What liberal academy?

by Henry Farrell on September 27, 2003

Do conservatives have a hard time getting tenure in American universities? “David Brooks”:http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/27/opinion/27BROO.html suggests as much in a NYT op-ed today. This isn’t David Horowitz-style ravings; Brooks makes a real argument. He quotes various conservative professors to say that:

bq. A person who voted for President Bush may be viewed as an oddity, but the main problem in finding a job is that the sorts of subjects a conservative is likely to investigate – say, diplomatic or military history – do not excite hiring committees.

Brooks’ respondents may be right about history (although military history is making a bit of a comeback; look at “Niall Ferguson”:http://www.boston.com/globe/magazine/2003/0629/coverstory_entire.htm). Even so, I think that Brooks exaggerates. While the average political scientist is somewhere to the left of the average punter, she isn’t all that far to the left. In my experience, most political scientists are moderate liberals, with substantial minorities who are real leftists, centrists, or mild to moderate Republicans. There aren’t many hardcore conservatives in top political science departments, but there aren’t many Marxists either. Indeed, I’d guess that there are rather more conservatives than Marxists – conservatives dominate certain areas of political theory (classical political philosophy) that most pol-sci departments have to offer courses in.

There’s also another factor that Brooks doesn’t talk about (although he hints at it at the end of the article). If you’re a young conservative, who’s just gotten a Ph.D. in pol. sci. or pol. theory from a good school, you have many attractive options outside the academy. Conservative think-tanks like Heritage and the American Enterprise Institute are remarkably well-funded (thanks to the “charming”:http://www.dailyhowler.com/dh022403.shtml Richard Mellon Scaife and other mega-millionaires), and provide direct access to the US policy process. They offer better pay (usually), more immediate recognition and more influence. It’s a wonder that any bright conservatives stay in the academy at all.



dondi 09.27.03 at 7:13 am

It seems to me that there are three big caveats here.

1. Differences between disciplines are substantial. There are departments which will house much more conservative faculty members (Economics is probably the best example) – departments which are much more likely to house liberals or lefties (Literature departments are sometimes on the extreme here) – and departments which come closer to the situation Henry describes for Poli Sci.

2. All of this is still bound within the peculiarly shortened range of discourse found in US politics. The number of faculty members who would be willing to describe themselves as “Social Democrats” is quite small – and it is hard for me to take serious the claims of rampant left-wing bias when a huge part of the left wing is just missing.

3. There are clearly some specific institutions that are substantial outliers within their discipline – think of the University of Chicago (especially in Economics and Law) or Stanford University (for faculty affiliated with the Hoover Institution) on the right, or the New School for Social Research on the left. (If I remember right, I had the impression that the University of Massachusetts at Amherst had a surprisingly leftist econ. dept. – but I am less certain about whether that is an ongoing characteristic of the school, or was the impression given by one or two particularly prolific faculty members)


Henry 09.27.03 at 7:25 am

Dondi – I agree with nearly everything you say, but want to note for the record that the political science department in the University of Chicago is reasonably ideologically diverse, whatever about econ and the rest. Indeed, back in the 1980s, three prominent rat choice Marxists, Jon Elster, Adam Przeworski and Russell Hardin were faculty members there simultaneously.


Dan the Man 09.27.03 at 7:35 am

If one really wants to test the latest conservative spew
that conservatives have problems being hired just check
departments which have nothing to do with politics like
Science departments or Math Departments. If the people
being hired there still vote for Democrats disproportionately
then this shows that conservatives are probably just
nitwits (especially considering the fact that those
departments tend to be skew male) and aren’t smart
enough to get hired.


Ray 09.27.03 at 8:29 am

I don’t know about getting tenure, and I’m not exactly unbiased, but I have observed (and heard of more) marked (and quite often undisguised) displays of institutional hostility towards student publications on campus that are viewed as conservative.


