The Princeton Review’s recent ranking of the University of Dallas is not one that most universities would seek or have any hope of achieving even if they wanted it.
At UD, though, many students and alumni took a sense of pride at the ranking and shared the article across social media.
But even as some celebrate the title as evidence of UD’s orthodox Catholicity and political morality, others worry it debases a more nuanced sense of the school and undermines the reality that there are a multiplicity of opinions among the students and faculty.
English professor Dr. Andrew Osborn fears the ranking could create an image of a campus with a rigid ethos that fails to accurately reflect the dialogue that occurs in the classroom.
“I don’t think any institution as big as we are can be monolithic,” Osborn said. “More than other universities, we are in danger of seeming so. I was disconcerted not only because I don’t think it is advantageous … to be known for such an extreme, but also because I think there is a substantial, often silent minority, or even majority, of faculty and students for whom that is not an accurate descriptor. I don’t see how the health of the university is served by being numero uno in that category.”
Director of Campus Ministry and UD alumnus Nick Lopez also shared concern for the perception of UD.
“UD has always been a traditionally conservative school,” Lopez said. “Personally, I fear being too far conservative, or even too far liberal, narrows the opportunity for dialogue and learning, which can harm the student body on campus if it does follow one of the [political] extremes.”
Osborn says he was not surprised that UD’s undergraduate student body was among the most conservative, but he was surprised at the number one ranking.
“I would have thought [that] the independent thinkers aspect of our sensibilities would have carried over more,” Osborn said.
However, Osborn has felt that UD’s overtly conservative disposition has affected his teaching in the classroom.
“I have found myself saying things that were ‘right’ within this community, knowing that they would go down well among my listeners,” Osborn said. “Unfortunately, on occasion I have said things that are not true to my way of thinking, effectively letting myself be ventriloquized by the expectations of my audience. That’s terrible. That’s not me teaching the truth. That’s me preaching to the choir in order to please instead of inform.”
Senior human sciences major Andrew Doyle, a former officer in the Multicultural Student Association, has felt a similar pressure on the student side.
“In my politics class my professor said on day one ‘I am conservative and a Republican,’ and he told us his opinions on each issue,” Doyle said. “There is a fear that if I speak up and all the other students disagree with me, I’ll be the odd man out and be judged for it. In class there are people with strong or even hateful views that are not called out for it.”
The hope moving forward, Osborn says, is for a discussion on how UD defines conservative.
“What I want is for people at UD whose job is to shape our ethos and public profile … to think about this issue,” Osborn said. “Please, whoever speaks on behalf of the university: Condition and qualify that word conservative, and help people outside understand that it does not equate to ‘We’re all Trump voters or Republicans.’ Neither of those is the case. Having a high-profile, broad conversation regarding what we’re talking about when we call ourselves conservative would be good for us.”
For Lopez, the survey perhaps unfairly elicited extreme responses and the magazine offered an equivocal definition of conservative.
“The magazine meant a particular kind of political conservatism,” Lopez said. “The survey did not leave room for nuance.”
Doyle would also welcome a discussion about authentic conservatism, seeing a key distinction in belief and practice.
“There is a difference between being conservative and having hateful views against the LGBTQ community or holding Nazi, racist or Islamophobic views,” Doyle said. “I have friends here who are conservative, but they aren’t hateful. A lot of people here do step into hate, and they use their Catholic faith to justify it in a way that it should not be used according to Church teaching. It’s very hypocritical to be of a religion of love but then hate people for being gay or Muslim.”