Jenna Robinson, president of the Martin Center for Academic Renewal, said Republicans tend to disapprove of higher education due to ideological differences and the majority of university students and faculty tend to be liberal.
"I think there is a fundamental disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on important ideological issues, and most campuses are liberal," Robinson said. "There’s been a lot of media coverage of liberal incidents on university campuses — I think that Republicans on average disagree with the cultural zeitgeist at universities."
The Gallup survey found Republicans were more than twice as likely to have confidence in community colleges compared to four-year colleges and universities. English related the difference back to conservatives being uncomfortable with challenging traditional thought.
“The term 'universities' connotes a radical place for unconventional thinking,” English said. “Higher education is more neutral and community college is the perpetuation of the social status quo.”
Robinson explained the difference by saying community colleges are not as political as four-year universities and are less restrictive on freedom of speech for conservatives.
“I think community colleges haven’t come under the same kind of scrutiny,” Robinson said. “You don’t hear community colleges disinviting former President George Bush to speak, for example, you don’t hear instances of speakers at community colleges being shouted down by Antifa supporters. There is at least some idea that community colleges are not political. They are a no-nonsense place you go to get education.”
Robinson said universities can increase Republicans' confidence in their institutions by having less-restrictive speech policies and having more diversity in thought on campus. She pointed to UNC as an example for other universities to follow, citing the University's green light rating in free speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
“Administrators have a strong role to play, they can make it clear to students and faculty that they won’t tolerate invited speakers being shouted down — or that if someone is invited, they won’t be disinvited because some element of the campus community doesn’t like what the speaker has to say.” Robinson said. “I think some universities have done that, UNC-Chapel Hill has been very good about making it clear free speech is something that is important.”
While Robinson believes increasing Republican’s confidence in universities is a matter of free speech and diversity, English said people should be more aware of the great benefits that stem from university research — allowing progress in medicine, technology and thought.
“Universities are places where traditions are challenged — not everyone thinks this is wonderful,” English said. “It might help to remind the public of times when initial discoveries didn’t immediately improve anything, but over time led to enormous benefits.”