How are we-the campus conservatives-to think of ourselves in the sea of political correctness? Perhaps we adopt the attitude of the left, and view ourselves as the real but unacknowledged victims of oppression, casualties in the war for diversity and sensitivity. It is our turn to be denied tenure, refused job interviews, not invited to speak at graduations, and deprived of research funding. Or perhaps we might con sider ourselves present-day incarnations of the early Christian martyrs who stoically suffered and died for their faith. Like the saved among the heathens, we pray for the poor PC souls who embrace the false goddesses. Or perhaps in a self-congratulatory mood we may compare ourselves to noble freedom fighters, hopelessly outnumbered but holding out to the last man against Santa Anna and the multicultural hoards. 

Close, but no cigar. All of these images have a grain of and resistance commando should properly be reserved for special occasions such as annual gatherings of co-believers or melodramatic therapeutic letters to the editor. Make no mistake, we are shortchanged in the distribution of educational goodies and often outgunned, but we have not, at least so far, adopted the self-pitying mentality of the professionally board-certified victim or become strident counterrevolutionary militants. 

How then are we to describe ourselves? Let me suggest the following: we are the queers of the 1990’s. On a day-to-day basis, we much more closely resemble the timid closet gays of the 1940’s and 50’s than the more presentable and fanciful stoic martyrs or brave resistance fighters. With few exceptions, we are far more interested in “passing” and not drawing unwanted attention to ourselves than in bravely charging off to slay the dragons of PCdom. The emotional outpourings and written calls for dramatic action that comprise our movement are things that happen far away from our daily chores. Our versions of Act-Up or Queer Nation remain in the future. We don’t even have our own T-shirt yet. 

This parallel is easily seen in the energy we expend figuring out who is and who is not “one of us.” There arc very few flaming righties running about; it is all very discrete. Department colleagues who have known each other for a decade might only suspect each other of possessing similar right-wing tendencies. Whereas the lefties can find each other by plastering their office doors with flyers for diversity programs or outspoken pronouncements, righties have raised disclosure to a nearly invisible art. Revealing our secret might elicit the same response as an uninvited fondle would in the faculty men’s room. Except among the closest of friends, we pro claim ourselves with the equivalent of “Don’t you just adore early Bette Midler?” If given a list of card-carrying conservative colleagues, the inevitable reaction seems to be, “I sort of suspected that he was one of us, and now we know.” 

And like the gays of old, our reluctance to be ourselves in mixed company seems to bring out a compensatory reaction when we are all incorrectly together. Sort of like the staid corporate accountant who lives a secret weekend life as the local drag queen. The very safe and private meetings of the faithful serve, as it were, as a “grim bar.” Over white wine and Brie we can all drop our inhibitions, “come out,” and dramatically regale each other with grim tales of unprepared minority students, shameless pandering administrators, blatant discrimination against white male job applicants, and bizarre schemes to inject class, race, and gender into the curriculum. Unfortunately, of course, as closing time nears the thought of reentering campus life awakens the long-standing feelings of despair and unease. And, like Cinderella returning from the ball, the telltale signs of our “other” life such as smartly tailored navy blazers and striped silk ties must be hidden and replaced with flannel shirts and worn corduroy jackets. Imagine the embarrassment if our department chairperson accidentally discovered our stained and dog-eared copies of Hayek and Von Mises stashed away in our closet? “And what exactly have you been up to, young person?” the chairperson would ask. 

The big fear for defenders of Western civilization, high standards, and upholders of reason is a public outing. Per haps some close associates arc permitted to know our “strange predilection,” but the idea of the whole campus sharing this secret is enough for a nervous breakdown. It would, we believe, be the end of us. “But he seemed so normal,” they would say. Our political disposition would, like an official title, be come an integral part of our name-“Professor X, the notorious political conservative.” Not all that different than, say, “Richard Speck, Mass Murderer.” As such, we would routinely be the designated hate-object of every PC attack, and one’s work and teaching would receive special scrutiny lest it improperly influence young boys. 

It is therefore highly prudent to have the equivalent of a wife and family. We publicly applaud a proposal for a multi cultural center run by people of color but suggest that it be organized as a traditional interdisciplinary program drawing staff from regular academic departments. Our contribution to the demand that more blacks and women be hired is to put forth the names of highly distinguished candidates who routinely receive and decline several such job offers per week. We gladly affix our signatures to petitions demanding the end to U.S. government oppression of Third World nations only after receiving personal assurances that this petition does not preclude the possibility of Third World leaders oppressing their own people. In short, we express our urges, but at least to the untrained observer, we pass. If the PC police made a surprise raid, our charade is in order-we supported multiculturalism, diverse recruiting, and the war on oppression. Only our colleagues at the grim bar appreciate our tortured dual existence. 

