[This is our second post on how to choose a college with viewpoint diversity. See our first post here]

Heterodox Academy is working on a college guide so that students and parents can identify schools with enough viewpoint diversity to permit political dissent and debate. Our guide will eventually collect systematic data based on surveys and faculty political donations. But for those who can’t wait, a resource is already available that can help them evaluate the political climate on many college campuses.

Since 1998 the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) has published a guide, Choosing the Right College, that evaluates colleges based on cost, curriculum, and political climate. Founded in 1953 (William F. Buckley was its first president), ISI has served as a conservative counterweight to campus leftism. Like Buckley’s National Review, ISI has been a fusionist institution seeking to harmonize social conservatism and economic libertarianism. But progressives will benefit from the guide too – viewpoint diversity is good for everyone. Very few schools lean right, so the ISI guide can help everyone find left-leaning schools that are not oppressively orthodox.

In Choosing the Right College, ISI offers a survey of 148 colleges for those who share its concerns about higher education. It is designed to help conservatives, students of faith, and anyone else desiring a traditional liberal arts education identify and avoid “problems endemic at many schools.” These problems include in their words:

  • “Colleges are too expensive.”
  • “Universities emphasize research at the expense of teaching. “
  • “Too many college majors fail to offer a real education.”
  • “Many college dorms are unsanitary hellholes or sinkholes of booze and vice.”
  • “At some schools, teachers or administrators try to bully or indoctrinate students into towing a narrow, ‘politically correct’ line on intellectual, moral, and religious issues.”

Colleges, ISI warns, often increase tuition to pay for “salaries for useless administrators (‘diversity’ consultants and sports media flacks),” outsource teaching to graduate assistants, offer no meaningful core curriculum, and emphasize a party culture not conducive for serious study. In addition to evaluating elite universities and liberal arts colleges, ISI identifies “Blue Collar Ivies” and smaller, typically religious schools that it believes offer the best value, emphasize teaching, and provide options for students who want to avoid the “substance abuse” and “hookup culture” in many dorms.

To measure the academic seriousness of an institution, ISI examined the faculty and course offerings in three departments, English, History, and Political Science. In English, it looked for that classes focusing on great authors in the western literary tradition but without an emphasis on trendy and politicized literary theories.  “Avoid,” ISI urges, “classes that mention ‘race,’ ‘class,’ or ‘gender.’” In short, study Chaucer and Shakespeare but leave the “fecopoetics” and deconstructionism behind. History departments should require classes that cover more than post-1965 American protest movements. And Political Science departments should require courses in classical political philosophy and the U.S. Constitution. If a department’s course offerings are skewed toward “Marxist meta-analysis of postcolonial Asia,” students should look elsewhere.

For Heterodox Academy readers, ISI’s evaluations of campus politics will be the most interesting parts of the guide. To help readers navigate this “political atmosphere,” the guide rates each school with a red, yellow, or green light. Receiving a red light means that a school is an unsafe zone particularly for religious students and political conservatives. A yellow light means be careful. And a green light means that a school is generally safe for intellectual minorities. Schools receiving a red light typically have a record of suppressing conservative and religious voices, imposing campus speech codes, implementing anonymous bias reporting systems, and restricting the ability of conservative and religious groups to organize. To supplement these measures, ISI asked its network of students and faculty to provide evaluations of their home institution.  Among ISI’s worst offenders were many of the schools that have recently been rocked by campus protests; the University of Missouri, Amherst College, Wesleyan University, and Vanderbilt University.

ISI is particularly concerned with vague speech codes that turn campus politics into a tyranny of emotions. Often relying on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education invaluable ratings of university speech policies, ISI advises students to avoid institutions where they can be hauled up on harassment charges merely for offering ideas that offend the feelings of tender students unaccustomed to anyone disagreeing with them.

The University of Missouri is a good example. Considering the recent protests, ISI’s red light for the campus looks prescient.  “Don’t even think about name-calling at Mizzou. Or sending off-color texts or Facebook postings,” ISI warns. “You could get reported to the Equity Office through the much-advertised “See It, Hear It, Report It” initiative that encourages students—with abundant flyers around the school and on the university’s website—to report any incident of bias.” One pro-life student told ISI, “I feel shunned and unwelcome. Students can be extremely cruel.”

ISI’s yellow light for Yale also looks more accurate in light of the recent attacks on Nicholas and Erika Christakis. While ISI concludes that with its “Sex Week” and generally libertine culture, Yale is “a microcosm of America’s degenerating social elite,” the political climate was not as bad as it could  have been “Most intolerance,” ISI reports, “faced by conservatives on campus seems to originate with students, who are quick to ostracize outspoken traditionalists.” It was, after all, the Christakises who defended free speech and advised students to not be so quick to take offense.

