Chapter 6

Kinds of Environments

It makes even less sense to try to rank college environments than to try to rank the "top ten" or "top twenty" colleges academically. The same social, or even physical, surroundings that make one person happy and productive can weigh like a terrible burden on another. Many people find the Los Angeles climate delightful, but those with respiratory problems can find it distressing or even dangerous, because of the smog. Being far away from home can create a feeling of liberation for some and a feeling of abandonment for others. With environments, even more than with academics, the crucial question is whether there is a match or a mismatch between the individual and the institution.

Things that are environmental are not necessarily incidental. Sometimes they can make or break the whole college experience. Being surrounded by people whose attitudes, values, and beliefs are all radically different from your own can be very trying for four years—or may even make it unlikely that you will last the four years. The physical safety of the environment is also not a trivial consideration—certainly not to someone who has been mugged, raped, or stabbed. Not all environmental features are negative, of course. On some campuses you may discover an environment richer in every way than anything you have ever known and make friends you will cherish for a lifetime. A whole galaxy of ideas and cultural enlightenment may open up for you.

Colleges differ as much in environments as they do in other ways. Some of these differences, such as in food or in the noise level in the dormitories, can only be checked in person during a campus visit. These are left for Chapter 10. Some other important environmental features to consider in this chapter include (1) location, (2) the sexual environment, and (3) the presence or absence of tolerance for divergent views.


The location of a college matters in a number of ways. If the college is located in or near an urban high-crime area, that obviously matters to everyone. For some, location in an isolated rural setting matters—either positively or negatively. Going to college in a different geographic region can mean being suddenly surrounded by an entirely different lifestyle, and that in turn can be either refreshing or depressing.

Subtle regional differences in behavior can lead to misunderstandings, even when the people involved are not fundamentally different. For example, people in California are more likely to smile at strangers or to start up conversations with them than people are in the northeast. A young woman from California who goes to college in New York or Boston and goes around smiling at young men and starting up conversations with them may find her intentions misunderstood and her life complicated as a result.

Those who want diversity rather than a different uniformity may be happier in a college that attracts students from around the country, rather than one representing only the culture and values of its own region. Here, certain college guides such as Cass & Birnbaum's Comparative Guide to American Colleges can be very useful when they list the geographical origins of some colleges' students. While nationally renowned institutions generally draw students from all over the country and from overseas, this is of course not true of most state colleges and universities. Conversely, there are some institutions that are not nationally renowned which nevertheless have regionally diverse student bodies. The Florida Institute of Technology, for example, has as many students from New England as from the South. As with so many other things, each institution will have to be checked out individually.

How important location is will obviously vary with how adaptable you are. But even those who think of location as incidental may want to reconsider after reflecting on some of the problems connected with distance from home or large differences in climate from what you are used to.

Distance from home affects more than the psychological impact of going away to college. Distance from home is an important financial factor as well. There is not only the cost of going at the beginning of the academic year and returning at the end, but also all the trips back and forth for Christmas and at other holiday periods or breaks between terms. Staying on campus at such times may not even be possible at some colleges, because they simply close up the dormitories. Even when it is possible to remain on campus, it can be a depressing experience to see a familiar setting suddenly become a ghost town, as everyone else heads home.

It may be especially depressing during the freshman year, when so many other problems and adjustments weigh on you. Going home can re-charge your batteries. There is a big difference between being alone on a deserted campus and being the center of attention to family and friends at holiday time.

How many breaks in the academic schedule there are depends on the college and how many trips home obviously varies with the individual and the budget. A common pattern, however, would include the trip to college at the beginning of the academic year (one way), trips home for Thanksgiving break (round trip), Christmas break (round trip), Spring break (round trip), and then the return home at the end of the academic year (one way). Even if you don't go beyond this modest schedule, that is still covering the distance between college and home eight times a year. It can matter financially whether that distance represents a couple of hours on a bus or a transcontinental plane ride.

To those who have to keep an eye on the budget, the cost of several trips a year can be very significant. It may be worth a call to an airline or a bus company to find out exactly how much, as one item to consider when choosing a college. The difference between $100 and $300 for a trip from home to colleges at different distances may not seem like much, but when you multiply it by a few trips a year, it can easily add up to a difference of a thousand dollars or more, on top of all the other costs of college.