When prominent conservatives visit campus, our public support is often muted, though we might express a willingness to meet them socially at the local grim bar. After all, to be seen in public with such notorious and talked-about personalities would be to give it all away. The pretense would be over, nobody would believe us when we explained our presence with ‘Tm doing a book on these people.” Let the undergraduate Republicans, the blatant libertarians, and the Young Americans for Freedom host a visiting Ed Meese, a Jeane Kirkpatrick, or even a respectable academic such as Richard Pipes. These youthful enthusiasts don’t have to worry about their reputations, jobs, and family members who might ask embarrassing questions. 

Indeed, such youthful public manifestation of conservatism, this unashamed pride and unwillingness to accept prevailing campus opinion, might make it more difficult for us. Once again, we have to explain to our PC colleagues that not all conservatives arc so insensitive to special treatment for op pressed minorities or so callous in their disregard for the role of women in bringing about world peace. These young kids are just breathing life into the popular, stereotypical image of the “uncaring conservative.” Years of showing the university that “we’re just like everyone else” destroyed overnight by such strong-headed, guiltless opposition to Marxism. It is no wonder that people may be reluctant to allow us to review young faculty and that they get nervous about sharing the same facilities. 

What will become of us? Despite the security of tenure and even a campus atmosphere where no stigma is necessarily attached to being politically different, we will probably not change our ways. We shall, as always, reserve our true out rage to the gatherings of the faithful. Here we can vigorously proclaim, for all to hear, the virtues of Western civilization, the power of reason, the wisdom of European philosophy, the beauty of our art, and the power of our science. We will have a good time, feel better, and know that we have struck a blow for superior standards and intelligence. So long as the politically correct neighbors don’t call the police because of the noise, it’s a great life. 

Contemporary college administrators, with all too few exceptions, when it comes to demands from the left, are an accommodating bunch. Almost no request for sensitivity training, cultural centers, celebration of ethnic diversity, conferences on oppression, preferential treatment for minorities, non-Eurocentric curriculums, and politically correct codes of personal conduct goes unheeded. If there were a nationwide contest among deans for the “Panderer of the Year” award, the judges would be overwhelmed and unable to choose: so many worthies and so little time. How many college administrations in recent years have been pilloried for their slavish up holding of traditional intellectual and moral standards? What comes to mind when you hear “the integrity of a college president”? Clearly, when it comes to opening constructive dialogues with loony lefties making unjustifiable demands, the democracy is the busiest segment of academe. 

That a small, muddleheaded cliche-espousing gang of “concerned” students can so easily intimidate your average administrator at the most prestigious university is remarkable. Thirty years ago it would have been unthinkable that a dean would even listen to, say, a request that self-appointed leaders of a particular ethnic group be granted independent authority over its own members. Such a demand would properly be viewed as a prank. Today, it would be treated as a serious, responsible request motivated by an enlightened concern for the edification of all humanity. Surely, it would not take too much courage and fortitude to decline a request for a two week celebration of the nontraditional contribution to the quality of urban life made by the homeless and the mentally impaired. Why is it that the university is ruled by a race of people who just cannot say “no” to airheadism? 

A search for the answer to this question in the personalities of the administrators themselves would not turn up much of an answer. Though my own experience with the democracy is limited, I have almost always found these people to be intelligent, reasonable, and, most importantly, personally committed to the ideals of merit and fairness. They are probably slightly above average as men and women of principle. One would not guess based on personal conversation that universities have raised pandering to an art form. Our search for the pandering virus leads us to the collective character of university leader ship, not the individuals. 

What is it, then, about the university environment that creates a modest army of wannabe Neville Chamberlains? We must first realize that most campuses today arc caught in the midst of a do-the-right-thing epidemic. Nearly everybody is busy combating sexism, racism, environmental pollution, oppression, homophohia, elitism, and other well-known social vices. During the Renaissance the educated person might write plays, compose ballads, and develop a science of optics; today a comparable effort must be made to fight the sins of modem society. It is the thing to do within the university, just as one should get regular exercise and avoid too much red meat. Thus, every college administrator has on his daily appointment calendar “make the world better.” 

