Texans have an awful lot to be proud of. In addition to its diverse population and food scene, its population boom in both the state’s big and small cities, and the Lone Star state’s dynamic innovation, tech, and commercial industries, Texas’s world-class intuitions of higher education are far more ideologically balanced and open to genuine viewpoint diversity than many other schools in the nation.
New data from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) captures the voices of over 37,000 students at 159 colleges, with seven schools in Texas and over 1,600 undergraduates represented. While almost half (43 percent) of the nation’s undergraduates are liberal and barely more than a tenth (14 percent) identify as conservative, Texas schools are appreciably more well-rounded.
For instance, at Houston’s Rice University — the most liberal school in the Texas sample — half (50 percent) of students identify as somewhat or very liberal while 7 percent identify as somewhat or very conservative, making it far less liberal than peer elite schools such as Washington University in St. Louis, where 67 percent of students are liberal and just 5 percent are conservative.
Texas’s remaining universities are even more balanced. At Texas A&M, there is ideological parity: 26 percent of undergraduates are liberal, 26 percent are conservative, and 39 percent are in the middle. At Texas Tech, conservative students slightly outnumber liberal ones (29 percent versus 25 percent), and the plurality (36 percent) are either in the middle or apolitical. Baylor University also has more conservative (35 percent) than liberal (23 percent) students with 37 percent in the middle — a conservative lean but very real viewpoint diversity nonetheless.
At Southern Methodist University, 38 percent of students are liberal compared to 21 percent conservative. Liberals outnumber conservatives at the University of Texas schools too: At UT Dallas, 42 percent of students are liberals while 11 percent are conservative. The numbers are similar at UT Austin, where 43 percent of students are liberal, 13 percent are conservative, and 37 percent are independents or apolitical. Even in these cases, where there are more liberals than conservatives on Texas’ university campuses, there remain sizable numbers of ideological independents and conservatives.
Beyond the ideological diversity of students on Texas’ university campuses, Texas’ students are also less likely to shout down speakers that come to campus or express willingness to use violence — behavior that is viewed as acceptable by many students in other parts of the country.
Only 60 percent of students at Southern Methodist University say there are situations where shouting down a speaker is an acceptable course of action. Even fewer students at Texas Tech (54 percent), UT-Dallas (55 percent), and Baylor University (56 percent) feel the same. At UT-Austin, 66 percent of students say this behavior is acceptable — the same as the national average. Visitors to Rice University should be worried, however, as nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of students there believe there are situations where shouting down a speaker could be an acceptable course of action. Still, the situation is far better elsewhere in Texas.
Further, Texas should be proud of the fact that its students are not looking to stop speech through intimidation. At Baylor, 40 percent of students say it is acceptable to block their peers from hearing a guest speaker — the same as the national average. Similar numbers of students at Rice University (41 percent), Texas A&M (41 percent), and Southern Methodist University (36 percent) feel the same way, as well as under a third at Texas Tech (30 percent) and UT-Dallas (29 percent). In comparison, at Northeast schools like Syracuse University, almost half (49 percent) of students think blocking their peers from hearing a speaker could be justified. Even more students at colleges like Smith (68 percent) or Barnard (70 percent) believe this behavior is acceptable.
The data clearly show that students at Texas schools are not supportive of violence on campus. Around a quarter (22 percent) of those at Southern Methodist University say such behavior could ever be acceptable — the same as the national average. About one in five students at Texas A&M (19 percent) and Rice University (19 percent) can justify violence, while just 10 percent of students at Texas Tech feel the same. Again, these numbers are far lower than those at peer institutions across the country. Close to 40 percent of students at Oberlin College (36 percent) and a third (32 percent) of students at UC-Santa Cruz believe that violence is an acceptable form of protest on campus.
Texas schools not only provide students with world-class educations, but they are also more ideologically balanced than their peer institutions in other parts of the country. These differences could be due to the fact that many Texas schools are concerned with both practical and theoretical matters in service to society, and do not have time for purely elite debates. As former general and statesman Sam Houston once said, “Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may.” It’s clear that Texas’ schools are carrying out that legacy.
Samuel J. Abrams is professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.