While the cost of transportation is a factor to keep in mind—which means to write down, if you are serious—it would be a mistake to eliminate any college from consideration at the outset because of its distance. Only after learning specifically what financial aid you will be awarded will you know how much the other costs of college will be in reality for you. Your own personal costs are what matter, not the numbers printed in catalogues and brochures. Those numbers are just list prices, in a market where there are usually large and varying discounts.

An important feature to check into after you have narrowed your choice of colleges down to a handful is the climate at each of the places remaining on your short list. Someone from Florida who leaves home for the first time to go to college in Minnesota may be in for quite a shock from the weather, on top of all the other changes and stresses that plague the freshman year. Even aside from temperature differences, some people from sunny climates may become depressed in places where leaden, overcast skies prevail for weeks on end. If you are thinking about Cornell University or the University of Michigan, this kind of weather is a fact of life to consider, along with heavy snowfalls. Seattle has a relatively mild climate the year around—but it receives only about half the sunshine of Phoenix, Arizona.

When considering colleges a long way from home, it would be a mistake to assume that they have similar climates when they are in the same state. On the Pacific coast, especially, there may be very large variations in weather within a few miles. In Los Angeles, it is not uncommon for coastal areas to have summertime temperatures in the 60s while downtown L.A. has temperatures in the 90s—and parts of the city located in the San Fernando Valley may hit 100 at the same time. Colleges located in the coastal regions of southern California in general have not only significantly different temperature patterns from inland colleges but also very different amounts of fresh air and smog. Pepperdine University is only about 50 miles from Whittier College, but Pepperdine is on a hill overlooking Malibu Beach and gets fresh ocean breezes, while Whittier is out in the smoggy area north of Disneyland. Anyone with respiratory problems would be well advised to consult a physician before considering any of the colleges in the eastern part of the Los Angeles basin, even though there are many fine academic institutions in that area, including Cal Tech and the whole Claremont group of colleges.

In Washington state and Oregon, coastal areas differ from inland areas somewhat in temperature but much more so in rainfall. The University of Washington in Seattle gets several times the rainfall of Whitman College, located further inland in the same state. While visiting the University of Puget Sound on a bright sunny day, I noticed that the local residents spoke of the weather as an almost miraculous event. The University of Puget Sound is located in Tacoma, not far from Seattle, and gets the heavy rainfall and lingering overcasts typical of the Washington and Oregon coasts.

If rainfall doesn't bother you but bitter cold does, then the coastal Pacific Northwest may be an attractive area. Although Seattle is much farther north than Washington, D.C., winter temperatures are virtually the same in the two cities. Seattle is one degree warmer in January and three degrees warmer in February. Both cities have significantly milder winters than New England, the Great Lakes region, or the Northern Plains states.

Except for people with health problems, or people whose moods are seriously affected by gloomy weather or bitter cold, or devotees of tennis or skiing, it probably isn't worth going very deeply into the climate patterns at various colleges until the number of institutions has been reduced to perhaps half a dozen that you are pretty sure you want to apply to. Then it may be worthwhile to start getting some very specific hard facts. Monthly temperature charts for various cities are available in the state-by-state "Tour Books" which the American Automobile Association provides free to its members. If you are not a member of AAA, you may want to write to the respective Chambers of Commerce in the communities where the colleges are located to ask for climate information. If you want to get into detail on things like rainfall, snowfall, and sunshine, the U.S. Bureau of the Census publishes a Climatic Atlas of the United States, which will tell you all you want to know, and more.

Campus visits are of very limited use as regards climate, since all you can see is the weather on the particular days when you happen to be there. In extreme cases, however—someone from the sun belt thinking of going to a college in the snow belt—it may be very useful for an Alabama or Arizona student to visit Carleton College in Minnesota or Middlebury College in Vermont in January, to see how it feels to be in freezing weather, or perhaps a blizzard. Conversely, someone from Massachusetts visiting the University of San Diego in January may decide, after a day at the beach, that it is too pleasant to pass up.


