Do conservatives have a hard time getting tenure in American universities? David Brooks suggests as much in a NYT op-ed today. This isn’t David Horowitz-style ravings; Brooks makes a real argument. He quotes various conservative professors to say that:
A person who voted for President Bush may be viewed as an oddity, but the main problem in finding a job is that the sorts of subjects a conservative is likely to investigate – say, diplomatic or military history – do not excite hiring committees.
Brooks’ respondents may be right about history (although military history is making a bit of a comeback; look at Niall Ferguson). Even so, I think that Brooks exaggerates. While the average political scientist is somewhere to the left of the average punter, she isn’t all that far to the left. In my experience, most political scientists are moderate liberals, with substantial minorities who are real leftists, centrists, or mild to moderate Republicans. There aren’t many hardcore conservatives in top political science departments, but there aren’t many Marxists either. Indeed, I’d guess that there are rather more conservatives than Marxists – conservatives dominate certain areas of political theory (classical political philosophy) that most pol-sci departments have to offer courses in.
There’s also another factor that Brooks doesn’t talk about (although he hints at it at the end of the article). If you’re a young conservative, who’s just gotten a Ph.D. in pol. sci. or pol. theory from a good school, you have many attractive options outside the academy. Conservative think-tanks like Heritage and the American Enterprise Institute are remarkably well-funded (thanks to the charming Richard Mellon Scaife and other mega-millionaires), and provide direct access to the US policy process. They offer better pay (usually), more immediate recognition and more influence. It’s a wonder that any bright conservatives stay in the academy at all.