CMC Has a Viewpoint Diversity Problem
In 2018, the CMC Board of Trustees published a memo detailing their Open Academy commitments to “freedom of expression, viewpoint diversity, and effective dialogue.” As part of this commitment, the Board vowed to strengthen “student recruiting, faculty and staff hiring, curricular offerings and syllabi choices, invited speakers and engaged formats at the Athenaeum that both bring and take full advantage of viewpoint diversity (whether it derives from experience or belief systems or any combination of the two).” Put simply, the Board committed to recruiting more ideologically diverse students and faculty. The question is: does the data reflect the Board’s commitment to viewpoint diversity?
CMC’s oldest available viewpoint diversity data is from the Salvatori Center’s 2016 political attitudes survey, which was conducted 2 years before the 2018 Open Academy memo. According to the data, 53 percent of CMC students identified as liberal, 25 percent as moderate, and 21 percent as conservative, with a liberal-to-conservative ratio of 2.5 to 1. While not perfect, this breakdown reflects a fairly ideologically diverse student body for an elite liberal arts institution.
Seven years later, despite the Board’s intervening commitment to viewpoint diversity, ideological diversity at CMC has declined sharply. According to 2024 survey data from CollegePulse and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), 58 percent of CMC students identify as liberal, 20 percent as moderate, and 12 percent as conservative, with a liberal-to-conservative ratio of almost 5 to 1. Over these seven years, the conservative population at CMC was cut in half.
In the 2018 memo, the Board pronounced that “since its founding, CMC has been a leader in ideological diversity.” Now, if you compare CMC to its peer institutions, CMC is no longer a leader in this regard. In FIRE’s 2024 data, 6 out of the 21 predominantly liberal private colleges with enrollments under 2,000 students had a lower liberal-to-conservative ratio than CMC: Washington and Lee University, DePauw University, Amherst College, Davidson College, Connecticut College, and Berea College. While CMC is still more ideologically diverse than many of its peer institutions like Pomona and Pitzer, CMC is no longer a leader among liberal arts colleges in regard to its ideological diversity.
This summer, I attended the Summer Honors Academy, an academic program at the American Enterprise Institute, which is nonpartisan but known as a center-right institution. According to the organization’s website, “the program gathers students from diverse ideological backgrounds for substantive dialogue and debate about the most pressing issues facing the country and world.” Every year, AEI publishes the political attitudes of its participants. In 2023, 48 percent of AEI students identified as conservative, 12 percent as moderate, and 30 percent as liberal, with a conservative-to-liberal ratio of just over 1.5. It’s disappointing that an ideologically oriented organization can attract a greater modicum of political diversity than CMC, a non-ideological liberal arts college purportedly committed to viewpoint diversity.
As a disclaimer, given the small sample sizes, the possible response bias, and other difficulties, no political attitude survey of the CMC student body will be perfect. Some have critiqued FIRE’s methodology and rightly indicated the difficulty of drawing conclusions from the data. That said, the data seem to paint a bleak picture of the outlook for ideological diversity at CMC. Political ideology ratios are also a blunt metric for viewpoint diversity. Geographic, religious, socioeconomic, and ethnic diversity likewise enrich campus discourse. Regardless, political diversity is probably the best proxy we have for viewpoint diversity.
If the Board truly values viewpoint diversity at CMC, they must renew their commitment and address the sharp decline in students who identify themselves as conservative. In the board’s own words, “freedom of expression without an equal commitment to viewpoint diversity is of little value.”