Sexual issues do not exist in isolation but affect the whole social atmosphere of a campus. The ease with which you can make friends, and the unspoken expectations surrounding these friendships, can be affected by whether the individual has been matched or mismatched with the college, in terms of values and attitudes. A girl who says "no" can find herself isolated on a campus where virtually all the other girls say "yes." Conversely, a girl who says "yes" can become an outcast on a campus where almost all the other girls say "no." Either situation can be especially painful at a small college, where everybody knows everybody else—and everybody else's business.

The policies, practices, and attitudes of colleges and their officials can influence the social environment, which can be of enormous importance to the personal as well as academic development of a student. The question is not whether the college's sexual restrictions (if any) are 100 percent effective against those determined to violate them, or whether students with traditional values will all succumb to campus permissiveness and peer pressure. There is a vast spectrum between these extremes, and the attitudes and expectations of a college, as well as its explicit policies, can influence where many students end up on that spectrum.

The Avant-Garde
Because attitudes and official policies on sexual questions are often radically different from what they were just 20 years ago, parents especially need to understand that their college memories may bear no resemblance whatever to the reality on some campuses today. For example, among the materials routinely handed out during registration at Dartmouth College is a "safer sex kit," described in its own literature as being "for everyone—homosexual, bisexual, and heterosexual." Included in the kit are devices for use in these various kinds of activity. After noting in passing that "abstinence is always an option," the literature urges the student to "be imaginative and creative" in sexual matters. Suggestions are offered.

Parental influence is finessed out of the picture early on in the principal booklet accompanying Dartmouth's "safer sex kit." According to the booklet, sex "is too important a personal decision" to let "someone else" decide, though you may "clarify your thinking by talking to friends." While parents are not included among those who have any clarification to offer, they are included among a list of people to turn to after a shattered "relationship" has turned out to be emotionally "devastating." In short, the parent's role is to help pick up the pieces afterward.

As with so many other aspects of choosing a college, it is necessary for parents and students to be clear in their own minds as to what they do and do not want, and to find out what the specifics are at any particular college being considered. This is especially so in this controversial area, where official policy is often camouflaged by words, to avoid the wrath of parents. "Intervisitation unlimited" is one of those cryptic phrases that many parents may pass over as just more dull academic jargon—unless they realize that it means the college does nothing to discourage men from spending the night in bed with their daughter.

"Sex education" is another phrase that often means far more than the words say. In colleges, as in so many other settings, "sex education" is not simply a matter of making certain biological or medical information available to students. It is the active promotion of a whole set of attitudes, beliefs, and values, often radically different from those acquired at home, and in one way or another presented as superior, more sophisticated, and more modern than what was taught by parents or by "society." This may or may not coincide with your views, either on sex or on the role of a college. Whatever your views, you need to understand that this is often the concrete reality behind the bland words, "sex education"—and that your decision is about this reality, not about what the words alone might suggest.

Although Dartmouth is among those in the vanguard of the sexual revolution on campus, it is by no means unique in using routine biological information—much of it already known in essence by the students—as a vehicle for transmitting new "sexual styles" and attitudes. Stanford's "sex education" material is even more plainly an incitement rather than a mere set of biological information. It includes a booklet entitled "SAFE SEX EXPLORER'S ACTION PACKED STARTER KIT HANDBOOK," which begins: "WELCOME EXPLORERS! THIS IS THE SAFE SEX UNIVERSE where you will find MANY NEW GALAXIES OF HOT & HEALTHY RISK REDUCTION, PLEASURE and PEACE OF MIND!!" It urges: "Take time for yourself each day specifically devoted to safe sex." Clinical language is in several places discarded for four-letter words as they offer suggestions for a wide variety of sexual practices, both homosexual and heterosexual. Even more devices are included for use in these various practices than are included in Dartmouth's kit.

At the University of Puget Sound, a full-page ad in the student newspaper shows two cartoon individuals with little hearts scattered around them and these words:

When it came to safe sex, I thought he'd be like all the rest . . . quick, boring and then long gone. How could I have known he had been to the workshop? How could I have known he was about to give me the most searingly romantic night of my life? And how could I have known he would want to stay? He gave me . . . "A dozen red condoms."
Just how cute this is obviously depends on your viewpoint and your values. Clearly, however, it is a work of advocacy rather than information.

