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Failure to communicate how American progressive neoliberal campus policies contribute to conservative mistrust of higher education and skepticism towards research on anthropogenic global warming




Bork, Nathanial, author
McIvor, David, advisor
Cafaro, Phil, committee member
Hitt, Matthew, committee member
Mumme, Stephen, committee member

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When conservatives believe American universities implement policies that limit their free speech rights and demean their social identities, their support for the institution can decline. Negative partisanship and political polarization push consumption of agreeable media and distrust of antagonistic media, which means conservative media and social media are a major source of information about the contemporary university system for that population. I hypothesize that this is an important variable, among many, in understanding why conservatives reject environmental research on topics such as Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). To explain this phenomenon, I begin by reviewing the current research on conservative skepticism of AGW. I add to this literature through a treatment effect experiment I conducted, which reaffirms the findings of others that those on the political right perceive themselves as under threat on campus, which impacts their experiences in the classroom and their views of higher education. Second, I conduct a critical analysis of higher education as a progressive neoliberal university. I argue that, as a neoliberal institution, the contemporary university tries to operate as a financially successful organization that manages its resources, employees, and students efficiently; and as a progressive institution, it dedicates itself to bringing about social and political changes, especially through the use Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity (IED) policies, and that these two goals create conflicts with one another. Third, I use the work of the social theorist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas to diagnose these conflicts as social pathologies, both in terms of material harm to students and faculty, and as generating campus conditions which violate his 'ideal speech community,' which I use as my model of social health. I then look at Habermas's contributions to the disciplines of Discourse Theory and Public Deliberation, and demonstrate how these fields offer pathways to improving campus policies, which could hopefully improve the public perception of the university, and its research as being legitimate in our current hyper-partisan political environment. Fourth, I use Social and Political Psychology to explain why current approaches to gain the cooperation of conservatives on AGW initiatives are not working, and explain how understanding social identity, particularly partisan social identity, can produce Best Practices that reach people across the political spectrum and encourage deliberation and cooperation. Finally, I look at various reform proposals to higher education, which aim to achieve IED goals in ways that are also inclusive of conservative and heterodox thinkers, and explain why implementing them would benefit students, faculty, and administrators.


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environmental communication
higher education
social and political psychology
equity inclusion diversity
anthropogenic global warming
public deliberation


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