Chris 09.27.03 at 8:46 am

Henry: 2 out of the 3 people you mention were indeed members of the “September Group”, but it wasn’t a requirement that someone be a Marxist in any sense (Philippe Van Parijs and Hillel Steiner are also members). Elster certainly wasn’t (read his Making Sense of Marx), Przeworski might have so self-described but if so it was using a pretty attenuated sense of “Marxist” and Hardin doesn’t strike me as Marxist at all.


Doug 09.27.03 at 10:15 am

Dondi – Can’t agree with your agree of US discussions as peculiarly attenuated. As a center-left person in the States, I find myself categorized in German academic circles as classical liberal to right. Thus I find the German discourse peculiarly attenuated and filled with blind spots (excessive regulation, looming pension disaster, illusions about migration, etc).

I propose a field trip to Rejkyavik and the Azores to find out if where you stand does indeed depend on where you sit.


Scott Martens 09.27.03 at 11:12 am

I’ve always been surprised by these claims about left-only universities in America. At Stanford, there were two campus newspapers that were resolutely right-wing, and nearly all of the professors I encountered were no further to the left than Al Gore, while a majority were a lot more conservative than that. For all the complaining about campus Marxists, I’ve only ever seen one actual campus Marxist organisation in all the colleges I’ve visited in the US – a Trotskyist group that was recruiting on orientation day at UCSD.

Ironically, the most liberal school I ever attended was a religious college in Indiana run by one of the most notoriously conservative Protestant sects in America.


Ssuma 09.27.03 at 1:34 pm

I get really tired of conservative self-pity and victimology. Brooks may rant a little less than Horowitz, but the point is the same crap.

-Again, like everyone who talks about higher ed he can’t imagine anyone going anyplace other than Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. One bellyacher at each campus is enough for a valid sample.

-I’ve been on lots of interviews. Nobody ever asked about, or found out about my political beliefs. None of them even knew I was married, unless I wanted to tell them. The witch-hunt stuff is garbage.

– Kors advises conservatives not to go to grad school since given their political beliefs they may not be whisked effortlessly from their B.A. to tenure, the way liberals are. For extended commentary see Invisible Adjunct.

-Nobody hires in diplomatic and military history. That’s partly true, and it large part it’s driven by market forces. You can’t get students to sign up for diplomatic history even if you hold a gun on them. Military history tends to draw a lot of “non-majors who insist on making sound effects as I discuss the Somme,” to quote a colleague. Admins. don’t like empty classes, and departments don’t like offering stuff that majors don’t like. Everybody needs one diplo person, but no more, and maybe one military, and no more. Perhaps we need the government to step in and offer subsidies.

-My main point. Why shouldn’t professors be liberals, or at least democrats? Horowitz thinks that Democrats should not be allowed near our children because the Democrat party stands for handing the country over to North Korea, state-subsidized heroin for little kids and homos being allowed to walk the streets. I assume that Brooks is not agreeing with that. What are some of the things one can expect from Dems?

-Belief that education spending is always good, regardless of what results it has. (Republican equivalent is military spending)

-Tendency to defer to experts and technocrats, especially those with fancy Ph.D.s (Not a hallmark of Repubs, and especially not those in most state legislatures, who know how to run a university a sight better than those fancy pants.)

-Lots of gush about how there are things more important than money. Honest to g-d, most profs I know think that what they do is teaching, and that it is something that should be outside of market forces. Yes, I know there are lots of problems with that, but to a Repub it is not just silly, it is heresy.

Horowitz and Brooks go on about history and Poli Sci departments, but from my experience even the sciences tend to be mostly mild democrats. Even the business school is far more left than the business community. I suspect there are lots of reasons of self-interest and common attitudes that encourage profs to vote democratic. Perhaps the solution is abolition of higher ed? A good stint on a collective farm would give students the proper political attitude, and we wouldn’t have all these stinking intellectuals around.


