Conservatives in Academia

by Kieran Healy on February 11, 2004

I’ve never found the argument that conservatives are discriminated against in academia terribly compelling. But it does seem like an interesting case, if only because in making it common or garden conservatives are forced to admit the existence of institutionalized inequality, something they are usually loath to acknowledge. Andrew Sullivan just bumped into this question. (Via Pandagon.) He raises and then dismisses the most parsimonious explanation for this inequality, namely that conservatives are just not as clever as liberals and so don’t get hired. He quotes a tongue-in-cheek line from a Duke Prof, who says “If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire. Mill’s analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia.”[1] Andy is not persuaded, of course. But why not?

As a paid-up sociologist, I have no trouble believing, as a starting point for empirical enquiry, that entrenched inequalities based on social categories (Male/Female, White/Black, and so on) are to be found all over the place. Inequality gets institutionalized via many mechanisms—Chuck Tilly’s book Durable Inequality provides a handy taxonomy—and there’s a lot we don’t understand about it. But for a given case, by temperament I’m more inclined to believe that one of these mechanisms is at work rather than, say, the fair return to human capital secured by rational choices in an open market. The trouble is that conservatives, by and large, tend to believe that people get what they deserve in life and that labor markets—whether for food service workers, corporate consultants, assistant professors or any other occupation—shake out fairly. When confronted with evidence of systematic racial or gender inequality, for example, they’ll go to considerable effort to argue that it’s differences in natural talent, acquired skills or personal preferences that are driving the outcome.

So if we assume along with Andy and his ilk that conservatives really are significantly underrepresented in academia, it seems to me that conservatives face a simple choice. They can acknowledge the wealth of evidence for durable inequality of different kinds and join the people investigating the many and varied ways that it’s produced and sustained, and maybe even sometimes eliminated. Or they can bite the bullet and accept that the poor market performance of conservatives must reflect their inability to compete on human capital terms with their sharper, more skillful and harder-working liberal competitors. To borrow a recent argument from someone else, if we measure things by revealed preferences, i.e. voting with their feet, it seems conservative academics just prefer to be Resident Scholars at the AEI rather than tenured professors at Wharton, Yale or Chicago. In any event, the least plausible option is to argue that the embedded, political character of markets and the occupational structure is obviously at work in the labor market experiences of conservative academics, but not the life-chances of, say, women or black men.

fn1. Note that, the comments of this particular Duke prof nothwithstanding, if stupid people tend to be conservative, it does not follow that conservative people tend to be stupid. It should be clear that nothing in this post depends on the latter assumption.

{ 104 comments }

1

andrej 1500 02.11.04 at 2:58 am

I think it is because there is not a lot of money to be made in academia (or in grade school teaching for that matter, another occupation apparently dominated by “liberals”).

2

gowingz 02.11.04 at 3:00 am

Here’s another ending:
Political operatives for the Republican party masquerade as “conservative” students at American colleges. These plants mount a simple yet effective disinformation campaign against left-leaning faculty and students in order to obscure the fact that those who wish to see the public (taxpayer-funded) university pass into history are today the same people in charge of its management.

Ironically, these people use the institutional inequality argument to dismantle the institution! QED

3

Joel B. 02.11.04 at 3:07 am

I’m a conservative, and would not deny that there are institutionalized inequities. Just as conservative, I tend to accept that and move on. Anyways, your argument is flawed after all, conservatives intellectuals would rather do other things like work in the business world. But that’s not bad, just different.

4

Kieran Healy 02.11.04 at 3:13 am

Anyways, your argument is flawed after all, conservatives intellectuals would rather do other things like work in the business world.

Um, this is actually compatible with my argument.

5

Dedman 02.11.04 at 3:13 am

I would agree that market forces may drive the “conservatives” elsewhere. Why linger on campus when one can venture out into the world and earn a living? It’s difficult enough to repay student loans in the private sector or in business; I can’t imagine how it challenging it would be to do so meaningfully in academia.

Another question might be: Why do liberals feel compelled to remain on campus for so long? Is it because universities attempt to foster “communities” which are insulated from this and that? Is it because as university profs or administrators they find it easier to engage in social engineering? Or is it simply an idealism which the more practical “conservative” either never had or left behind?

6

Nicholas Weininger 02.11.04 at 3:17 am

It may be that liberals are simply more likely to satisfy the demands of the academic market, not all of which are functions of general cleverness or hard work. Perhaps, for instance, the habits of mind and personal presentation that make for a good, or at least a well-liked, classroom instructor tend to correlate with a lefty outlook. In academia as elsewhere, it is a mistake to believe that intelligence and work ethic must be the only, or even the principal, factors in determining how effectively one can satisfy customers’ desires.

The demands of prospective employees may be a factor, too. Academia (at the tenured level, anyway) is one of the few remaining professions in which one can get more-or-less ironclad job security by giving up the chance at a really high salary. It would make sense for that package to attract people who would like to see high-end rewards in general reduced in order to provide economic security guarantees.

Speaking of which, I doubt very much that the tenure system in the US will last out my lifetime in anything like its current form. When and if tenure goes away or is substantially changed, it will be interesting to see if “post-tenure” institutions evolve toward a different political makeup.

7

asg 02.11.04 at 3:25 am

Another possibility is that while academics are indeed smarter on average than non-academics, they also have other qualities in greater abundance, again on average, than non-academics, and it is these other qualities, not above-average intelligence, that lead to the dominance of liberals in academia. Examples of such qualities might include: willingness to engage in petty office politics for years on end, the desire to dominate those less credentialed, the ability to comfortably hold contradictory viewpoints (or to compartmentalize abstract views when they conflict with one’s self-interest), etc.

Naturally this is the least charitable possible spin on the reason for this inequality (from a liberal perspective), just as “liberals are smart and conservatives are dumb” is the most charitable from a liberal perspective. (And, I suspect, the “liberals are smarter” spin is closer to the truth, although both are pretty far off.)

8

Jim Miller 02.11.04 at 3:52 am

Kieran -
So what would make that argument “compelling” for you? Are you complaining about a lack of evidence? Or is the argument something you would not care about, even if it were true?

I’ve thought for some time that the case of Frederick Lynch was quite instructive on this subject.

9

son volt 02.11.04 at 4:01 am

Wouldn’t will-to-power explain a preference among humanities scholars for iconoclasm? Let’s assume you have the natural ability to tease meaning out of elusive texts that the best literary critics have. Isn’t it likely that you would gravitate towards unacknowledged-legislator status, rather than merely being the tutor of princes?

10

Some Random Guy 02.11.04 at 4:11 am

The labels ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ take on new and peculiar meanings in Academia. For instance, I believe in affirmative action, increasing taxes on the rich, socialized medicine, I am pro-legalized abortion, hold Christianity to be institutionalized ignorance, and donate to the ACLU. In all you could say I am pretty left wing. Except when I was a grad-student in Classics.

Then I was called at various times a Nazi, a Fascist, compared to the French Aristocracy prior to the revolution, and labelled ‘arch-conservative’ more than once. Why? I rejected relativism, ridiculed deconstructionism, was in favor of the traditional Canon as core reading in the Humanities, had the audacity to point out the many egregious historical errors that certain Black Studies and Women’s Studies professors made (the former blatantly making stuff up about Egypt, the latter Crete). I also ‘proved’ I was a right-winger by explaining the etymology of the word ‘history’, after someone used the term ‘herstory.’

Intellectual conservatism and political conservatism are quite different things. Intellectual conservatives can actually manage in Academia if they have the stomach for it. Political conservatives… to redraw blunt lines mentioned above, they are generally either stupid or selfish. If stupid, they won’t make it in Academia. If selfish, they’ll recognize they won’t make money in Academia.

11

Barry 02.11.04 at 4:15 am

“The demands of prospective employees may be a factor, too. Academia (at the tenured level, anyway) is one of the few remaining professions in which one can get more-or-less ironclad job security by giving up the chance at a really high salary. It would make sense for that package to attract people who would like to see high-end rewards in general reduced in order to provide economic security guarantees.”

Posted by Nicholas Weininger ·

IMHO, for the past thirty years (in the US), the actual situation has been that the academic system offered a piss-poor chance at lifetime job security, *and* carried reduced salaries.

To get tenure, one first had to get a Ph.D., which was a 50-50 shot (at best). Then one had to land a tenure track position, which probably less than a 50% chance, for graduates of top universities (over at IA, a study was mentioned, which gave the chances at 20% overall, for history Ph.D.’s). If your university was merely #30 in your field, forget it. Then one had (again) perhaps a 50% shot at tenure.

All in all, starting with a BS/BA in hand, it was a 1 in 8 chance, at best, *if* one were admitted to a top Ph.D. program.

12

Barry 02.11.04 at 4:35 am

ASG:

“…Examples of such qualities might include: willingness to engage in petty office politics for years on end, “

Ever been in the corporate world? The only reason that specific petty office politics there might not latst for years is that people move around (get moved around) more frequently.

“the desire to dominate those less credentialed,”

Again – ever been in the corporate world? Of course, credentials matter less, just power.

” the ability to comfortably hold contradictory viewpoints (or to compartmentalize abstract views when they conflict with one’s self-interest), etc.”

There are people who don’t act like this. They are called ‘saints’, or ‘lunatics’, depending on how they’re received.

Some extremely common examples of hypocrisy on the conservative (USA) side would be: democratic politicians who dodged the draft vs GOP politicians who had ‘other priorities’, and the free market vs sucking every government subsidy that one can grab.

“Naturally this is the least charitable possible spin on the reason for this inequality (from a liberal perspective), just as “liberals are smart and conservatives are dumb” is the most charitable from a liberal perspective. (And, I suspect, the “liberals are smarter” spin is closer to the truth, although both are pretty far off.):”

I think that Kieran was pointing out that the standard conservative spin on race and sex inequalities leans heavily on such non-charitable spins.

13

Red Benny 02.11.04 at 5:32 am

Of course, if conservatives in general would rather be in business, why are they complaining that there aren’t many in academia? Or is it only the conservatives in academia that are complaining, in which case, who are they directing their complaints at? I have to presume it is the conservatives who didn’t stick around who are at fault, and not inequality in hiring practices.

On the other hand, if it’s the go-getting business world conservatives who are concerned about this, precisely which of their fellows do they expect to eschew the benefits of private employment in favour of the obviously unpalatable life of the academic?

The whole thing seems, well, unconservative to me.