Some sex education material at some institutions is in fact a sober, straightforward presentation of biological and medical information. The University of Connecticut, for example, provides this kind of sex education literature. However, the specifics must be determined by finding out just what "sex education" means at each institution.

Whether the incitement factor outweighs whatever medical information accompanies it in "sex education" material is a judgement that must be weighed by each individual. It should not be assumed, for example, that such material reduces the risk of pregnancy on net balance. Stanford alone averages more than a hundred unwanted pregnancies a year—and it is by no means unique.

On some campuses, homosexuality is a much larger phenomenon than many parents or students might imagine. It is not simply a question of there being some individuals of this sort but of organized, vocal, gay and lesbian organizations, whose promotion of their particular lifestyle has the active backing of the college authorities, who can be swift in their punishment of other students who express any criticism. If that seems hard to believe, some illustrations may be in order.

An article in The Wall Street Journal by the wife of a Yale University faculty member suggested that about one-fourth of Yale students were homosexuals. Though the figure was disputed, the influence of homosexuals at Yale cannot be. When their posters around campus for "gay awareness" were parodied by other posters put out by another student, that student was suspended for two years by the Yale administration—and warned that anything like that again would result in his permanent expulsion. The dean of Yale's own law school protested against the way the student was treated. Even violence on campus is seldom met with such severe punishment.

This episode was not unique. It symbolized the influence of an organized and vocal group which exists on a number of campuses, and which many parents and students may be wholly unaware of before choosing a college. At the University of Massachusetts, a student was threatened with expulsion merely for removing a poster put on a bulletin board by a homosexual organization. At Harvard, a student was suspended for removing a sign from a lunchroom table showing that that table was reserved for a gay and lebian organization.

On some campuses where any criticism of homosexuality brings condemnation of the critic as showing "homophobia" (sometimes punishable in the same way as racism), promotion of homosexuality is quite permissible, as in an advertisement in Dartmouth's student newspaper with this heading: "IF YOU'VE NEVER SLEPT WITH A PERSON OF THE SAME SEX, IS IT POSSIBLE THAT ALL YOU NEED IS A GOOD GAY LOVER?"

Those who are avant-garde may be cheered by such developments and those who are traditional may be appalled. Both need to be aware of such recent trends—and aware also of how the particular colleges they are considering do or do not participate in these trends.

The Traditional
Sexual policies vary as widely as all other policies at colleges and universities. There are institutions where most—or all—students live in single-sex dormitories, where attitudes and practices remain traditional, and where there are no homosexual organizations nor any known homosexuals. Often, these are schools which reflect traditional values in other ways as well. However, these are by no means all Bible Belt fundamentalist colleges. Institutions where less than half the women students live in coed dorms, and where male visitors cannot stay overnight in their rooms, stretch from coast to coast and cover an academic range that includes colleges whose students' average S.A.T. scores go from below the national average of about 900 to above 1200. Some have more than 7 percent of their graduates continue on to receive Ph.D.'s, which is to say that they are among the top 70 institutions in the country (out of about 3,000) in that regard.

While coed dormitories are a symbol of sharp policy changes by colleges during the current generation, the question is not simply whether there are coed dorms. The question is also what percentage of the students live in them, and under what rules—if any. Intervisitation policy is at least as important as coed dorms, and the two policies do not always go together. For example, Randolph-Macon College in Virginia has no coed dorms but allows unlimited visitations in rooms of the opposite sex, except where the students in particular dorms vote limitations of their own. Conversely, Santa Clara University in California has coed dorms (with men and women on separate floors) but prohibits overnight stays in rooms belonging to members of the opposite sex. Single-sex dorms at single-sex colleges likewise have intervisitation policies which range from some restricted weekend hours for male visitors at Agnes Scott College in Georgia to permitting overnight boy friends at Mills College in California. The only real restriction at Mills seems to be "in no case may an overnight guest stay for more than four consecutive nights."

Because coed dorms and unlimited visitation have become so widespread, those who are seeking either or both should have no problem finding them. College guides sometimes include such information in their descriptions of particular institutions but the brochures issued by the colleges themselves may avoid the subject entirely, for fear of arousing parental concerns. In any event, the sheer number of colleges and universities with coed dorms and/or unlimited visitation is far too large for them to be listed here.