Jacob T. Levy 09.27.03 at 2:32 pm

I tried to make the “No, really, c’mon it’s not like that” case, but (as happens in 725-word op-eds) not much of my conversation with Brooks made it into the piece…


Dan the Man 09.27.03 at 3:31 pm

Oh, gosh I have a chance to bash Brooks as a Anti-Semite so
how can I resist? Jews are disproportionately represented
in academia. Brooks’ academia bashing is really a covert
attempt to bash Jews ie he’s a closet Anti-Semite. This is
getting too fun.


Erik 09.27.03 at 3:31 pm

Brooks also fails to distinguish between social conservatives like Robbie George, who are indeed very rare in the social sciences and humanities, and scholars with libertarian leanings, whose viewpoints are fairly well represented and certainly not chastised.


Ophelia Benson 09.27.03 at 5:10 pm

I wrote a brief article on the Horowitz-Colorado nonsense at Butterflies and Wheels last week. (I will add this discussion to the links at the end.) Making, for one, the same point about naturally-occurring leftists in certain fields.

“Another aspect is the question of what David Horowitz and others take to be a highly suspicious absence of ‘registered Republicans’ in political science departments. But that sounds exactly like the irritatingly incomplete statements of uncritical proponents of affirmative action. ‘There are fewer blacks and Hispanics in elite universities.’ Very well, and that may be the result of systematic or unsystematic injustice of various kinds – but it also may not. It’s not absolutely straightforwardly self-evident that it is, so just making the statement and letting it go at that is inadequate. There may be – and probably is – a mix of factors: poverty, bad schools, taxation distorted by residential segregation, discrimination, but also peer pressure, families with little education, and so on. So with the over-representation of ‘registered Democrats’ in political science departments. It could be all bias on the part of those doing the hiring, but it could also be that the kind of people who want to read and think and write about political science (or history or sociology or philosophy) are also the kind of people who tend to vote Democratic. That could be just a fact of human life, a matter of preferences and tastes, likes and dislikes, choices and inclinations, an area of life that conservatives normally do not approve of legislating. Trying to interfere with the pattern, trying to correct a perceived problem or imbalance could well produce even worse problems and imbalances. It could in fact become pure ‘social engineering’ of the kind that Republicans usually despise.”


Henry 09.27.03 at 5:40 pm

Chris – you’re right – I should have said marxisante rather than Marxist – writing at 2am will do that to you. But I think Elster was more sympathetic to Marxism than you give him credit for being – _Making Sense_ is an effort to reconstruct Marx on the basis of rat choice microfoundations rather than to refute him. Przeworski’s work on social democracy clearly has the same goal. And even Hardin is rather more leftleaning in person than his work would lead you to believe.


Laura 09.27.03 at 7:35 pm

Henry and Chris–
I think that the tolerance level of political science departments varies greatly from school to school. When at the U of C, the faculty seemed pretty open to different points of view. Elster didn’t preach Marxism or even rational choice Marxism. But the faculty at other graduate schools are less kind to conservatives. I doubt any conservative graduate students graduated from my program.


Frank 09.28.03 at 12:16 am

I’ve spent the past 25 years studying and teaching in 6 philosophy departments (with a total of roughly 60 philosophers), and I can count the ‘conservative’ members of those departments on one hand. (I add the scare quotes because those five philosophers were libertarians, not really conservatives. There were *no* real conservatives in those 6 — mainstream and respected — departments.)

I don’t doubt that things are a bit different in economics and politics departments, but who can doubt that humanities departments exclude conservatives? It’s just obvious to anyone who’s actually in the academy.

I understand the desire not to make concessions to “Horowitz-style ravings,” but denying the obvious is equally insidious.


Jon H 09.28.03 at 1:22 am

Isn’t it the case that it’s hard for *anybody* to get a job in academia these days, especially if you want tenure track and not some part-time adjunct position?