14

Leo 02.11.04 at 5:36 am

One big difference between the “rest of the world” and academia. Academia is nonprofit, and success is measured in ways that would make a corporate executive blanche. Let’s not even talk about tenure. Given that academia exists in a nonmarket discrimination, neoclassical economic theory would suggest that discrimination against conservatives could much more easily survive in such an environment than discrimination against others could survive in the comptetitive forprofit world. Or, to put it another way, if Harvard hired a brilliant young conservative, this would probably lead to Harvard’s esteem actually going DOWN in the eyes of its peers compared to Harvard hiring a mediocre liberal, so Harvard has the “market” incentive to hire the liberal, which suits its own faculty’s preferences as well.

15

PanJack 02.11.04 at 5:42 am

If one expanded the ranks of professors to include those in the hard sciences and business schools, would it really seem that conservatives are a distinct minority in academia?

Further, in recent years conservatives have managed to define anyone to the left of the hardcore of the republican party to be part of “the left.” This tends to include in “the left” many who in previous decades would have been considered to be “in the center.”

16

Jay 02.11.04 at 5:44 am

I think that conservatives are underrepresented in the kind of departments that most of us hang out in. Go over to the business school if you want to see your fair share. But the question is why.

The first reason, as others have pointed out, is the money. I think that conservatives are, by and large, more greedy. I read someone’s (I forget who) description of the history of conservative thought as a repeated attempt to come up with better ways to justify selfishness. This is, of course, a gross oversimplification, but I think there is something to it.If you are inclined to those sorts of beliefs then the academic life just isn’t as attractive and you probably ended up going to law school or B-school instead.

There is a second reason, I think, which is that conservatives are less likely to want to engage in the kind of critical thought that academics have to do to survive. The most extreme case of this is the whole creationist science thing, which basically boils down to a complete refusal to accept or engage in the scientific method, but I think that many conservative scholars are guilty of it to a lesser degree. This is really a sort of intellectual inflexibility which can be construed as stupidity at first glance.

And I should point out that it isn’t confined to one end of the spectrum. I know plenty of lefty scholars who are guilty of it as well. It is just that I think that conservatives are more inclined to think this way. And that is why think tanks, where the peer review stanards are basically nil, are so much more attractive.

17

Another Damned Medievalist 02.11.04 at 6:07 am

Hey — I know plenty of conservatives in academis who are really smart — as in, some of the smartest people I know. And they are in the Humanities. One of them even has a blog link on the CT site! Of course I also know a couple of real boneheaded conservatives, but I think this philosophy guy is perhaps living proof that being a bonehead is not limited to conservatives.

18

Matt 02.11.04 at 6:10 am

Leo said:
“if Harvard hired a brilliant young conservative, this would probably lead to Harvard’s esteem actually going DOWN in the eyes of its peers compared to Harvard hiring a mediocre liberal, so Harvard has the “market” incentive to hire the liberal, which suits its own faculty’s preferences as well.”

I wonder if you’ve got any evidence for this. It seems pretty unlikely to me. I can think of several fairly conservative professors at Harvard (or formerly there) or still youngish professors who are _quite_ conservative, considered by many to be brilliant, hired by Harvard, and which didn’t hurt their standing in peers eyes at all, it would seem. Take the recent hiring of Steven Pinker, for one example. Or a number of their law faculty. I think that’s really quite a silly thing to say.

19

Vinteuil 02.11.04 at 7:02 am

The argument that “the most parsimonious explanation” for the relative lack of success of conservatives in academia today is that “conservatives are just not as clever as liberals and so don’t get hired” seems to depend on the assumption that there is such a thing as “cleverness” and that this “cleverness” is measurable, or at least evaluable, independent of the prejudices of the evaluator.

How many people on the modern academic left are prepared seriously to defend such an assumption?

In my experience, there are few surer ways to provoke leftist outrage than to suggest that “general intelligence” exists and can be measured. Is “cleverness” somehow different? Does it have a better conceptual and empirical pedigree? Can academic hiring committees assess this quality without the mediation of their political biasses?

How far do you really want to push this line of thought?

20

Micha Ghertner 02.11.04 at 7:17 am

Kieran highlighted the inconsistency of conservatives who believe in institutionalized inequality of political ideology but not of race or sex.

But inconsistency runs both ways. If it is inconsistent for conservatives to believe in institutionalized inequality of ideology but not of race or sex, than it is also inconsistent for left-liberals to believe in institutionalized inequality of race or sex but not of ideology.

If anything, the conservatives have the stronger argument. Discussions of institutionalized inequality on college campuses tend to focus on the presence or absence of “diversity.” But since it is bad form to speak explicity about diversity of skin color, we all pretend that what we are really talking about is viewpoint diversity.

And insofar as viewpoint diversity is the desired goal, it seems plainly obvious that the viewpoint divide between conservatives and left-liberals is much larger than the viewpoint divide between blacks and whites. Unless, of course, one wishes to argue that there is a “black viewpoint” and a “white viewpoint,” and that we can determine who holds these viewpoints according to the viewpoint holders’ melatonin levels.

21

Micha Ghertner 02.11.04 at 7:49 am

One more thing. If stupid people tend to be conservative, but conservative people do not tend to be stupid, then doesn’t Kieran’s (and by extension, Robert Brandon’s) argument fall apart? As Brandon says, “Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average.” In which case, it doesn’t really matter what stupid people believe in terms of politics; all that matters is what smart people believe, because only smart people are selected to be academics.

Isn’t this guy the chair of the philosophy department at Duke? Unless I’m missing something elementary, it seems that stupid people can in fact be chairs of philosophy departments.

22

Kieran Healy 02.11.04 at 8:09 am

In a sentence, the point of this post was to ask why conservatives are unwilling to admit the existence of widespread, well-entrenched, self-reproducing discrimination in the labor market as a whole (the existence of which is very well documented) when they seem perfectly willing to cry foul in just these terms for the case of conservative academics.

On to the details:

1. ADM: Hey — I know plenty of conservatives in academis who are really smart

As I was at pains to make clear in the post, my point is not that conservatives are stupid. I am saying that conservatives who complain about discrimination against right-wing academics face a choice. On the one hand, if they want to argue that institutionalized discrimination of this kind exists, then they can’t hold onto their preferred view that, e.g., gender gaps in wages or racial gaps in occupations are caused by differences in skill or personal preferences. There’s far more evidence for systematic discrimination in these areas than there is for discrimination against conservatives in the academic labor market. On the other hand, if they want to keep their belief that efficient labor markets reward people on the basis of their marginal productivity, then have no basis for complaining about not getting hired in academia.

2. The followup idea that smart conservatives go elsewhere (e.g. business, to get rich) doesn’t pose any problems for me, though I have no idea whether it’s empirically the case. Again, I’m pointing to a problem for conservatives. If the smart conservatives are on Wall Street, what do the resdiual ones trying to break into academia have to complain about?

3. ASG: Another possibility is that while academics are indeed smarter on average than non-academics, they also have other qualities… and it is these other qualities, not above-average intelligence, that lead to the dominance of liberals in academia. Examples of such qualities might include: willingness to engage in petty office politics for years on end, the desire to dominate those less credentialed, the ability to comfortably hold contradictory viewpoints (or to compartmentalize abstract views when they conflict with one’s self-interest), etc.

Apart from the usefulness of these qualities in employed life in general, I don’t see how they are relevant unless you can show that conservatives are less likely to have them than liberals.

4. Vinteuil: The argument … seems to depend on the assumption that there is such a thing as “cleverness” and that this “cleverness” is measurable, or at least evaluable, independent of the prejudices of the evaluator.

How many people on the modern academic left are prepared seriously to defend such an assumption?

It doesn’t matter, because the argument in question — that the distribution of rewards in the labor market is explained by individual differences in smarts, skills and drive — is not one made by the left, it’s made by conservatives.

5. Micha: If it is inconsistent for conservatives to believe in institutionalized inequality of ideology but not of race or sex, than it is also inconsistent for left-liberals to believe in institutionalized inequality of race or sex but not of ideology.

As I say in the post, I’m quite happy to believe it, but like other forms of inequality its extent and degree is an empirical question. If you think you can prove that the labor market barriers faced by conservative academics are remotely as serious and systematic as those faced by some other large social groups, go right ahead.

6. Leo: if Harvard hired a brilliant young conservative, this would probably lead to Harvard’s esteem actually going DOWN in the eyes of its peers compared to Harvard hiring a mediocre liberal, so Harvard has the “market” incentive to hire the liberal, which suits its own faculty’s preferences as well.

Sorry, but this is just laughable.

23

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.11.04 at 8:12 am

“I’ve never found the argument that conservatives are discriminated against in academia terribly compelling.”

This is fascinating in the terms of your post. You believe that disparity in numbers actually hired (in terms of race) is excellent evidence of racial discrimination even in areas where race has no bearing on performance (which is to say practically everywhere) yet you do not believe the same of ideological leaning in an arena where ideology can be quite important? How does that work? Do you find it uncompelling because you are prejudiced against conservatives? Do you have a deep seated fear of conservatives? If I made the same statement about race I would be immediately subjected to such ‘concerns’.

I also believe that you misrepresent the conservative position. Racial disparity may indicate unfair hiring in many cases. But quotas are a remedy which cause great harm and perpetuate myths about racial inability to perform. Quotas would be a poor remedy for conservatives in the academic sphere as well, so the contradiction you worry about simlpy does not exist.
I know very few conservatives that deny the perpetuation of certain inequalities, we deny that racist counter-policies are a good idea but I think that is quite a different thing. I would be perfectly happy with an academy that did not actively discriminate against conservatives, much as I like it when a company does not actively discriminate against black people. If the conservative population doesn’t grow AFTER you remove the overt discrimination, we can talk again about ‘durable inequalities’. We aren’t even at that stage yet.

24

Micha Ghertner 02.11.04 at 8:43 am

Kieran, in a sentence, the point of my response to you was to ask why leftists are unwilling to admit the existence of widespread, well-entrenched, self-reproducing discrimination against conservative academics when they seem perfectly willing to cry foul in just these terms for the case of blacks and women. You may be the exception, but it seems apparent that most other leftist academics are unwilling to admit any such bias in academia.

I agree that it is is an empirical question, but as I argued, the empirical evidence usually given is the end result: how many blacks or women are hired? If the percentage of blacks or women hired is lower than the percentage of blacks or women in the population as a whole, this is used as evidence of discrimination, which is why companies and universities are so eager to fill their “quota” or reach “critical mass.”

25

Keith M Ellis 02.11.04 at 8:49 am

I have heard that there is a correlation between highest level of education achieved and liberalism; but I’ve also seen this disputed. A quick Google attempt at a search didn’t clear this up. If true, I think it would have relevance.

