The University of Chicago Institute of Politics (IOP) recently announced an overwhelmingly left-of-center lineup of fellows for the winter–spring 2023 term. Of the eight fellows the IOP selected, only one is a conservative; the other seven are elected Democrats or left-wing media voices. The result will be a more narrow-minded and less-informed student body.
Beto O’Rourke, a former Democratic congressman from Texas who has more recently undertaken a string of unsuccessful campaigns, is perhaps the best-known member of the IOP’s cohort. When he campaigned for the presidency in 2020, O’Rourke proudly declared, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” In 2022, O’Rourke ran for governor of Texas on a “progressive message,” generating controversy when he interrupted his opponent’s press conference about the tragic mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
The IOP’s other fellows this term are former U.S. Representative Peter Meijer (R., Michigan); Adrian Perkins, a former Democratic mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana; former U.S. Representative Tim Ryan (D., Ohio); former Governor Steve Sisolak (D., Nevada); Heather Cherone, a political reporter for Chicago’s WTTW; and Matthew Yglesias, a political analyst and the co-founder of Vox.
Rounding out the list is Robin Rue Simmons, a former Democratic alderwoman from Evanston, Illinois, who stewarded “the nation’s first municipally-funded reparations legislation for Black residents.”
Taking the Past as a Benchmark, the IOP’s Roster is Remarkably Left-Wing
Since its inception in 2013, the IOP has named a cohort of three to eight Pritzker fellows each academic quarter. Past IOP fellows include elected officials, journalists, activists, policymakers, and diplomats. Fellows’ responsibilities involve delivering seminars on their areas of expertise and hosting one-on-one interactions with students during regular office hours.
The IOP’s cohorts generally skew left, but the UChicago-affiliated institute usually strives for some form of political balance, often tapping multiple right-of-center journalists, lawmakers, or activists for fellowships. This term’s unprecedented concentration of left-wing figures is especially egregious in that it does not even feign ideological balance.
The only conservative fellow, Peter Meijer spent just two years in Congress but gained a reputation as a moderate Republican willing to publicly confront his own party. He made national headlines for voting to impeach then-President Donald Trump after the Capitol riot and for supporting the establishment of the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack.
Meijer proceeded to lose his high-profile 2022 Republican primary election to John Gibbs, who positioned himself to the right of Meijer and claimed Trump’s endorsement.
Though only the most moderate Republicans pass IOP muster, the organization has no qualms about recruiting far-left progressives who hold views far outside of the political mainstream. Winter 2023 fellow Robin Rue Simmons, for instance, is a leading national voice on reparations for black Americans. In addition to leading the charge to pass the nation’s first municipally-funded reparations legislation for black residents in Evanston, Illinois, she founded FirstRepair, a non-profit organization that promotes similar legislation nationally.
Meanwhile, fellow Matthew Yglesias contended on his Substack in 2021 that “it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Republican Party has become a dangerous authoritarian movement.”
The IOP Hurts Students the Most
While each of the IOP’s fellows undoubtedly brings valuable experience and insight to the University of Chicago, the lack of ideological diversity among them is a missed opportunity for students.
For one, the University of Chicago boasts a sizable conservative student population that will lose the opportunity to hear directly from conservative leaders and build connections that would further their careers in policy, law, and media.
Left-of-center students will miss out, too, in that they will not have the opportunity to critically examine and further develop their own beliefs after hearing from the best proponents of an opposing worldview. As John Stuart Mill famously quipped, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”
Worse yet, in selecting such an imbalanced cast of fellows, the IOP appears to have violated its own mandate to offer diverse perspectives that force students to engage critically with their existing beliefs. Whatever happened to IOP founding director David Axelrod’s commitment to amalgamate “high-level practitioners from across the political spectrum to share their insights and experiences”?
* The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.