Timothy Burke 09.28.03 at 3:10 am

I think that with Henry’s caveats and a few of my own (some of them echoing comments made here about the diversity of disciplines, institutions and so on), that Brooks’ claims have some modest truth to them. More than a few of the replies made here either compensate absurdly in the opposite direction or they make points that are in some sense immaterial, rather like Henry’s observation that a bright young conservative would have the option of a think tank. That’s like observing that a woman denied a corporate promotion might have a bright future in the non-profit sector. It might be true, but it doesn’t speak to the issue at hand.

Yes, it’s true that Brooks descends to the very victimology that conservatives pretend to decry. Yes, it’s true that he exaggerates the problem, which is not really altogether that grave a problem anyway. Yes, it’s true that the picture is much more complex.

But it’s also true that in the humanities, at selective institutions (with the odd exception), academics lean loosely to the left and tend to regard anyone who self-defines as a conservative or who takes notably conservative stands as an oddball or lightweight. There are huge exceptions to this–established, senior figures with substantial reputation capital can basically do as they please; there are entire disciplines like economics where rightward positions are normal or accepted; and so on. But the pattern Brooks describes, within certain disciplines and career trajectories, is quite real.

Spare me some of the thinner objections to that observation, certainly. No one gets asked about their politics in interviews in the humanities. Of course not. To speak of having a “politics” in such concrete terms is already seen as a sign of unsophistication. But scholarship by aspiring academics is read politically–not in terms of someone’s party affiliation, but as a composite picture of theoretical and social affiliations that have a discrete political alignment to them. A candidate who was “read” as being a conservative–say a budding literary scholar who regarded Northrup Frye, Matthew Arnold and Edmund Burke as guides toward an anti-historicist strategy for textual interpretation–would run into serious trouble in the vast majority of English Departments no matter how intelligent, productive or pedagogically gifted they were. The tripwires here aren’t generally as obvious as saying, “I voted for Bush”–though Brooks is completely correct in thinking that this would possibly be one of the three or four most disastrous things an aspiring humanities scholar could say during an on-campus interview.

What Brooks misses, of course, is that this isn’t just about conservatism. Virtually anything that departed from a carefully groomed sense of acceptable innovation, including ideas and positions distinctively to the left and some that are neither left nor right, could be just as potentially disastrous. Like a lot of right-wing critics of academia, he generally thinks too small and parochially, and too evidently simply seeks to invert what he perceives as a dominant orthodoxy. If they had their druthers, Horowitz and Pipes and most of the rest of the victimology types would simply make the academy a conservative redoubt rather than a liberal one. The real issue here is the way that each successive academic generation succeeds in installing its own conventional wisdom as the guardian at the gates, and burns the principle of academic freedom in subtle, pervasive fires aflame in the little everyday businesses and gestures of academic life. The line behind Brooks of people who could rightfully claim that an important perspective or methodology is largely unwelcome within the academy is fairly long.


Zizka 09.28.03 at 3:57 am

This issue has been beaten to death. Points not mentioned so far: American conservatives seem to gravitate to well-paying fields — as indeed they should, given their beliefs. History, English, and Political Science professors aren’t terribly well paid; with comparable training, effort, and talent more money can be made outside the university.

I don’t see any reason to dismiss the possibility that a lot of conservatives aren’t smart enough to do that kind of work, or that conservatives who study history stop being conservatives. Since when is the fact that educated people don’t hold a given belief evidence against educated people? Obviously there are two sides to this question, but if well-informed people think a certain way (another example is newspaper reporters) maybe it’s because it’s the most reasonable way to think.

Last, in most other contexts conservatives are quite vigorous in defending the rights of groups to choose their own members according to their own standards, and smile benignly at the victims: “Life isn’t fair”.


Ernst Blofeld 09.28.03 at 5:06 am

The fact that seemingly serious people are making the argument that conservatives aren’t smart enough or nuanced enough to be hired in the academy is an excellent argument against its truth. If that’s the state of the art for analysis as presented by the current incumbents–well, the alternative has to be better.