I think that, on average, academics are more critical thinkers. There’s lots of disparate things that make up conservatism and liberalism; but a strong component of conservatism (by definition) is traditionalism. And traditionalism is anti-critical. Whereas progressivism is aggressively critical.

In practice this is far less true than it is in theory.

My actual experience of both conservatives and liberals, and of academics, is that they are not that hugely more critical thinkers than is the population at large. The difference isn’t that huge. The difference isn’t that great between academics and non-academics, or conservatives and liberals. Still—though small—it exists.

Academic populations tend toward the radical in contrast to the general culture because of this inherent skepticism. In communist or oppressive countries the academic communities tend towards a “radicalism” that would be politically “conservative” in the context of Europe or the US.

Aside from explicitly religious conservative schools, even traditionally conservative universities tend to be more liberal than their surrounding communities. Why?

26

Scott Martens 02.11.04 at 8:56 am

This is fascinating in the terms of your post. You believe that disparity in numbers actually hired (in terms of race) is excellent evidence of racial discrimination even in areas where race has no bearing on performance (which is to say practically everywhere) yet you do not believe the same of ideological leaning in an arena where ideology can be quite important?

Sebastian, if getting rich turned black people white, then income disparities would not be evidence of discrimination. Have you considered the prospect that any causal relationship between being an academic and being a leftist might be more the influence of the academic environment on the academic rather the result of discriminatory hiring? That higher education tends to turn people into liberals?

I suspect one would find far fewer homophobes in academia than in the general population, and that the major reason is that it is fairly hard to sustain homophobia in an environment where gay people are generally accepted and fairly few problems seem to come of it. Might it be equally hard to sustain a barely concealed social Darwinism in an environment where presitige and security are not attached to personal wealth?

27

Micha Ghertner 02.11.04 at 9:24 am

Ack, that should read “melanin levels” not “melatonin levels.” I need sleep.

28

Jon Winston 02.11.04 at 10:35 am

When can we launch an investigation into the disproportionate number of conservatives in the business world? Just kidding. Of course people with different outlooks go into different lines of work and people’s views are affected by the jobs they have. It’s not to hard to see why bouncers at strip clubs probably have different views, on average, about the use of violence than kindergarten teachers. While conservatives on campus have some valid complaints from time to time, overall, I see this as nothing but another front on their heavily funded culture war against liberals. Most don’t want fairness, they want to win.

29

Jim Miller 02.11.04 at 12:36 pm

Jon Winston thinks that most [conservatives, I assume?] “don’t want fairness, they want to win”. I don’t think he means to conclude that, since they want to win, they should be denied fairness.

I do think that academia is different from other fileds as far as political views go. To take a well known example, critics have charged that Middle East Studies has been corrupted by the necessity to follow a certain line to obtain jobs. This seems plausible to me, for a number of reasons. This matters far more than, for example, a disproportionate number of plumbers being Republican.

I am still interested in knowing what Kieran thinks would be a “compelling argument”. As I mentioned, the case of Lynch is instructive. I assume that Kieran and Jon are familiar with it and would be interested in knowing why they think it doesn’t matter.

30

Tom T. 02.11.04 at 1:13 pm

Kieran, I don’t think your initial premise — that this situation poses an intellectual dilemma for conservatives — holds up. It seems reasonable to me that a conservative rejoinder would be to ascribe any persistent disparity in political outlook among academics as an example of market failure due to external constraints. The tenure system and the barriers to entry (long years of study, the impracticality of starting one’s own university or even one’s own journal) restrict academic turnover and allow “capture” of the system by those currently in control. I don’t see why any of this analysis would be incompatible with conservative thought.

31

Ilkka Kokkarinen 02.11.04 at 1:16 pm

Does anyone have any solid data on the political views of the professors in engineering and hard sciences? In the science departments of the best universities, what percentage of professors have conservative political views?

You might think that the conservatives who complain about bias in academia would be happy to produce this number to prove their case. If the split in hard sciences is close to 50-50 or even better for conservatives, the argument “liberals are simply smarter” goes immediately out of the window.

Were I a conservative think tank, I would be conducting such a study ASAP. But perhaps they have already done such a study and did not like the results, which is why such a study has never been published. If the liberal hegemony is as total in hard sciences as it is in the humanities departments, the conservatives have a lot of explaining to do.

We can get a hint of this percentage from The National Academy of Sciences, which has polled the religiosity of its members, and found out that only about four percent believe in God. Since at least in the red states of the USA, the belief in the Judeo-Christian God and creationism are prerequisites of being a political conservative (if you don’t believe in God, how can you not be a nihilistic and relativistic America-hater?), this sets a hard upper bound to the percentage of conservatives, at least among the best scientists.

One also should not forget that the American conservatives do have their own parallel science and humanities academia that they do dominate, namely the small religious universities and their intellectual power. These institutions get to hire all the talented conservative PhD’s that the liberal universities unfairly discriminate against. If the conservatives really are as good in doing science as liberals or even better, this edge should dramatically change the rankings of American universities within maybe a decade or so. Move over, MIT and Harvard! Let us therefore wait and see.

32

Jon Winston 02.11.04 at 1:20 pm

Mr. Miller, no I don’t think that anyone should be treated unfairly just because some people want to invert the unfairness.

33

Scott Martens 02.11.04 at 1:28 pm

Ikka, my experience is that atheist and agnostic science and engineering profs tend to be what Americans like to call “fiscally conservative” if they are conservative at all. They’re usually closer to the Democrats on social issues. They also tend to support government spending, especially on scientific and engineering research. Go figure. Anyway, they tend not to be reliably conservative, and I think the majority of them would fall into the “centre-left” part of the spectrum. I suspect that business departments are the place to go if you want to find real conservatives.

Ironically, the small religious colleges in America aren’t that conservative. Some of them are – I’m not talking about Bob Jones U. – but I went to a very small, very religious Midwestern college that was flamingly leftist.

34

madhatter 02.11.04 at 2:06 pm

The trouble with talk about the political leanings of ‘academics’ is that the faculty covers many departments.

Look at business, hard sciences and engineering…you’ll find mostly conservatives. Look at the humanities, social sciences and various ‘ethnic’ studies and you’ll find predominately liberals.

It seems to me that consertvatives dominate the more intellecutally rigorous disciplines.

35

fellow left-liberal 02.11.04 at 2:20 pm

I agree with KH that there’s a tension for conservatives in the argument under attack here. But why can’t we left-liberals make it? I’m on the left, yet it bothers me quite a bit that conservatives are so underrepresented in humanities departments. It’s not a good thing for us, among others, since it encourages sloppy thinking and a really insidious political presumptuousness.

These vices are already in evidence in the thought that only conservatives worry about their underrepresentation. We on the left would never assume that only a women would worry about the underrepresentation of women, only an African-Amercian worry about the underrepresentation of African-Americans, etc. So why the presumption in the present case? (I’m aware that the classifications are of different types. Still the issue doesn’t seem to depend on that difference.)

Sorry, it’s we ourselves who are being inconsistent here.

36

Mike Fisher 02.11.04 at 2:21 pm

Pretty funny. So conservatives aren’t as smart as liberals? Then why are the hard sciences dominated by conservatives? Higher math takes intelligence and dedication and requires results. Whereas liberal arts and social sciences require no such results. Further, as is discussed above, most conservative types in traditionally liberal fields work in business. Again, where results matter. On the other hand, liberals dominate in academia, where peer-review is much more important than results.

Hmmmm, looks like a pattern to me.

I have a degree in social sciences (AA). I got good grades (3.53) by keeping my mind stagnant and accepting whatever BS the teacher spouted, or by smoking pot with the teacher. I got good grades (3.77) in my mechanical engineering degree (BS) by going to class, studying and doing the homework.

Again, the former was because my teachers liked me, the latter was because I could do the work.

Conservatives look for results, liberals look for peer recognition.

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Keith M Ellis 02.11.04 at 2:23 pm

That’s not my experience, madhatter. (And I’m not sure I would include business as one of the more intellectually rigorous disciplines.) Scott Martens’s point is much closer to the truth, I think.

I really don’t think that you can talk about this very clearly without making the distinction between cultural and economic conservatives. People in the hard sciences, engineering, and business are probably on average somewhat more culturally conservative than humanities folk; but in the context of American culture, they’re still quite to the left of center. And while it may be the case that this group may be, as Scott says, more to the right economically—possibly somewhat right of center—they’re still not at all representative of what’s considered conservative thought.

I already mentioned this, but even conservative universities are often more liberal than their communities. Texas A&M is a very conservative school, but it’s not as conservative as College Station and the rest of East Texas.

This has been discussed in depth in other posts by CT bloggers, but I really think that you can’t really understand the American right without distinguishing cultural and economic conservatism. An awful lot of cultural liberals have made common cause with conservatives because, to them, the economic issue is primary. This is a deep fault line among Republicans.

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Keith M Ellis 02.11.04 at 2:26 pm

Math is a liberal art. Perhaps you weren’t aware of that.

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Kikuchiyo 02.11.04 at 2:41 pm

I’d just like to (potentially) upset everyone on both sides by claiming that the entire argument is silly. It’s linked so I don’t appear to be a troll. Here

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Eric E. Coe 02.11.04 at 2:46 pm

You know, part of the problem with this dicussion is the definition used here of “conservative”. The religious right is only a subset of all conservatives, so all that demonization of creationism, etc. (which I agree is pretty stupid, expecially young-earth creationism), pretty much misses the mark. There are fiscal conservatives, small-government conservatives, non-religous cultural conservatives, gun-rights conservatives, national security conservatives, and libertarians, who tend to hang out with the conservatives. None of these people are anything like your garden-variety liberals.

Tarring this entire group of people with the attitudes and beliefs of the religous right is a convienent tactic for dimissive liberals. It’s a cop-out, to avoid actually engaging in real dicussion of the issues.

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Dave 02.11.04 at 2:48 pm

Chipping in with my own personnal experience of getting a PhD at a large, state university (UNC). I worked with profs in Chemistry, Physics, and Dentistry, and I found that their politics were pretty much across the board, with no particualr bias either way. Of course, this also blows apart the idea that liberals are somehow smarter (at least in my experience). It really does bother me when Horowitz and his crew cherry-pick the humanities and social sciences to make a case for bias. I would LOVE to see somebody (anybody) repeat the Duke study, but this time include all of the faculty. OTOH, they do seem to have at least a small point when it comes to humanities and social sciences. Those disparities are quite striking.

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humeidayer 02.11.04 at 3:12 pm

Look at business, hard sciences and engineering…you’ll find mostly conservatives.

In the case of business, I think this may be true, but in the case of science, I find the claim questionable.

