alliance clubs, which could lead to students being outed without their consent. Quebec’s right-leaning Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) government has put policies in place that restrict immigration and prohibit the wearing of religious symbols for public workers. Conversely, progressive or left-leaning parties tend to promote policies that aim to ameliorate the conditions of those belonging to marginalized groups, like raising the minimum wage, reconciliation with Indigenous communities, and ending employment discrimination.  Conservatives claiming to be persecuted for their views, when those opinions can lead to the creation of harmful policies for minority groups, is disrespectful. Conservatives may have a right to believe what they choose, but those of their beliefs (or those of their parties) that cause harm also deserve to be challenged. 

“However, freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from criticism, something that conservatives, in this instance, have failed to understand.”

Further, the existence of a wide range of progressive student groups on campus does not prevent conservatives from forming their own opinions. McGill’s freedom of speech policies protect all members of its community and conservative groups need only to adhere to SSMU’s regulations should they wish to remain legitimate clubs. However, freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from criticism, something that conservatives, in this instance, have failed to understand.

The way conservatives talk about this issue is telling. Scheer himself claimed that the cards being passed around were meant to be funny, and conservatives often make jokes about the sensitivity of those who lean left. While making these jokes, conservative students continue to claim that they face persecution when made to defend their views. Many conservatives seem to believe that they are the only ones allowed to feel offended when their views and identities are questioned. 

Going forward, we should continue to support a campus environment that allows all students to feel heard while combating bigotry and hate. While those on the left are not always innocent, conservatives should investigate why their views are so controversial, and reflect on whether their perspectives are simply unpopular or truly harmful.

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