Roger 09.28.03 at 6:46 am

You act like a department is balanced if it has equal numbers of Marxists and conservatives! Marxists are extremists on the fringe, no matter how you look at it. Conservatives such as Ronald Reagan supporters are squarely in the middle of the American political mainstream.


james 09.28.03 at 9:36 am

Timothy makes a good point. Social Sciences tend to be more of an opinion based study using selected statistics to back theories. Future scholars in these fields will obviously have an easier time advancing if their opinions closely match their advisors. After all, who wants to hire individuals who’s work is built around disproving yours?


Chris 09.28.03 at 10:10 am

I can’t really comment from first-hand experience about the politics of the US academy (though I do look forward, as I’m sure Australian and Canadian academics do too, to the chance to employ some of those rootless cosmopolitan emigres in British institutions if you insist on employing, say, more sociologists like Ronald Reagan and fewer like Karl Marx!).

Over here, the political profile of the academy shifted far to the left during the Thatcher years. This can’t have been because of preferential hiring for leftists because, thanks to cutbacks, hardly anyone got hired for about 10 years. The reason, then, for a shift in the political opinions of academics is left as an exercise for the reader.


Timothy Burke 09.28.03 at 5:36 pm


I have to say that I agree that there is no better confirmation that Brooks may have a valid point of sorts than the suggestion that maybe conservatives aren’t smart enough to be academics, or that the study of history demonstrates a truth that repudiates all conservatism, or that the disciplines which lack conservatives lack them because conservatives are more unerringly drawn to money and pursue more lucrative disciplines as a result.

Each one of these ideas involves a composite stereotype that I think is just flatly and profoundly incorrect, not to mention morally dubious. Part of the problem here is the term “conservative” itself. People on the left often rightfully resist right-wing stereotyping that insists that Al Gore and Enver Hoxha are ideological twins, that criticizing liberals or leftists is just a matter of finding the looniest person who seems to hold views characterizable at the left and taking that person as emblematic.

Well, the same thing is surely going on here in a quite a few of the replies in this thread about conservatives. What are we talking about here? Milton Friedman-style neo-Burkean conservatism, with its pessimism about the uses of state power and the law of unintended consequences? Cato Institute-style libertarianism? “Prudential” fiscal conservatism? American nationalist conservatism? Buckley-style Catholic moralism? The evangelically-inspired “religious right”?

I could see someone suggesting that someone who was a member of the religious right would have trouble operating within the humanities or the social sciences (or even the sciences) because of a fundamental incompatiblity with the intellectual and institutional premises of their practices and the core philosophical and political assumptions of the US religious right. You wouldn’t even have to say a thing about the intelligence or worth of the person involved: it’s about deep-seated incompatibilities.

On the other hand, individuals sometimes negoatiate such contradictions with surprising ease and grace. There are strong forms of poststructuralist or postmodernist claims which also ought to be fundamentally incompatible with the current architecture of academic life, but somehow there are a decent number of people who muddle along through.

But suggesting that taken as a whole, all of those varieties of conservatism are necessarily scorned by the bright folks who become academics, or that history intrinsically repudiates their general validity, is lazy and just plain incorrect. Come on! I may profoundly disagree with a great many conservative intellectuals, some of them in the academy, but there’s quite a number of them that any serious person has to take seriously.

The idea that the incentive structure in other disciplines draws conservatives since they are better at utility-maximizing is also inattentive to the the actual landscape of economic opportunity in the academy. First off, it gets us off the hook of admitting that the basic incentive of academic life in economic terms is tenure, and that is equally possessed by leftist English professors and conservative economists alike. Second, it overlooks that if conservative academics exist in sizeable numbers anywhere, it’s probably at community colleges and third-tier religious schools rather than much more economically rewarding elite, selective institutions. Third, within the social sciences and the humanities in general, the landscape of compensation is pretty even: the only difference is opportunities for work outside the academy. The main compensation difference is between professional schools and schools of arts & humanities. Following Zizka’s theory, we’d therefore expect that medical schools, law schools, business programs and other professional schools would be absolutely livid with academic conservatism, since that’s where the salary money is. But that doesn’t appear to be the case, maybe not even with MBA programs, let alone the wider landscape.