A few years ago, E.O. Wilson wrote an accessible piece for the Atlantic pondering the biological basis for morality… “Do we invent moral absolutes in order to make society workable? Or are these enduring principles expressed to us by some transcendent or Godlike authority?”

With Wilson, I choose Door #1, and a couple decade’s worth of work in science leads me to suspect a good proportion of scientists do as well. I think this is to be expected due the inherent dichotomies between empiricism and rationalism, facts and values, the factors that led to disciplines being organized as they are.

This doesn’t by any means imply that scientists are nihilists or lacking in social responsibility. I’ve met very few scientists who don’t feel there’s a practical need for ethics. But to the extent that there are political differences between scientists and humanists, I believe they stem from differences between empiricist and transcendentalist perspectives in ethics.

As far as conservative vs. liberal goes, sometimes it seems political choice for a scientist merely boils down to choosing the candidate deemed least likely to destroy the planet.

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Leo 02.11.04 at 3:23 pm

Leo: if Harvard hired a brilliant young conservative, this would probably lead to Harvard’s esteem actually going DOWN in the eyes of its peers compared to Harvard hiring a mediocre liberal, so Harvard has the “market” incentive to hire the liberal, which suits its own faculty’s preferences as well.

Kieran: Sorry, but this is just laughable.

Leo: If you think this is just laughable, you obviously have absolutely no idea of the discrimination faced by conservatives in academia. A very prominent, moderate philosophy professor once mentioned offhandedly in a seminar I took that Loren Lomasky is severely underplaced, because no school will hire a libertarian (forget conservative) philosopher. A student asked why not. He replied, “I don’t know; they all seem to want to have at least one Marxist in each philosohy department, but even someone as good as Lomasky can’t get a job as the sole libertarian.” I also heard a respected, moderate law professor state that “no one takes Richard Epstein [in legal academia]seriously.” Granted, Epstein has a job at U. Chicago. But if Epstein, the most prolific and one of the most brilliant scholars of his generation can’t get his views taken seriously in law schools, where things are “conservative” compared to most humanities fields, what chance does a young conservative or libertarian scholar without his track record have?

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Michael C 02.11.04 at 3:55 pm

Several quick points:
– To expand on Keith Ellis’ remarks: Universities have always been incubators of new ideas, and self-consciously so: more open to free expression and debate, more tolerant of the avant-garde. One of their many roles in democratic societies has been to be a critic of those societies without being “of” those societies. So it’s natural that the faculty in universities are likely to be more heterodox or liberal than the general population, and conservatives have been complaining about this forever.

- Don’t overlook the role of demographics. In many instiutions of higher learning, many faculty got their doctorates in 1960-75, a generation that came of age in liberal times. They still dominate on many campuses.

- I suspect that many liberals are attracted to academia because it embodies things they believe in: free inquiry, meritocracy (ostensibly), engaged citizenship, that there’s more to life than wealth accumulation.

- It’s been said already, but … keep intellectual and political conservatism distinct. Some disciplines are both intellectually and politically radical (lit crit), but philosophy, my own, is fairly diverse politically, perhaps slightly left of center, but fairly intellectually conservative.

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Jay 02.11.04 at 3:59 pm

So conservatives aren’t as smart as liberals? Then why are the hard sciences dominated by conservatives? Higher math takes intelligence and dedication and requires results.

Umm, Mike, how many mathematicians have you actually spoken to? Mathematicians tend to be pretty apolitical across the board, but of the ones who do express opinions, they tend to skew to the left. Math isn’t a science, but scientists in general tend to look askance at the kinds of people whose thought processes lead to advocating the teaching of creationism in schools.

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JW 02.11.04 at 4:07 pm

I agree with those who have been emphasizing distinctions between different flavors of conservatism, but I’d like to note that this applies to the left as well. There’s a certain flavor of ideological ultralefty that one associates with literature departments and race- or gender-studies departments. But they are much less common in, say, history or philosophy departments — but those latter departments do generally trend a _non-radical_ version of liberalism. I can see where the former departments might enforce an explicit political bias, because those fields are now construed as very explicitly political by their practitioners.

My impressions of philosophy diverge from Leo’s, by the way — I have seen a great many libertarians, but vanishingly few Marxists.

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Vinteuil 02.11.04 at 4:09 pm

Mr Healy: you say that it doesn’t matter whether or not people on the left believe “that there is such a thing as ‘cleverness’ and that this ‘cleverness’ is measurable, or at least evaluable, independent of the prejudices of the evaluator,” since “the argument in question — that the distribution of rewards in the labor market is explained by individual differences in smarts, skills and drive — is not one made by the left, it’s made by conservatives.”

Conservatives like Robert Brandon?

Micha Ghertner makes the crucial point about your argument, at which I merely hinted: “If it is inconsistent for conservatives to believe in institutionalized inequality of ideology but not of race or sex, than it is also inconsistent for left-liberals to believe in institutionalized inequality of race or sex but not of ideology.”

If conservatives are being inconsistent or hypocritical here, than leftists are being equally and oppositely hypocritical.

To be perfectly consistent here, the left should be pushing affirmative action for conservatives in academia, while the right should insist that such measures wait on proof that the lack of conservatives in the humanities is a product of unfair discrimination.

To conservatives’ credit, few if any are seriously demanding preferential treatment for themselves. To leftists’ discredit, absolutely none of them are demanding such treatment for conservatives. Who is being most inconsistent here?

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Michael Murphy 02.11.04 at 4:31 pm

The argument is really whether liberal academics find themselves capable of presenting conservative viewpoints. Conservatives for the most part prefer to be employed outside the academy. But in an ideal university there would be a diversity of views and that it seems is what is lacking and what the Duke students, at the end of the day, are griping about.

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submandave 02.11.04 at 4:32 pm

This question seems to me similar to asking “why are there so many frat-boy types in fraternities?” For the most part, academia is allowed to pick its owm members, so it does not seem unusual that they predominantly choose to associate with like minded individuals. This is human nature to form groups and societies in which the members feel more comfortable. As, as far as associations of private groups are concerned, this is not a problem. The concern I have, though, is when this sort of selectivity is applied in public venues, or specifically in public universities. Just as it would be wrong to expect minority citizens to fund public institutions that are hostile or exclusive against them, many conservatives feel it is wrong to use their tax monies to support an academia that is hostile or exclusive to their way of thinking. Many liberals seem to want to excuse this hostility and exclusivity based upon the premise that liberal political thoughts are correct or moral and conservative political thoughts are wrong or immoral, but that seems to be arguing a position based upon assuming it is true (I’m not well versed in logic, but I know there is a specific name for this sort of false proof).

The bottom line is that neither the liberal not conservative political views have been conclusively proved and neither is empirically wrong or right. As such, to systemically exclude either from a publically funded institution is wrong. As other have addressed, the real question is how to ensure these institutions fairly represent the people they serve while not joepardizing the quality of that service provided.

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Bob 02.11.04 at 4:37 pm

Seems to me that those, like the Duke Prof, who think Conservatives tend to be stupid, as well as those who claim to know their left-wing from their right-wing with cast iron certainty must have a challenging problem with “the thesis of Jeffrey Frankel that the parties have switched places, with Democrats becoming the party of fiscal responsibility, free trade, competitive markets, and minimal government, while the Republicans have become the party of trade restriction, big government, and interventionist economics.” – quoted from: http://www.lewrockwell.com/tucker/tucker30.html with its link to: http://ksghome.harvard.edu/~.jfrankel.academic.ksg/Republicans%20and%20Democrats%20Have%20Switched.PDF

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Mike 02.11.04 at 4:43 pm

Shorter argument: Conservative students listen to liberal Professors, decide to go do something else.

I think one could make the case that there is not so much a bias against conservatives, as there is a bias against conservative ideas. There are good examples of conservative persons doing very well in academia (Condi Rice, for one) but always these widespread allegations of liberal bias. But is it a bias against people and their ideas, or just a bias against the ideas? And is there an important difference?

I think there is an important difference, and I think it’s something you’ve touched on. Conservatives might find University life unattractive because of the philosophy of many possible colleagues, thereby choosing some other position. To conservative students, however, this would appear to be a institutionalized bias — something unfair. This could be a reason that you see students make the accusations of liberal bias more than any other group: to us, it appears as though the University is attempting to indoctrinate a particular ideology.

Case in point – though it is only anecdotal evidence. I fully believe that there are very intelligent conservatives out there, who could be teaching me in my international relations and economics classes. It just so happens that I’ve gotten two liberal professors, who very often react negatively to conservative ideas. Just so we understand, I take conservative ideas to mean things like realism and (as you duly noted) unhindered market self-correction or Classical Economics. Having to go through my university has made me very unlikely to ever want to teach at it.

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Jane Galt 02.11.04 at 4:47 pm

I don’t see why it’s inconsistent for conservatives to believe that conservatives are underrepresented for institutional reasons and that minorities aren’t. You might as well say “those idiot doctors claim to believe that polio is caused by a virus, but pellagra isn’t! Both are diseases with neuromuscular side effects — how can they be so inconsistent?”

There is, for anyone who is not a left liberal and has seriously considered a career in academia, ample evidence that academia is prejudiced against them. If professors made the sorts of remarks about minorities that they felt free to make about conservatives (a category which started somewhere to the left of Scoop Jackson), then it would indeed be the parsimonious explanation that institutional bias was the cause of disparate representation. But it isn’t, and as we all know, minorities are in fact overrepresented, as a percentage of the applicant pool, at elite colleges.

Few conservatives deny that black, latino, and Native American teenagers suffer disproportionately from poor academic preparation; they simply don’t believe that the solution to this problem is to admit minority children from upper-middle-class homes in affluent school districts. Nor do they believe that racism is an adequate explanation for why affluent black and hispanic children have lower grades and test scores; the fat, acne scarred, speech-impaired, and socially inept all suffered far worse discrimination at my elite school than any of the minority kids, and yet no one suggested that we should have special academic preferences for them. Diana Ross’s daughters, on the other hand, who were physically attractive, popular, and well liked by their teachers, got an AA boost.

I don’t see why “conservatives are stupid” is any more parsimonious than “liberals can’t do math, and therefore don’t understand how unlikely their course of study is to ever land them a job”, or any other excercise in self-flattery.

Now, perhaps it does not matter whether or not we have adequate numbers of conservative academics. But not having them severely limits the range of intellectual discussion to which undergraduates are exposed. Of course, it feels unnecessary to many academics to expose their students to those useless right wing ideas — but that’s indoctrination, not teaching. And those academics should remember that if a vigorous tradition of political diversity is not built now, when the worm turns they could easily find that it is their ideas that are shut out, and they are reduced to shouting on the sidelines as their children are indoctrinated with ideas they vigorously oppose.