The more difficult problem is for those parents and students who are seeking a more traditional kind of atmosphere. Not only must they search more; they may even be led to believe that "everybody" has coed dorms and unlimited access to the opposite sex. That is simply not true. Even in avant-garde California, Pepperdine University has no coed dorms and has a very restrictive policy on visits with the opposite sex, as well as a complete prohibition on alcohol. Pepperdine's undergraduates have very respectable academic credentials, and its business school is ranked among the best in the region.

Even in these enlightened and liberated times, still only women get pregnant. Parents of young women may therefore be especially concerned about the sexual atmosphere on campus. Moreover, some parents may not consider an all-female college a desirable alternative on various grounds, including militant lesbianism at some women's institutions, such as Smith College or Wellesley.

The following is a partial list of 50 co-educational colleges and universities where (1) less than half the women live in co-ed dorms, where (2) there are limitations of one sort or another on male visitors and where (3) the average S.A.T. or A.C.T. test score equals or exceeds the national average:

% of Women in
Co-ed Dorms
Assumption College 0 Worcester, MA 01609 S.A.T. 936
Auburn University 0 Auburn Univ., AL 36849-5425 S.A.T. 1067
Augustana College 2 Rock Island, IL 61201 A.C.T. 24.4
Austin College 28 Sherman, TX 75090 S.A.T. 1046
Baldwin-Wallace College 0 Berea, OH 44017 S.A.T. 927
Baylor University 0 Waco, TX 76798 S.A.T. 1039
Benedictine College 0 Atchison, KS 66002 A.C.T. 21
Berea College 0 Berea, KY 40403 S.A.T. 910
Berry College 0 Mount Berry, GA 30149 S.A.T. 979
Birmingham-Southern College* 0 Birmingham, AL 35204 A.C.T. 24.5
Briar Cliff College 33 Sioux City, IA 51104 A.C.T. 20.8
Calvin College 0 Grand Rapids, MI 49506 S.A.T. 1049
Canisius College 0 Buffalo, NY 14108 S.A.T. 1024
Catholic University* 15 Washington, DC 20064 S.A.T. 1050
Centenary College 0 Shreveport, LA 71134-1188 S.A.T. 1007
Coe College 16 Cedar Rapids, IA 52402 A.C.T. 23
Concordia College 0 Moorehead, MN 56560 A.C.T. 23
Davidson College* 31 Davidson, NC 28036 S.A.T. 1220
Furman University 0 Greenville, SC 29613 S.A.T. 1118
Grove City College 0 Grove City, PA 16127 S.A.T. 1066
Guilford College 10 Greensboro, NC 27410 S.A.T. 985
Hastings College 0 Hastings, NE 68901 A.C.T. 21
Hendrix College 18 Conway, Arkansas 72032 S.A.T. 1099
Hillsdale College 0 Hillsdale, MI 49242 S.A.T. 945
Hope College* 30 Holland, MI 49423 S.A.T. 1050
Houghton College 0 Houghton, NY 14744 S.A.T. 1068
Illinois Wesleyan University 14 Bloomington, IL 61701 A.C.T. 24.6
Miami University 15 Oxford, OH 45056 S.A.T. 1100
Millikin University 17 Decatur, IL 62522 A.C.T. 23.5
Millsaps College 5 Jackson, MS 39202 S.A.T. 1100
Moravian College 4 Bethlehem, PA 18018 S.A.T. 1016
Mount Union College 0 Alliance, OH 44601 S.A.T. 928
Otterbein College 4 Westerville, OH 43081 S.A.T. 932
Pepperdine Universit 0 Malibu, CA 90265 S.A.T. 1072
Rhodes College* 0 Memphis, TN 38112 S.A.T. 1157
Ripon College 17 Ripon, WI 54971 S.A.T. 1039
Rockford College 18 Rockford, IL 61108 S.A.T. 980
Stetson University 0 DeLand, FL 3270-3757 S.A.T. 1084
St. Norbert College 18 DePere, WI 54115 A.C.T. 22.5
Trinity University 30 San Antonio, TX 78284 S.A.T. 1205
University of Dallas 0 Irving, TX 75062 S.A.T. 1185
University of Dayton 0 Dayton, OH 45469 S.A.T. 992
University of Notre Dame 0 Notre Dame, IN 46556 S.A.T. 1198
University of Portland 0 Portland, OR 97203 S.A.T. 964
University of Richmond 0 Richmond, VA 23173 S.A.T. 1155
Ursinus College 16 Collegeville, PA 19426 S.A.T. 1095
Villanova University 0 Villanova, PA 19085 S.A.T. 1114
Wake Forest University 30 Winston-Salem, NC 27109 S.A.T. 1140
Wheaton College* (Illinois) 0 Wheaton, IL 60187 S.A.T. 1126
Wofford College 0 Spartanburg, SC 29301 S.A.T. 1041
*More than 7 percent of graduates go on to Ph.D.