So overall how many schools make the political grade for ISI? Of the 148 schools evaluated, 21 received a red light, 53 a yellow light, and 74 a green light. Those numbers are skewed, however, since ISI intentionally selected many schools such as Hillsdale College, Grove City College, and Thomas Aquinas College that it knows are more welcoming to conservative students. The guide is, after all, supposed to be a resource for conservatives. A random selection of schools would certainly have led ISI to give a lower percentage of green lights. ISI also acknowledges that many conservative schools would not be particularly comfortable for liberal students. A self-identified progressive atheist or a student looking to party would not find Patrick Henry College or Ave Maria University the place to enroll. Then again, there is no shortage of schools for partiers or progressives.
Many of the schools given a green light by ISI are not private, distinctly religious schools. Almost half are public universities such as Florida State University, and the Universities of Virginia, Kansas, Kentucky, Georgia, and Connecticut.  But reinforcing what Jon Shields and I found in our research for Passing on the Right, a disproportionate number of green light schools, both public and private, are located in the South.

While one could criticize Choosing the Right College for missing some pockets of political diversity (Missouri’s Political Science department happens to have a number of conservatives) or not evaluating more disciplines or schools, overall the guide provides a valuable analysis of campus life from a conservative perspective. In fact, the guide’s greatest weakness is that ISI is not going to publish it after 2015. We hope that another organization will take over the project. (Note: FIRE will continue its speech code ratings.)

In the meantime, at Heterodox Academy we will work to provide additional measures to help provide a more comprehensive picture of intellectual diversity in higher education.

Here are the ISI ratings.

Red Light Schools

1. Amherst College
2. Barnard College
3. Bryn Mawr College
4. Bucknell University
5. College of the Holy Cross
6. Duke University
7. Georgia Institute of Technology
8. Grinnell College
9. Indiana University– Bloomington
10. Mount Holyoke College
11. Oberlin College
12. Rutgers University
13. Smith College
14. University of Massachusetts—Amherst
15. University of Missouri
16. University of Oregon
17. University of Rhode Island
18. University of Vermont
19. Vanderbilt University
20. Vassar College
21. Wesleyan University

Yellow Light Schools

1. Bates College
2. Berea College
3. Bowdoin College
4. Brandeis University
5. Brooklyn College
6. Brown University
7. Centre College
8. Colby College
9. Colgate University
10. Columbia University
11. Cornell University
12. Dartmouth College
13. Emory University
14. Fordham University
15. Georgetown University
16. Harvard University
17. Johns Hopkins University
18. Kenyon College
19. Middlebury College
20. New York University
21. Northwestern University
22. Ohio State University
23. Pennsylvania State University
24. Providence College
25. Rice University
26. Sarah Lawrence College
27. Stanford University
28. Swarthmore College
29. Temple University
30. Tufts University
31. University of Arizona
32. University of Arkansas
33. University of California Berkeley
34. University of California—Los Angeles
35. University of Colorado-Boulder
36. University of Delaware
37. University of Hawaii—Manoa
38. University of Idaho
39. University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign
40. University of Iowa
41. University of Minnesota—Twin Cities
42. University of North Dakota
43. University of Notre Dame
44. University of Pennsylvania
45. University of Southern California
46. University of Texas—Austin
47. University of Washington
48. University of Wisconsin—Madison
49. Wellesley College
50. Wheaton College
51. Whitman College
52. Williams College
53. Yale University

Green Light Schools

1. Alice Lloyd College
2. Auburn University
3. Ave Maria University
4. Baylor University
5. Belmont Abbey College
6. Berry College
7. Boston College
8. Boston University
9. California Institute of Technology
10. Carnegie Mellon University
11. Catholic University of America
12. Christendom College
13. Claremont Colleges
14. College of Charleston
15. College of the Ozarks
16. College of William and Mary
17. Cooper Union
18. Florida State University
19. George Mason University
20. Gordon College
21. Grove City College
22. Hampden Sydney College
23. Haverford University
24. Hillsdale College
25. Louisiana State University
26. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
27. North Carolina State University
28. Patrick Henry College
29. Pepperdine University
30. Princeton University
31. Seton Hall University
32. Southern Methodist University
33. St. John’s College
34. State University of New York—Binghamton
35. Texas A&M University
36. The King’s College
37. Thomas Aquinas College
38. Tulane University
39. United States Air Force Academy
40. United States Military Academy
41. United States Naval Academy
42. University of Alabama
43. University of Alaska
44. University of California—Santa Barbara
45. University of Chicago
46. University of Connecticut
47. University of Dallas
48. University of Florida
49. University of Georgia
50. University of Kansas
51. University of Kentucky
52. University of Maine
53. University of Maryland
54. University of Michigan
55. University of Mississippi
56. University of Montana
57. University of Nebraska—Lincoln
58. University of Nevada
59. University of New Hampshire
60. University of New Mexico
61. University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill
62. University of Oklahoma
63. University of South Dakota
64. University of Tennessee
65. University of the South
66. University of Utah
67. University of Virginia
68. University of Wyoming
69. Villanova University
70. Wabash College
71. Wake Forest University
72. Washington and Lee University
73. Washington University in St. Louis
74. West Virginia University