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goethean 02.11.04 at 4:48 pm

Another question might be: Why do liberals feel compelled to remain on campus for so long?…Is it because as university profs or administrators they find it easier to engage in social engineering? Or is it simply an idealism which the more practical “conservative” either never had or left behind?Posted by Dedman · February 11, 2004 03:13 AM

An alternative question might be: why would conservatives leave the academy for the cutthroat, brownnosing-required capitalist market? Clearly beause they couldn’t hack it in academia.

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WillieStyle 02.11.04 at 4:48 pm

So conservatives aren’t as smart as liberals? Then why are the hard sciences dominated by conservatives? Higher

My personal (anecdotal) experience doesn’t jive with that at all. My experience in Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics is that virtualy everyone – from faculty to graduate students – are significantly left of centre on cultural/social issues (gays, religion, environmentalism etc.). On economic issues, while you won’t find many praerie populists, views tend to trend from libertarian to socialist with most folks I’ve talked to most accurately described as DLC democrats.
Finally, every single prof. I have ever worked with has been adamant in their support for greater government funding in education (primary, secondary and higher) and basic research.

My theory is that scientists and academics of all types have tended to be more culturaly liberal. As the political divide in this country has aligned more on cultural lines and as the economicaly sophisticated Clinton/Rubin wing of the Democratic party has risen to dominance, Scientists and indeed professionals of all types (from doctors to lawyers) have swung more and more to the “left” in as much as the “left” in America means the Democrats.
This article seems to support that:

The changes have not produced a full-scale reversal of the two parties’ traditional constituencies. In the bottom half of the income levels, the Democratic Party remains strong among African Americans, Hispanics and white union members, while GOP support has swelled among nonunion whites. In the top half, there has been a realignment of white, well-educated professionals (lawyers, doctors, scientists, academics), now one of the most reliably Democratic constituencies. But Republican loyalties have strengthened among small-business men, managers and corporate executives.

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JX 02.11.04 at 5:08 pm

Random guy makes a highly salient point. Here we have someone who meets meets the liberal litmus test on all the major issues yet is called a Nazi for his failure to toe the party line on deconstructionism, the canon, Afrocentric history and feminist “herstory.” I’m appalled at both the treatment of Random and at his laisser-faire (irony fully intended) response: “Intellectual conservatives (like himself) can actually manage in Academia if they have the stomach for it.” This is symptomatic of a lack of intellectual diversity _on the left_, let alone the political spectrum as a whole. When someone is labelled a fascist/racist/misogynist/other for using phallocentric/imperialist tools such as logical arguments and evidence in support of even politically liberal positions, it bodes ill for liberalism, in both academia and the world at large. The failure to challenge this radical worldview has led to liberals’ estrangement from the masses they claim to be struggling for. (There is also the matter that many of the groups that liberals claim to struggle for, e.g. African-Americans, Hispanics, the Third World, are quite conservative on matters such as homosexuality and would find the radical worldview as alien and hostile as most Westerners suffering from “false consciousness.” If I had my druthers, I would rewind liberalism back to the early ’60’s before the radical fringe began dragging liberals into the abyss. The left as a whole and the academic left in particular needs to have a Sister Souljah moment if it wants to remain relevant.

The left as a whole, but especially the academic left, must have a Sister Souljah moment if we

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Keith M Ellis 02.11.04 at 5:16 pm

Thanks, God.

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LizardBreath 02.11.04 at 5:22 pm

I don’t see why it’s inconsistent for conservatives to believe that conservatives are underrepresented for institutional reasons and that minorities aren’t.

The inconsistency is in the form of the typical conservative argument against the existence of institutional discrimination against minorities. As I have seen the argument, it generally takes the form of: “Mere statistical differences in result are evidence of nothing whatsoever — to make any kind of a case, you must have evidence of particular actions that have a specifically discriminatory intent or effect.” On the other hand, when we start talking about conservatives in academia, the conservative postition shifts to something more like: “So what if we have no evidence of actual conservatives who were denied jobs or advancement that can be attributed to their political views? Conservatives are grossly underrepresented in academia — it must be the result of discrimination!” To the extent that any conservative holds both of these (obviously oversimplified for conciseness) positions, that conservative is laughably inconsistent.

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X 02.11.04 at 5:34 pm

Kieran,

This post is like a left-wing mirror of a David Bernstein argument. (A clever parody, perhaps?) I know of no conservatives who believe that institutions cannot be biased in favor of or against a group. Everyone agrees that institutions can be biased but should be unbiased: the only question is what that means, and what should be done to fix biased institutions. The conservative view is that we should not intentionally consider elements that encourage us to be biased: for example, we should admit and hire without regard to race, gender *or* politics. Within academia, however, it is most common to do all three at once. Granted, it would be inconsistent if conservatives were proposing a program of affirmative action in favor of conservative academics– but they aren’t.

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asg 02.11.04 at 5:35 pm

Kieran –

Apart from the usefulness of these qualities [the alternatives to intelligence I listed that might explain liberals' dominance in academia] in employed life in general, I don’t see how they are relevant unless you can show that conservatives are less likely to have them than liberals.

And yet somehow the “parsimonious explanation” that conservatives are dumber than liberals has been independently, rigorously and empirically demonstrated (or perhaps its relevance is just self-evident).

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asg 02.11.04 at 5:36 pm

Kieran –

Apart from the usefulness of these qualities [the alternatives to intelligence I listed that might explain liberals' dominance in academia] in employed life in general, I don’t see how they are relevant unless you can show that conservatives are less likely to have them than liberals.

And yet somehow the “parsimonious explanation” that conservatives are dumber than liberals has been independently, rigorously and empirically demonstrated (or perhaps its relevance is just self-evident).

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james 02.11.04 at 5:42 pm

You will find that many conservatives believe they, in fact, have actual evidence of institutionalized discrimination against conservatives and conservative ideology on campuses. Proof of discrimination in hireling practices might be a stretch. Assuming discrimination in hireling practices based on discrimination against ideology is not much of a stretch.

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Bill Carone 02.11.04 at 5:47 pm

“institutionalized inequality”

What does this mean? I thought I knew, but I am not a sociologist (IANAS).

If a business is run by women-hating men, then “institutionalized inequality” isn’t the reason that there are no women in top management. It would be simple discrimination.

However, it is not necessary for the people in charge to hate women. Even if they all were enlightened, sometimes it turns out that there are no women in top positions. “Instituitionalized inequality” means that it isn’t chance, or people’s preferences that led to this outcome, the discrimination is something to do with the entire system, despite the sincere non-sexism of the people involved in the organization.

Isn’t it much more likely that left-leaning academics simply hate conservatives, or think them stupid, and will not hire them/give them tenure? Is there evidence of this or of the contrary?

This doesn’t answer the question of how academia got this way (or indeed, even if it is this way), but if you accept that right now academia is filled with left-leaning folks, it seems that the hatred/discomfort/discriminatory explanation is more simply than institutionalized inequality explanation.

You can believe that direct discrimination happens, and believe that institutionalized discrimination doesn’t happen. It isn’t contradictory.

To prove discrimination, “you must have evidence of particular actions that have a specifically discriminatory intent or effect.”

To prove institutionalized discrimination, you do not need, and indeed would not find, any such evidence. So you can make the case without such evidence. What evidence would you need? IANAS.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 02.11.04 at 6:28 pm

“We can get a hint of this percentage from The National Academy of Sciences, which has polled the religiosity of its members, and found out that only about four percent believe in God. Since at least in the red states of the USA, the belief in the Judeo-Christian God and creationism are prerequisites of being a political conservative (if you don’t believe in God, how can you not be a nihilistic and relativistic America-hater?), this sets a hard upper bound to the percentage of conservatives, at least among the best scientists.”

All I can really say about this is, WOW! I haven’t seen such prejudice masquerading as discussion in quite some time. You have views about the intersection of religion and American conservatism which in my experience as an actual conservative in the actual USA are quite divorced from the reality. The idea that you could even think that your statistic provides a close enough proxy to conservatism to be useful in this discussion is astonishing.

“It really does bother me when Horowitz and his crew cherry-pick the humanities and social sciences to make a case for bias.”

Is it possible that bias might exist in some departments and not in others? Clearly yes. So the idea that you are cherry picking when you look at the nearly autonomous department level seems kind of odd to me.

“Mere statistical differences in result are evidence of nothing whatsoever — to make any kind of a case, you must have evidence of particular actions that have a specifically discriminatory intent or effect.”

Just so, and having seen and heard with my own eyes and ears specifically discriminatory intent on the University of California-San Diego campus I personally don’t have a problem saying that it exists and suggesting that it shouldn’t. I also note that San Diego is generally considered one of the more conservative of the UC campuses. Heaven help the conservative at Berkley or UCLA or Santa Cruz.

I specifically AM NOT asking for affirmative action for conservatives.

Anecdotal evidence to follow of the year-long ‘Dimensions of Culture’ indoctrination class.

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Mike 02.11.04 at 7:01 pm

ilkka —

I agree one hundred percent with what Sebastian said. There is a difference between political conservativism and social conservativism. That statistic might indicate that 96% of NAS members are political conservatives and cultural liberals. I believe there is a huge distinction between cultural liberalism and political liberalism, and cultural conservativism and political conservativism.

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Terry Notus 02.11.04 at 7:15 pm

Kieran,
“Open market?” Did the Duke Philosphy Dept incorporate as a for-profit business while I wasn’t looking? You can’t explain the inequities and inefficiences of a non-profit bureaucracy as the result of a dastardly free market in action. Thomas Sowell has written (title slips my mind) about the fact that governments can be much more racist than businesses or individuals because they foist the costs of bigotry onto other people.

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Heath White 02.11.04 at 7:42 pm

Of course the argument cuts both ways. Here we have liberal professors defending an inegalitarian outcome by appeal to natural or earned talent. Yet they seem reluctant to use that very explanation in many other cases of inegalitarian outcomes.

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Another Damned Medievalist 02.11.04 at 7:44 pm

Kieran — I was commenting on the idiocy of the Duke Professor — not on your argument, which I think is basically sound.

As for the nonsense that math and science are in some way more intellectually rigorous than say, history or philosophy or classics, I can only say that that’s the silliest thing I’ve heard in a long time. I can only speak from a medievalist perspective, ut our training usualy includes at least three foreign languages, reading different handwriting styles and abbreviations, negotiating our way around archives in other countries, and then the basic stuff — learning what happened, how we know it, who argues that what we know is not entirely correct and why … so, I guess not that rigorous.

