Rethinking liberalism

In “Balancing Beliefs: How Faculty Politics Fit in at Williams,” Jeff Nelson addressed the distressingly “predominantly liberal” professoriate which so clearly lacks “a wide breadth of ideologies.” This exposé brought to mind a comment by West Virginia novelist Mary Lee Settle: “when did ‘liberal’ become a dirty word?”  The article insinuates that Republicans are not liberal, and rightfully so – that being non-liberal is a respectable position, probably held by a majority of Americans. (Forget the Marshall Plan or George Bush’s new AIDS policy. Americans are not really into that stuff).

Much as Reagan’s biographers can’t quite bring themselves to call the 1987 arms reduction treaty the liberal document it was, “conservative” pundits on this campus can’t quite stomach using words that would put Nancy Pelosi and Ronald Reagan in the same boat – the boat of human rights, for instance. It may work on Fox but it should not work here, especially in an analysis of the overall quality of our professors.

Liberalism and conservatism are not the exclusivities that divide our faculty from the majority of Americans, or from the so-called ‘conservative’ voice on this campus; they are, like “flexible” and “sustainable,” words that all of us should use to qualify, and clarify, our beliefs. If you mean to imply that this campus is stiflingly rife with environmentalist, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-affirmative action, international-oriented, minority-studies concentrated, nerdy faculty who all vote Democrat, then say so. But don’t be lazy and call them liberals.

Mike Eros ’04