While the non-administrator may share the administrator’s desire to do the right thing, the administrator enjoys a substantial advantage in getting to do-gooder’s heaven: he or she can do it with other people’s money. While an ordinary citizen or even a well-paid professor must think twice about a $500 donation to a deserving cause, the dean of students can painlessly request $50,000 to sponsor talks by Native American lesbians on the feminist approach to environmentalism. Put bluntly, college administrators can acquire virtue in whole sale quantities on the cheap. Even if the request is denied by some penny-pinching, right-wing higher-up, the very act of making the request shows that the dean is working at doing the right thing. There can only be gain in getting somebody else’s money for a good cause. Imagine the reaction to the identical request if each administrator had to kick in one percent of the funds from his or her own paycheck? 

Consider the “rewards” that come to those few administrators who can just say “no.” Perhaps there is some satisfaction from knowing that they made the hard decision, but since when is the “hard” decision the one in which a hair-brain scheme is rejected? Perhaps they will quietly receive the con gratulations of a few colleagues admiring their courage for standing up to powerless students. But the potential costs arc much higher-the prospect of demonstrations, personal at tacks, and a reputation as out of step with the forces of progressive good against evil. All in all, it is amazing that more administrators do not solicit airhead proposals. 

Reinforcing these incentives is the nature of the contemporary career path among college administrators. A little ex planation is in order here. Years ago the typical college administrator was a professor viewing the job as a temporary aberration-after a few years running Liberal Arts & Sciences it would be back to studying the economics of regulation. There was little consideration of making administration a full time career, and one’s performance on the job counted for little in advancing one’s professional career. Indeed, ineptitude in conducting the college’s business might be taken as a sure sign of one’s suitability for the life of the mind. The administrator did not need the job and often was happy to leave it. 

Things have changed greatly. The assistant dean at Big time U. aspires to the LAS position at Medium State College; the vice-chancellor hopes to be chancellor and so on and so on. Administration has become professionalized and the rewards of status, power, and money flow to those who cultivate an outstanding reputation. This is particularly true for those who have taken the vows of administration from the very be ginning-they have no academic department to call home. They are the hard-core lifers who must survive as administrators. And, as in the military and many large corporations, a major clement in achieving this reputation is the ability to avoid controversy. For a young, ambitious assistant dean of student activities on the make to move up, getting embroiled in heated disputes with campus groups—especially racial and ethnic groups-is to put one’s career at risk. It is unlikely that this upwardly mobile dean could make the short list at Next Step-up State if it became known that he or she had problems “getting along” with campus groups and contributed to an atmosphere of tension and distrust. No prospective employer would ever risk hiring such a “controversial figure” when there are dozens of competent plain-vanilla alternatives. Competence and integrity would count for nothing if one’s credentials for doing the right thing were not in order. 

The pandering instinct also gets a powerful boost from the internal political needs of left-wing campus groups. Such groups are usually held together by the momentary passion of a cause-getting more minority faculty hired, removing a racist symbol from campus life, creating a women’s study pro gram, and so on. Excitement and the possibility of confrontation with an “enemy” such as the college president keep the group alive. Group leaders must therefore always be press ing for more to fend off apathy and disintegration. If the ad ministration gives in on one issue, a new issue is invented; successful groups are insatiable. 

The endless demands are a godsend to an administration on the lookout for new and improved ways to do the right thing. Being virtuous is now a full-time job, perhaps even requiring some overtime. Though your average assistant acting dean of student affairs may bitterly complain of the pressures from radical groups, such pressures guarantee future employment and enhance the sense of high moral purpose. If these unreasonable, adamant groups were to disappear suddenly, bud gets would be reduced, and it would be back to dull paper work. The relationship between the panderer and the panderee is a symbiotic one despite the overt mutual hostility. 

Can this unhealthy co-dependence and pandering relationship ever be broken? As we have suggested earlier, integrity workshops for administrators will not help much. As individuals, most are already decent people who try their best to keep the flicker of principle alive under difficult circumstances. And we cannot expect students to stop making unreasonable demands. A solution must lie in the structure of university life, not the players. 

The solution, I believe, is to return to the old system of recruiting college administrators: a great reluctance to take the job should be an absolute prerequisite for it. When a distinguished professor of chemistry says, “Over my dead body will you make me dean,” this will be tantamount to selection. Once in the job our reluctant hero will soon be looking for honorable ways to leave it (and technical incompetence will not be a problem since the secretary always runs the office, anyway). 

Delegations of students demanding dormitory rooms for the local homeless will be greeted as an opportunity to es cape back to the laboratory. The crafty involuntary dean will surely reason that by creating enough political unpopularity, his resignation will gladly be accepted. Then it will he up to his successor, the senior professor of accounting who desperately wants to return to his lucrative consulting, to find ways of antagonizing delegations of unreasonable students. In short, career advancement will now depend on learning how just to say “no.”