I think the point about different kinds of liberal and conservative bears repeating. I also can think of departments and even colleges where political agenda (in this case the agenda of the 1970s left) is important to hiring — to the point that people with the right agenda are hired to teach outside their fields of expertise.

That’s a far cry, though, from claiming discrimination against conservatives in general. There are plenty of conservatives teaching, and most places hire the people they think will fit in best. I’ve never been directly or indirectly asked about my politics in an interview, and don’t know anyone who has. Here’s something else to think about — perhaps academics are often accused of being liberal because what they teach isn’t as readily available via the media as the generally more conservative agenda is. I’ve been accused of liberal bias in my modern survey because I talk about the institution of the Shah, the assassination of Lumumba, and the ‘suicide’ of Allende, as well as Watergate and Iran-Contra. I also talk about the Bay of Pigs and the fact that Kennedy and Johnson were in office during a good part of VietNam, and that detente was mostly a Nixon-Kissinger thing. But since most of the students haven’t heard of many of these things, and because we live in a world where discussing actual events that don’t reflect well on the presidency is at present considered unpatriotic and, well, liberal, there are people who think I’m pushing a liberal agenda. Maybe I am at that — is encouraging students to know their roots and behave as informed, responsible citizens a liberal thing?

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asg 02.11.04 at 7:50 pm

Good post by Glen Whitman at Agoraphilia on this topic: http://agoraphilia.blogspot.com/2004_02_08_agoraphilia_archive.html#107648257229180677

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Dick Eagleson 02.11.04 at 8:03 pm

I’ll start by seconding Tom T’s post at 1:13 PM, Mike Fisher’s at 2:21 PM and Eric E. Coe’s at 2:46 PM.

I think Tom’s characterization of academic employment as an inefficient market strongly constrained by externalities is demonstrated by a situation that also speaks to the results vs. peer approval paradigm stated by Mike.

When we speak of academic “leftism” I believe most would fairly take this as a synonym for “Marxism” or “partaking, in whole or large part, of a Marxian analytical framework” – classes, oppression, class struggle, all that sort of thing.

In, say, 1890 I think that Marxian notions of History and Economics might reasonably have been held to define the parameters of a plausible social order – no large-scale experiments having yet been attempted.

In the realm of Physics, in that same year, the classical Newtonian description of the universe still appeared to be the best available.

By the 1930’s, no serious physicist still thought of the universe as working by essentially Newtonian principles. The intervening 40 – 50 years had seen two major revolutions in the description of reality; Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Both were radical and controversial in infancy, but thoroughly tested and accepted in remarkably short order. Reality was the gauge and theory had to follow.

On the Humanities side of the ledger, however, Marxism was still wildly popular, despite what any fair-minded person would have to acknowledge were very disquieting things going on in the Ukraine and Spain. Granted, the Hitler-Stalin Pact caused quite a few formerly fervent Marxist theoreticians to lose their religion, but there was no shortage of volunteers to take their places.

By 1990, physicists, while still relying on Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, were in their sixth or seventh decade of attempting to find an overarching descriptive concept that would marry these notions without conflict. That search continues to the present day.

By 1990, no one with sense could still plausibly argue that Marxism constituted any kind of basis for real-world social orders to which real people would voluntarily consent. Dozens of experiments had, by then, been conducted. The results were, at best, dismal. At worst, they were crimes against humanity. The correlation between Marxism and mass killings by the state is in the high 0.8’s or the low 0.9’s.

So we come to our present day in which the Physical Sciences remain exquisitely attuned to reality while the Humanities are, to an extreme degree, detached from it.

I submit that, from a pedagogic point of view, one should regard professors of Humanities who teach from an essentially Marxian perspective as having the same intellectual respectability as Astrologers and Ptolemaic cosmologists, Alchemists and Phlogiston chemists, Flat-Earthers, Velikovskians, Phrenologists, practitioners of Palmistry and promoters of Perpetual Motion machines or Creation Science. In all the named cases, experiment has proven the ideas in question to be incontrovertibly wrong.

Despite this, the first-named of these obsolete fantasies is still adhered to and taught by present-day academics. How else is one to explain this if not as the degenerate result of a system that shields its occupants from market forces and most other forms of engagement with reality?

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Dave 02.11.04 at 8:45 pm

I think one place where the conservatives can really score points in regarard to bias is in some of the newer fields of humnaities and social sciences. Can anyone imagine a conservative as a professor of Women’s Studies? Of African American Studies? Of Queer Studies?

OTOH, do we see leftists as faculty members in business schools? I have no idea actually, can anyone comment?

This could lead to a larger question of, if a field is only capabale of generating scholarship from one side of the political spectrum, is it worthwhile? Of course, part of the reason that only one side participates, is that the other dismisses the field out of hand as unworthy or unscholarly.

On a separate matter, I still maintain that Horowitz cherry-picks. The next time one of these R’s vs D’s studies is done, I’d like to see somebody honest enough to look at ALL departments at a university (preferably a large one that would include law, engineering, medicine, dentistry…)

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Politcally Incorrect 02.11.04 at 8:56 pm

This fits well with the fact that whites aren’t as criminal as blacks and that’s why there are more black arrests than whites.

Those bell curves really screw up theories, don’t they?

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Keith Burgess-Jackson 02.11.04 at 9:07 pm

I explain why academia is liberal in the link provided.

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WillieStyle 02.11.04 at 9:11 pm

I believe there is a huge distinction between cultural liberalism and political liberalism, and cultural conservativism and political conservativism.

If by “political liberalism” you mean voting patterns, then this is becoming less and less true in the U.S.
The political divide is crystalizing along cultural lines. Just as working class, socially conservative whites began voting Republican in the 80s, culturaly liberal, but fairly wealthy white proffesionals have become prime constituents for the Democrats. The truth is that in today’s political climate, cultural views are the primary determinant of political affilliation.
So if one concedes that academics of all stripes are culturaly liberal, one is essentialy conceding that academics of all stripes tend to be politicaly liberal as well.

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WillieStyle 02.11.04 at 9:35 pm

“We can get a hint of this percentage from The National Academy of Sciences, which has polled the religiosity of its members, and found out that only about four percent believe in God. Since at least in the red states of the USA, the belief in the Judeo-Christian God and creationism are prerequisites of being a political conservative (if you don’t believe in God, how can you not be a nihilistic and relativistic America-hater?), this sets a hard upper bound to the percentage of conservatives, at least among the best scientists.”

All I can really say about this is, WOW! I haven’t seen such prejudice masquerading as discussion in quite some time. You have views about the intersection of religion and American conservatism which in my experience as an actual conservative in the actual USA are quite divorced from the reality. The idea that you could even think that your statistic provides a close enough proxy to conservatism to be useful in this discussion is astonishing.

Sebastian, I think you protest a bit too much.
It’s my understanding that polling on party affiliation shows a very strong correllation between religious devotion and conservatism on the one hand, and between athiesim/agnosticism and liberalism on the other.
I think that the disproportionaly libertarian bent amongst conservatives on the web often skews our perspectives. In the nation at large, the religiously devout are predominantly conservatives, while atheists are predominantly liberals.

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Katherine 02.11.04 at 9:55 pm

Maybe conservatives are underrepresented in “less intellectually rigorous fields” like ethnic or gender studies, social sciences, and humanities because they tend to think those fields are “not intellectually rigorous”.

(I can readily admit that liberals are probably underrepresented in b-school faculties for comparable reasons.)

Also–do people understand that there is a hell of a lot of evidence for discrimination against minorities and women that goes beyond “minorities and women are less wealthy (or do worse on the outcome measure of your choice) than whites and males? Didn’t Kieran once write a post about a study showing white men with prison records have better employment records than black men without prison records? Then there was the one about sending out resumes with “black names” and “white names” and seeing the economic results. Racial profiling in law enforcement is very well documented. etc. etc. That’s just evidence of current discrimination–then you have more evidence about the link between parents’ wealth and children’s education and wealth, which is certainly relevant when Jim Crow has been out of existence for only 40-odd years.

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Max Anderson 02.11.04 at 10:43 pm

This question seems to me similar to asking “why are there so many frat-boy types in fraternities?” For the most part, academia is allowed to pick its owm members, so it does not seem unusual that they predominantly choose to associate with like minded individuals.

This view of the question has been appearing repeatedly here, and I have to ask, how is this statement fundamentally different from the claim that the white men who make most of the hiring decisions in the business world also tend to hire people like themselves? Reiterating claims that academic hiring practices are discriminatory doesn’t exactly refute Keiran’s argument, no matter how you rephrase it.

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elspi 02.12.04 at 12:35 am

There is an easier answer: Academics value intellectual honesty; conservatives value sophistry. Many of the people who work for right wing think tanks (Lott comes to mind) have been so intellectually dishonest that they would have been fired at any university. Tenure doesn’t protect a liar.

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Sebastian holsclaw 02.12.04 at 12:45 am

“In the nation at large, the religiously devout are predominantly conservatives, while atheists are predominantly liberals.”

Which may be true but is a far cry from saying that conservatives are typically religious dontcha know?

“There is an easier answer: Academics value intellectual honesty; conservatives value sophistry.”

Hmph. You clearly have been dealing with different academics than the ones I’ve had experience with if you think they aren’t great valuers of sophistry. In fact, you might want to consider the origin of the word.

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james 02.12.04 at 12:55 am

elspi – You will be hard pressed to find true intellectual honesty among any high ranking politician. If you wish to use that as a basis, President Clinton was a Rhode Scholar and apparently did not know the meaning of the word “is”. Using a politician that as proof of an ideologies commitment to truth, honesty, or integrity is a fallacy at best.

The old joke: How do you know a politician is lying? He says something.

Academics do not always value intellectual honesty. Sometimes its more important to tow the party line so to speak.

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WillieStyle 02.12.04 at 12:57 am

“In the nation at large, the religiously devout are predominantly conservatives, while atheists are predominantly liberals.”

Which may be true but is a far cry from saying that conservatives are typically religious dontcha know?

No it isn’t. Especially when you note that a very substantial portion of the total population is religiously devout.

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max anderson 02.12.04 at 1:45 am

james, I believe it is more correct to say, “tow the party hawser”. HTH.

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jasminedad 02.12.04 at 1:47 am

Keith Ellis:
“I have heard that there is a correlation between highest level of education achieved and liberalism; but I’ve also seen this disputed. A quick Google attempt at a search didn’t clear this up. If true, I think it would have relevance.”

The studies I have seen — can’t quote them now — showed that, at least a decade or two ago, high school-educated folks voted more Democratic than Republican, but as the the number of college years increased, including professional education, the correlation with voting Republican increased. However, among the US Nobel Laureates at the time of the survey, a very large percentage voted Democratic.