This list, like other lists, is meant to be suggestive and a helpful starting point for your own investigation. It is not meant to be the last word. Certainly it does not mean that every college on this list will meet all the desires of those who want traditional living arrangements, not to mention other academic or environmental requirements. Nor does it mean that students in all other colleges left off the list have unlimited access to the opposite sex.

Purdue University, for example, is not on this list because its on- campus students are split evenly between single-sex dormitories and co-ed dormitories. However, it does not permit overnight visits with the opposite sex. Conversely, Davidson College is on the list but about half of all "sexually active" students there have the venereal disease chlamydia bacterium, according to the college physician. What percentage of Davidson students are in fact "sexually active" was not disclosed. Washington State University in Pullman, Washington was eligible for the list, since it has more women in single-sex dorms than in co-ed dorms and limits intervisitation. But it was not included because its intervisitation limit is 2 A.M. Obviously, these were judgement calls and the list could have been expanded or contracted by different judgements. In short, there is not a hard and fast line between traditional and other living arrangements. One shades off into the other. The 50 institutions listed are meant to show that rules do apply in many institutions and to suggest some to look at, if you are concerned about such things.

Campus visits are perhaps the best way to assess the situation as regards sexual policies and practices at a given college-especially if a student visitor stays in a dormitory overnight and can talk to other students there without parents or officials around. Parents can also get some information by asking frank questions in the admissions office and at the dean of students office (they may or may not say the same thing).

For those who do not make campus visits, questions may be asked of college representatives when they visit your high school. Telephone calls to the college campus may get information directly or through the mail. If the college has "sex education" material, ask to see it, offer to pay for it, including whatever kits may be supplied. If people you know are going to college there, ask them or their parents.

Two very different written sources of information on this subject may also prove useful to you: (1) Lisa Birnbach, chic and trendy author, and (2) conservative student newspapers at various colleges. Lisa Birnbach's College Book includes dating, sex, and the "gay situation" among the things she comments on in her descriptions of various institutions. Whether or not you share her breezy approach to some of these issues, she offers more of this kind of information and assessments than other college guides. Similarly, conservative student newspapers can be a useful source of information, whether you share their political views or not. Where there is a separate conservative student newspaper on campus, in addition to the official student newspaper, the writers on the more conservative paper tend to comment adversely from time to time on the sexual revolution on campus in general or homosexuals in particular. Whether or not you agree with their comments, you are more likely to get information from this quarter than from others who simply take for granted whatever the sexual attitudes and practices happen to be.


One of the things that makes a campus environment not only pleasant or unpleasant but also stimulating or stifling to your general development is the degree of toleration there. Like everything else, this varies enormously from college to college. They differ not only in how much toleration there is but also—and perhaps more importantly—in the particular things that are tolerated and not tolerated.

Yale's toleration of pro-homosexual posters obviously did not extend to toleration of anti-homosexual posters. At Dartmouth, pro-divestment demonstrators repeatedly violated campus rules and local laws with their disruptions, without being punished, but the first anti-divestment disruption was met with swift and lengthy suspensions of the students involved.

