Officials at Portland State University rejected Political Science Professor Bruce Gilley’s proposal for a permanent class on conservative political thought on the basis that it failed to meet a new “diversity standard.”
Gilley told reporters that his colleagues had advised him to lie about course content to officials and then teach whatever he wanted.
“I’m at a stage in my career…where I don’t want to play these games anymore,” said Gilley. “It’s wrong.”
In his application, Gilley defines conservatism as “an approach to political life that emphasizes prudence, tradition, and incremental change” and explains that “fixed group-based identities are both logically and empirically problematic for political communities.”
In terms of diversity, Gilley said his course would focus on the “diversity of intellectual, personal, individual, and character-based (rather than group-based) characteristics” of students.
Ideological diversity is a common goal for universities (or so they claim), but some find the topic offensive in that it erases the lived experiences of marginalized populations.
When asked about this perspective, Gilley explained that diversity of thought is more important than diversity of race or gender and stressed the fact that individuals should not be labeled “good” or “bad” based on their ideologies.
The overall purpose of the course, explains Gilley, is “to consider the main theories of conservatism and how they have been applied to political practice…An emphasis will be placed on understanding the internal logic and the different strands of conservative political thought and the ways that it has responded to contemporary challenges.”
The course syllabus includes one week each on British, European, American, and black conservatism.
In my opinion, Gilley’s course idea is a mature and progressive approach to conservatism. But in the era of safe spaces and snowflakes, the mere consideration of conservatism on a college campus is treated with disdain.
Gilley’s proposal “assigns a nice sample of some of the most prominent and thoughtful conservative intellectuals,” says Jon Shields, an associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California. “There are places where one can take such a course, but they are depressingly few. The conservative intellectual tradition is one that few students are exposed to in college.”
By rejecting Gilley’s application, Portland is effectively forcing its students to learn about conservative thought through a liberal lens. That’s like asking a Bernie Sanders supporter to teach a class on personal finance.
Gilley’s proposed course on conservative political thought is the only one to be rejected since Portland implemented its diversity standard in 2016.
The standard is a “political litmus test” designed to weed out conservative thought, argues Gilley.
This isn’t the first time Gilley’s opinions have been silenced. In 2017, he faced censorship and personal threats after publishing an essay titled “The Case for Colonialism,” in which he pitched modified colonialism for economically struggling nations.
“Predictably, the critics decided that I was a racist and white supremacist,” said Gilley.
His essay was withdrawn from Third World Quarterly amid threats to Gilley and to the journal’s editor. It was republished eight months later by the National Association of Scholars’ (NAS).
“The efforts to censor [Gilley’s] article and the attacks on him personally were outrageous,” said NAS President Peter Wood. A majority of the essay deals with the “failure of many postcolonial regimes to secure peace, build political legitimacy, establish the rule of law as opposed to endemic corruption, or provide for the general welfare of the people.”
Wood blamed the uproar on critics who “did not read the actual article or pause to consider Gilley’s points” – including that any modified colonialism would need to be “consensual” on the part of the governed nation. “Anyone who actually reads the article will see his thoughtful tone and good will.”