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Sparta 02.12.04 at 2:18 am

Dr Jim Miller appears to be making a mistake common amongst conservatives, they think that if they complain about being a persecuted minority long enough the rest of us will start agreeing with them and stop thinking they are full of it.

In the old days the attraction of being a conservative was avoiding the tedious ideological shiboleths of the right. There are still a few Marxist sad-cases like McKinnon floating arround but only Rush Limbaugh believes they are representative of the left.

It is now the conservatives who have swallowed ideological twaddle hook line and sinker. To become a Conservative today you must believe passionately that tax cuts deter rogue regimes from acquiring nuclear weapons, pre-emptive wars promote the sanctity of mariage and gay marriages are a threat to growth.

There are not many people who are too stupid to surrender their intellect to an ideology of any type who can hold down a tenured academic position these days. In the 1960s when academia was expanding it was different.

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jasminedad 02.12.04 at 2:32 am

There is another aspect of why academics tend to be a somewhat more liberal — academia depends on handouts from the governments at various levels. The entire system would collapse without government funding — from research grants, fellowships, state subsidies for state universities, etc., etc. A libertarian gunning for low taxes would feel quite uncomfortable seeking government funds for this or that research. Even those in the academy who are not pronouncedly ideological probably have an instinctive aversion to the “shrink the government” mantra of conservatism. So, the rightward limits of an academic are set by reality to be much more left than the righward limits of a businessperson.

Much of this talk about “conservatism” only relates to certain disciplines. I am a computer science professor at large midwestern state university — quite research-oriented — and I honestly don’t know the political leanings of most of my colleagues. My bet is that most vote Democratic, but the ones who vote Republican are probably what one would call the moderates.

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Jeremy Pierce 02.12.04 at 3:22 am

“conservatives, by and large, tend to believe that people get what they deserve in life and that labor markets — whether for food service workers, corporate consultants, assistant professors or any other occupation — shake out fairly”

Maybe the old-style conservative believes that, but I think many conservatives nowadays would say just that people don’t have a right to more than they get and that the government has no responsibility to provide more for most people than already is provided (and even that is often far more than the government is morally required to do).

“When confronted with evidence of systematic racial or gender inequality, for example, they’ll go to considerable effort to argue that it’s differences in natural talent, acquired skills or personal preferences that are driving the outcome.”

That’s also just not true anymore. Arguments against affirmative action are increasingly about whether the practice harms minorities who are supposed to be helped by it. Conservative explanations of racial disparity rely partly on institutionalized attitudes of victimology, anti-intellectualism, and separatism rather than laziness or lack of ability.

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linden 02.12.04 at 4:18 am

Instapundit.com has a bunch of stuff on this:

“The most questionable explanation in the article is that of Duke philosophy chair, Robert Brandon:

“If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire. Mill’s analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too.”

Yet Republicans in the general public tend to be better educated than Democrats. In the 1994-2002 General Social Surveys (GSS), Republicans have over 6/10ths of a year more education on average than Democrats. Republicans also have a higher final mean educational degree. Further, Republicans scored better than Democrats on two word tests in the GSS–a short vocabulary test and a modified analogies test.

If one breaks down the data by party affiliation and political orientation, the most highly educated group is conservative Republicans, who also score highest on the vocabulary and analogical reasoning tests. Liberal Democrats score only insignificantly lower than conservative Republicans. The least educated subgroups are moderate and conservative Democrats, who also score at the bottom (or very near the bottom) on vocabulary and analogy tests.

The irony here is that if there were substantial numbers of Republican political scientists, psychologists, and sociologists at Duke and other elite schools, Professor Brandon might already know that in the United States, the two most similar groups in educational attainment and verbal proficiency are liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans–and that ordinary, non-liberal Democrats are among the least educated political groups.”

There are also links to other blogs with informative commentary on this topic.

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Anthony 02.12.04 at 6:58 am

Williestyle – certainly, in the general population, most conservatives are religious. So are most liberals, because in the general American society, most people are religious.

It’s likely true that more atheists are liberals or socialists than are conservatives or libertarians, but there exists, particularly among the intelligentsia, a large number of libertarian (and a few conservative) atheists.

My personal (limited) experience is that professors in fields where their skills could get them a well-paid job in private industry (engineering, the natural sciences, economics, business, and law) tend to have a fairly broad spectrum of political opinion, but few under 50 are outright Communists, or very close. Professors who next-best career option would be government or teaching at other levels range in political opinion from Bill Clinton to Kim Il-Sung, with an occasional token libertarian Republican in the lot.

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Micha Ghertner 02.12.04 at 7:46 am

It’s likely true that more atheists are liberals or socialists than are conservatives or libertarians, but there exists, particularly among the intelligentsia, a large number of libertarian (and a few conservative) atheists.

I don’t think this is true, or at least, it doesn’t seem to match my experience. The vast majority of libertarians I have met, read, or in some other way communicated with have been athiests or agnostics.

Now, you may very well be right that more athiests are liberals or socialists than libertarians, simply because there are more liberals or socialists than libertarians in the general population. But if we look at what percentage of these particular groups are athiests or agnostics, I would expect that libertarians to have the largest portion.

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Ron 02.12.04 at 10:32 am

“Further interest attaches to the way in which this distinction is made, since the anti-rational-authoritarian is shown to possess many of the attributes, both as regards social position and personality characteristics, which were supposed by Adorno et al. to characterise the pro-irrational-authoritarian.”

In other words: this study found both fascist an leftists to be less intelligent and less socially successful than centerists.

http://jonjayray.tripod.com/rudin.html

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WillieStyle 02.12.04 at 3:13 pm

Just so, and having seen and heard with my own eyes and ears specifically discriminatory intent on the University of California-San Diego campus I personally don’t have a problem saying that it exists and suggesting that it shouldn’t.

Care to share? In fact, in the hopes of getting somewhere in this debate, I’d ask that conservatives relate their tales of discrimination on college campuses. Us liberals are suckers for sob-stories and I’m sure you could turn us around with enough sufficiently heart-wrenching tales of discrimination.

P.S.
I said heart-wrenching. Stories about how folks made fun of your bow tie, or how your roommate used your Ronald Reagan poster to wrap his blunt, will not help your cause very much.

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Chris Martin 02.12.04 at 5:39 pm

James, here is the Clinton quote in context:

It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ means. If ‘is’ means is, and never has been, that’s one thing. If it means, there is none, that was a completely true statement.

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james 02.12.04 at 8:48 pm

Max Andersion – Actually it should have been “Toe the party line”. I am not familar with “tow the party hawser”.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 02.12.04 at 9:02 pm

I don’t have time to go into all the details, but I will relate 3 incidents all relating to the year long Dimensions of Culture class.

Background: UCSD had at the time 5 colleges. Each had a different basic writing course. All students were to take the writing course to gain a minimum proficiency in writing. My college had ‘Dimensions of Culture’ or DOC. We spent a year learning about how culture effects reality and writing about it.

Quarter 1: We spent weeks learning about how all of culture and morality is socially constructed. Emphasis was placed on the fact that no one culture was better than another, and the fact that no culture could be independently judged on anything because all cultures formed their own values. Typical po-mo crap. Toward the end of the quarter we talked about how South Africa constructed its society to opress black people. I raised my hand and asked how one could reconcile the idea that societies should be free to form their own cultural norms with the idea that the cultural norms expressed through aparthied were ‘objectively’ wrong? I suggested that Western treatment of South Africa implied either that there were actually norms independent of culture (which we wanted to enforce), or that we were attempting to impose merely Western norms on South Africa. The teacher responded by suggesting that only racists would defend South Africa, and that I clearly had no understanding of the underlying issues. The discussion in class included two students who called me a racist in the class with one suggesting I was a NAZI, with no comment from the teacher, and no reply allowed.

Quarter 2: This quarter was more specifically about US law and culture. We were instructed to write an essay intended to persuade the reader to agree with our point of view on a controversial topic dealing with American law or culture. It was a 5 page paper. I spent the first 2 pages discussing why we thought of child abuse as an especially horrible crime. I mentioned that we place emphasis on the vulnerability of the child and of the abuse of power between a parent and child. I wrote at length about how child abuse can cripple the ability of the child to function as an adult later. I spoke about how parents sometimes treat their children as existing for their own convenience. On page 3 I drew parallels with abortion and continued from there. The grade I received was a D. The only notes on the paper were one circled mis-spelling and a circle around my transition to abortion with the comment “This is the thesis. The thesis belongs at the beginning of an essay.”

I had never received anything less than a B+ on a college essay, and never received less after that paper. I was an English Literature major, so I wrote quite a few essays. I asked the teaching assistant about it. She said that the thesis must be exposited at the beginning of an essay. I was not exhibiting clear thinking by waiting until the third page to write the thesis. I protested that an essay on abortion was so contentious that it was far better to present your arguments before mentioning the word ‘abortion’ since once the word was in the air, thinking on both sides tended to cease. She disagreed. I went to the professor and he said that I could re-write the essay with the thesis first for a regrade with a maximum of a C. I did so and received a C.

Not long after that we formally discussed abortion in class. We spent 2 days discussing the horrors of the pre-Roe era. Outside of class we were required to attend an on-campus lecture with either the San Diego head of the National Organization for Women or the National Abortion Rights Leauge, I don’t remember which. I was asked by the TA not to ask ‘provacative’ questions. The speaker spent 20 minutes on a slide show about ‘scary’ anti-abortion protestors. She focused special attention (5 or so slides) on a Catholic nun with a big cross praying on the sidewalk. I was not called on, but a Catholic girl asked what was so scary about a nun praying on the street. We were assured that the nun was threatening, just not in the pictures. All in all she was an effective speaker, responding well to the mood of the crowd, etc.

For ‘balance’ we were shown the cheesy 1970s movie “The Silent Scream”. The movie has weird sound effects and is pretty lame. I asked if we could have a pro-life speaker. I was told that it wouldn’t be ‘appropriate’ to invite such a speaker. I pointed out that we had just had a pro-abortion speaker. The professor was unimpressed and said suggested that the 20 year old film was adequate rebuttal to a live, crowd-interactive, presentation.

By quarter 3, I saw that DOC was becoming a substantial drag on my GPA, so I shut up.

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james 02.12.04 at 9:46 pm

Provided is a link to an organization that specializes in free speech issues on college campuses. You will notice that the majority of cases are concerning a conservative group, individual, or ideology being suppressed by the college administration.

http://www.thefire.org/index.php

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Dean Howard 02.12.04 at 9:57 pm

Conservatives are probably rare in academia because they leave owing to the “hostile atmosphere,” as it were.

