Instructor has Parting Words for CU · 21 April 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage

By David Harsanyi--Denver Post--04/18/05

Six weeks ago, a teacher named Phil Mitchell reluctantly spoke to me about his unjust and forced exit from the history staff at the University of Colorado after 21 years in the classroom.

All the evidence, notwithstanding the tortured spin of CU and its defenders, was that Mitchell, a reliable and well-regarded instructor, was being "let go" because of conservative political and evangelical Christian beliefs.

Mitchell, who by the time I spoke with him was exploring job opportunities in more hospitable environs, decided to come forward with his complaints about the lack of diversity that hampered any true ideological debate.

He believed his story would ease the plight of other conservative teachers on campus. (Or wait, was it the other conservative teacher on campus? I forget.) And Mitchell was willing to tell anyone who would listen.

"When I told you to forward my number to everyone who called," Mitchell explained to me, "I didn't think everyone would call."

Within 48 hours, Mitchell appeared on "The O'Reilly Factor," MSNBC's "Scarborough Country," a dozen talk-radio shows and was the subject of numerous print interviews and stories.

Believe it or not, the heightened interest in Mitchell's plight wasn't spurred by my first-class writing abilities.

It was triggered by the growing resentment of roughly 51 percent of Americans whose ideas and beliefs are, at best, ignored and, at worst, mocked and discarded at universities across the country.

Why? The best reason offered yet was by Robert Brandon, chairman of the philosophy department at Duke University, who explained that he tries "to hire the best, smartest people available. If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire."

A pretty funny joke; even for an uptight lefty philosophy professor.

But, hey, we conservatives are trying our best to keep up.

We understand, for instance, it's accepted orthodoxy among the enlightened that conservatives are brainless hicks - you know, dummies who believe the teachings of genuine liberals such as Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman are still relevant.

Mitchell, a dumb conservative who earned his Ph.D. at CU, was one of the speakers Friday at a committee hearing on higher education at the state Capitol that addressed many of these topics of academic freedom and tenure.

Committee hearings are usually about as interesting as watching slugs race - and about as productive. So I was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful and informative speakers from both sides.

As for Mitchell, he has plenty of ideas about changing the way CU works and believes the first step in the rehabilitation of any university is acknowledging there is a problem.

"The leadership in higher education has to confess," explains Mitchell. "We have the least diversity in the place it matters most - ideas."

He believes it is necessary to establish independent, competitive departments and to end faculty self-governance - which, this committee hearing uncovered, is the only governance there really.

Mitchell believes it will take affirmative action to restore ideological balance. And he believes this can only be accomplished by adding the word "political" to campus diversity statements.

Mitchell's finest suggestion, however, is certainly not a new one: Give state higher-ed funding directly to students in the form of vouchers and let them choose whether they want to attend a college that employs a Ward Churchill or a Phil Mitchell.

If CU ever had to fight for their dollars, you'd see Thomas Sowell, Victor Davis Hanson and the entire editorial staff of the Weekly Standard named visiting professors quicker than you could say the words "academic freedom."

Now that's a school I could support.

David Harsanyi's column appears Monday and Thursday. He can be reached at 303-820-1255 or