On various campuses around the country, virtually nothing promoting the "sexual revolution" is considered too disgusting to be permitted (including pornographic slides in class at Arizona State, a lecturer at Stanford advocating adults having sex with children, or classroom movies showing humans having sex with animals at San Francisco State) but an anti-abortion poster showing dead fetuses was banned at Oregon State as not showing "good taste."

Radical environmentalist Barry Commoner has no trouble giving a speech at Berkeley but Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick heads a long list of other speakers who have been unable to talk there because of disruptions. Similar censorship-by-disruption has occurred at colleges across the country over the past several years—at Harvard, Wellesley, Northwestern, Georgetown, and the universities of Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Colorado, among other places.

Not only students but even faculty members have taken part in disruptions and assaults on speakers, usually with impunity from both the law and from university punishment. A number of nationwide campus organizations have openly asserted that they will disrupt speakers whose opinions they find offensive. A faculty member affiliated with such an organization stormed onto the stage at Northwestern, seized the microphone from the speaker and declared: "He has no right to speak . . . He'll be lucky to get out of here alive." The speaker was in fact taken away as a protective precaution against the swarm of disrupters who had stormed on stage.

A series of similar assaults at Harvard have prevented speakers from being heard there and threatened their physical safety. Despite calls for punishment of disrupters by both the liberal Harvard Crimson and the conservative Harvard Salient, the college's Dean of the Faculty said: "We rely on basic human decency as the ultimate corrective mechanism to insure freedom of speech." Such tolerance of intolerance is not peculiar to Harvard, nor is the lofty rhetoric that he used to cover capitulation.

Refusal to prosecute assaults or to administer academic punishment to disrupters is the key to continuing censorship-by-disruption, on campuses across the country. In turn, this means that speakers likely to offend the disruptive elements are less likely to be invited—and less likely to accept, if they are.

What does this have to do with choosing a college? Just as you cannot know what you were not taught in a course, so you cannot know what you have not heard elsewhere on campus. On economic, political, and social issues, you need to hear a range of views for your own intellectual development, whether or not your opinion is changed. Stifling speakers means cheating you. On campuses where social science courses reflect a narrow range of views by ideologically committed professors, stopping outsiders from showing you other perspectives can mean cheapening your education. In this particular era, the political left has done the stifling. In other times and places, other political forces have done so. Educationally, it is all the same—and it is all negative.

What needs to be checked out about any college you are considering is not whether its politics are left or right, but whether there is honesty and diversity in the classrooms and on the campus. Find out who is invited to lecture on campus. If it is a steady diet of one viewpoint, that tells you something—no matter what that viewpoint is.

Intolerance on some campuses extends right into the classroom. At Kenyon College, during a campaign for radical feminism, women who went to class dressed in traditional fashion were subjected to embarrassment by students and faculty alike. At the University of Michigan, a student had her grade reduced in an English class because she used the word "Congressman" instead of her teacher's ideological preference, "Congressperson." At Howard University, a student who had written an editorial in the college newspaper, defending the landing of American troops in Grenada, was sitting quietly in class when he heard the professor refer to him as a "fascist." At Stanford, a young woman who wrote an essay in the student newspaper criticizing a statement by a Marxist professor later heard her essay denounced from the lecture platform by that professor in a stream of obscenities.

All too many put-downs of students for ideological reasons occur on other campuses. This is something to check out during a campus visit by talking to students. It is hard to know how else to discover such things, unless you happen to be sitting in on a class when it happens. If you are, be sure to ask students how common it is. Write down their answers in a notebook that you can go back to later, when it is time to choose a college.

Social life and even employment opportunities can be affected by intolerance on campus. Where many students are convinced that there is only one way to look at certain issues, anyone who sees it differently, or who simply refuses to take sides at all, can find it harder to make friends than those who go along wholeheartedly with whatever the prevailing belief happens to be.

Even your opportunities for summer jobs or future careers can be reduced on campuses with organized disruptions of recruiters for private companies or government agencies that are out of political favor with the student activists. Such employers may not be invited in by the college authorities, in order to avoid unpleasant scenes, or may not choose to come themselves if a needless hassle is likely. Whatever the immediate target of campus intolerance, the real loser may be you, not only intellectually and socially but in financial and career terms as well.

Copyright 1989 by Thomas Sowell
Reprinted with permission