I received my PhD at Berkeley (God help me) before spending 15 years as a professor in the Ivy League and later a premier foreign university (widely characterized as a bulwark of socialism in that country), by which time I’d had it up to the eyeballs, gave up my tenured position, and left for industry. A number of conservative friends in academia have either left also, are thinking about it, or are resigned to suffering in silence to minimize the otherwise inevitable flak.

The incessant left-wing yammering just became tiresome (as did the risible paychecks, the stifling bureaucracy, and the lack of opportunity). It is stressful and unpleasant to be entirely out of step with most of your colleagues, to be a lightning rod for vociferously expressed left-wing disapproval of any conservative policy (one’s support for which was generally imputed), to be lumped in with particularly distasteful figures on the right-wing, to be patronized as not having yet seen the light, and generally singled out for opprobrium. Imagine being an American in France right now, and you have the picture.

That social pressure is probably the primary mechanism for keeping academia left-wing. Academia most likely became left-wing in the first place because homogeneous population distributions tend to be metastable in the presence of a disruptive force. An simple analogy would be a tray of water that, unless lifted in a perfectly level fashion, will tilt and slosh water to the low side, thereby generating a torque that aggravates the original tilt. Steven den Beste has written a superb essay (“Formation of residues”)

http://denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2003/08/Formationofresidues.shtml

on how this phenomenon leads to inhomogeneous population distributions.

Academia has concentrated those of a left-wing viewpoint because such opinions historically would make those holding them unpopular elsewhere, or at least on the fringe. Tenure insulates academics holding unpopular views from retribution directed toward their employment, while the pressure to produce creative independent thought too often degenerates into garden-variety contrariness (“the prevailing orthodoxy is capitalist, so …I guess I’m a socialist”) in a misguided (and somewhat pathetic) attempt to establish intellectual bona fides. Add a jigger of late adolescent rebellion to appeal to the student body, and voila! A left-wing faculty member is born (in the US; in Eastern Europe it worked the opposite way). Repeat the process a few times, the trend accelerates, and academia becomes a left-wing bastion, as new entrants try to distinguish themselves from the pack by staking out still more extreme positions (much like Janet Jackson, on a topical note, and the Jacobins in the French Revolution, on a historical one).

Nothing to do with intelligence, necessarily, much as those in academia would like to believe in that self-serving explanation.

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james 02.12.04 at 10:02 pm

Concerning personal experience with differences of view. I was part of a project abroad program. One of the projects entailed a study of the effect of lead paint on households with small children. The group involved in this project came to the conclusion that removing lead paint, while a such a family was living in the home, was as dangerous as leaving the paint. The head of the department exploded into a rage at hearing this. His statements implied the result the group came up with was unacceptable, due to the fact this finding did not result in a recommended coarse of action that match his personal view of the issue. He did not question the validity of the data. The department head later apologized. I have no idea if this demonstrates a conservative or liberal view on anything. It does demonstrate a willingness to intimidate students when their views conflict with a professors or administrators.

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GMT 02.12.04 at 10:21 pm

whoa, are we talking about what conservatives do or what they say? I mean, it’s no wonder they think academia is full of “liberals,” since “liberal” in actual conservative use means “anyone even remotely to the left of me,” leading to some really odd accusations (Tacitus as a liberal site, for instance).

But, since conservative’s supposed principles are nowhere evident in their actual policies, shouldn’t we be asking about the liberal bias in conservative policy-making? Why won’t the liberal media talk about this?

And just how would someone espousing cold-fusion economics and an ethical system based on cringing fear of a giant Charleton Heston in the sky think they could get a job in academia? What they must think of us!

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Another Damned Medievalist 02.13.04 at 6:30 am

Sebastian, it might surprise you to know that many of those terrible left-wing academics would see your experience partially as one of bad teaching, and perhaps of the times. that said, different disciplines have different styles. English majors tell me all the time that they are A students as they read the big B- to C grades that they earn from me. If the essay was on child abuse and you mentioned abortion as a form, then I would expect that to appear in the first paragraph. I would expect the thesis to be fairly high up in the first paragraph, unless the paper were over 10 pages. But then, I also dock grades when people use MLA, because in my class we use Chicago, as that’s what is the norm in my discipline. Lots of students don’t think it’s fair, but the rules of the discipline are part of the course description.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 02.13.04 at 7:05 am

“If the essay was on child abuse and you mentioned abortion as a form, then I would expect that to appear in the first paragraph.”

Considering your reading comprehension on my post, perhaps it is unsurprising that an A student might get lower grades from you. If you would re-read my framing of the essay you will see that your concerns have already been addressed.

Let us make it easy for you: “We were instructed to write an essay intended to persuade the reader to agree with our point of view on a controversial topic dealing with American law or culture.”

The sarcasm was honed after college. ;)

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humeidayer 02.13.04 at 2:16 pm

Nothing to do with intelligence, necessarily, much as those in academia would like to believe in that self-serving explanation.

Dogmatism is the most effective scarecrow for genius.

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limberwulf 02.13.04 at 5:12 pm

Most conservatives I know do not agree with the educational system itself. Many find the idea of working for a government institution to be itself a conflict of ideals. Not all colleges are government supported or controlled, but by and large there is a massive inclusion of government in the operations of acedemia. A majority of the conservative professors and teachers I have seen have been either in private schools or are in areas that tend to be most helpful in spreading conservatism, i.e. business and economics.

The idea of one group being smarter or more willing to put up with the environment of school I think is difficult to back up. I know plenty of smart people and plenty of stupid people. They are on all sides of the political, social and economic spectrum.

I personally find that people tend to operate in an environment that works with their belief system. Conservatism works well in business, but it works poorly in a government institution. Liberalism works well in academia, and is insulated to some extent from the business world, meaning that it can adhere to its ideals without obvious contradictions being thrown at it. Ideals on either side have to have a certain insulation from reality to remain viable. Academia as the system currently stands is a poor environment for conservative ideals.

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David Velleman 02.15.04 at 10:29 pm

The perception of discrimination against conservatives is probably a byproduct of a preference for scholarship that is overtly inspired by race- and gender-politics. This preference has completely altered the face of many disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Those disciplines have spent 10 – 15 years hiring “scholars” whose work is explicitly dedicated to identity politics of race and gender.

This trend is due, in part, to the intellectual vacuum created by post-modernism. If there are no objective intellectual standards (which is what the post-modernists believe) then hiring may just as well be guided by the political sympathies of the recruitment committee — in particular, by their desire to promote racial and gender equality. We therefore have an entire generation of tenured professors who were hired, not because their work was intellectually superior or even moderately good, but because it purported to uncover racism and sexism in previously unsuspected places, or to recover the cultural contributions of previously neglected minorities and women.

One can be a strong proponent of racial and gender equality and yet deplore the influence that identity politics has on these disciplines. One can be a feminist and still think that commitment to the cause of feminism is not a qualification for academic employment. One can be an anti-racist and yet deny that sloppy scholarship can be excused on the grounds that it serves the cause of fighting racism. Unfortunately, most of us have hesitated to draw these distinctions — partly out of fear that we might undermine causes that we support, and partly out of fear that we might be labeled racists or sexists ourselves. Our hesitations have gravely endangered the independence of the academy.

I do not support any efforts to enforce ideological balance in universities. But I also believe that our grounds for resisting such efforts have been seriously undercut by the politicization of the academy over the past decade or two. The main reason for allowing us to govern ourselves in the academy is that we are applying intellectual standards that we are best qualified to apply. If we are not applying such standards , if we are instead hiring people because their work is feminist or anti-racist, then we lose our grounds for insisting on self-governance.

In any case, those who deny that academic hiring is political simply aren’t looking in the right places. The point is not that recruitment committees are checking up on candidate’s political party affiliation; the point is that explicitly political research programs are dominating many disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.

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Michael Kochin 02.18.04 at 1:40 am

Natural scientists are more conservative as a group than their social science and humanities colleagues, just they are more religious.

About 40% of US natural scientists in a 1996 survey reported belief in a personal God (E. J. Larson & L. Witham, Nature 386, 435 – 436 (1997)); rougly the same percentage as on the first such survey back in 1916.
As I recall, the percentage for humanists and social scientists in only around 20%.

Now it is true that if we look at elite natural scientists there has been substantial change since 1916. But still, a puzzle, why should humanists and social scientists overall be more atheistic (and more liberal, and more democratic) than their natural science counterparts?

Occam’s razor (thank to that Duke prof. for reminding this thick conservative of it) suggests that the explanation just might be the same as the explanation for why we see so small a percentage of US citizens in Ph.D. prgrams in Computer Science and so many in law school taking courses on Internet Law.

Can you say: differential opportunity costs? I knew you could.

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Steve 02.18.04 at 4:51 pm

Why are humanities professors liberal? 4 reasons.

1) Many of them come from the Vietnam generation. The easiest way for a kid to get out of duty was to stay in school. The kind of kid that would want to get out of military duty is the kind of kid that will be a liberal.

2) Ressentement, Democratic Envy, internalized teenage humiliation. In junior high school, there were three kinds of kids: cool kids, nerds without brains, and nerds with brains. The cool kids grew up to be normal, complacent adults (insurance agents, managers at Walmart, etc). The nerds with brains grew up to be normal, curious adults (engineers, scientists, accountants, lawyers). The nerds without brains grew up to find others like themselves. They did so in academia.
3) Risk aversion. Graduate school is easy. Graduate school in a humanities department is easier.
4) Insularity. Like the ancien regime in France, today’s academics are so insulated from real life, they have completely lost their moral sense. This tends to promote preposterous leftist theories, that are taken seriously nowhere but in academia. This is magnified as the academy becomes more and more intellectually one-dimensional-the more liberal a university becomes, the less internal questioning that occurs, which allows for more liberalism (David Horowitz’ Free Speech games are obnoxious, but illustrate this point: Free Speech is more threatened on very liberal campuses than in any other public arena in American society).

Note that 1-3 are cases of self-selection-liberal people go into academia more, so of course academics will tend to be more liberal. 4 is arguably an example of institutional bias.

Solution? Ignore them. Just as plumbers may well be more conservative than the population at large, but we don’t care, (because we don’t count on plumbers to shape us or inform us in any way outside of plumbing), academics are clearly more liberal-but so what? Once our society figures that out (and we are in the process of doing so), we will realize that academics, while they may be experts at gender theory or phenomenology psychological nonsense, have no more expertise in political choices, international affairs, or morality or ethics than the local plumbers’ union.

steve

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