Brooks may be exaggerating, he may be parochial, he may not be talking about a problem of burning import, but most of the criticisms directed at him here are arguably even more distorted and livid with double-standards and dubious logic.


Chun the Unavoidable 09.28.03 at 7:12 pm


Brian Leiter’s point, which I agreed with in my comments on this piece, was that “American nationalist conservatism” and the “evangelically inspired religious right” (with possibly a dash of the others thrown in–his example was Tom DeLay and Bush), were weeded out by educational selection.

I don’t think anyone would deny that left libertarianism is a cogent position, and right libertarianism can be explained by a lack of what’s called “moral intelligence.”

Since you mentioned community colleges and the ilk, I’ll point out that your earlier example about the hypothetical “anti-historicist” English candidate would be (and is) welcomed at such places, up to and including regional comprehensive universities (we also should note that the most au courant literary theory is itself radically anti-historicist).


pathos 09.28.03 at 7:50 pm

The problem, though, is that no good academic progress can be made when there is not a critical mass of academics willing to criticize falsified liberal studies.

Of course, most liberals are completely up front, and would never consciously bias a study, but the Bellesiles issue alone is enough to practically prove the issue by itself. His book wins a prize before anyone stops to say, “Hey, it’s ridiculous to claim that guns were rare in early America.” If there were more Conservative gun-nuts in academia, there would have been a realistic chance that his lies would have been exposed before he had been granted an award.

The more recent Australian genocide hubbub shows that this was not an isolated issue:


Viewpoint diversity should be the primary concern of any academic institution. When it is absent, everyone suffers, and the truth most of all.


Timothy Burke 09.28.03 at 8:11 pm

Actually, I wouldn’t say that anti-historicist deconstruction is still the “au courant” position in literary theory; these days, some flavor of historicism clearly rules the roost.

Whatever “explains” libertarianism on the right, it cannot be dismissed by a sociological or psychological explanation, or even by a simple philosophical slogan. It calls for a response at least as complicated as one might make to Foucault or Nietzsche. We all get our rocks off by slamming Ayn Rand (with some degree of justification) but Rand is not a meaningful synecdoche for conservative libertarianism as a whole, which is one part Burkean skepticism about power and unintended consequences and one part systematic skepticism about the state. I can certainly say why I think most conservative libertarianism is wrong both empirically and ethically, but that is not a casual undertaking–and I think I and my students would both benefit greatly if I had several colleagues prepared to reasonably defend that general position. At most selective colleges and universities, I would have few or no colleagues who could do so; if I did, they’d almost certainly be in economics rather than in the humanities or in history.

The Bellesiles case sort of had two meanings. The first was that peer assessment is too narrow ideologically: many (including myself) delighted in the reviews of the book because the thesis was attractive in certain ways. (Contrary to Pathos’ point, it also seemed plausible precisely because it is often quite true that our received wisdom about the past, American or otherwise, doesn’t stand up to inquiry). But secondly it just revealed something more broadly about specialization and academic knowledge and the work-process of peer review. There are very few people qualified to review the specifics of a specialized monograph, in general. To do so absolutely thoroughly is a huge, exacting job for which the reviewer receives virtually no compensation. The pace of publication easily outstrips the supply of people who can and will do this kind of peer review. At some level, the production and consumption of academic knowledge relies on *trust*. What’s striking in that regard is that for the most part, that trust is well-vested, given that anybody who could sound reasonably credible could probably put a fast one over on his/her fellow academics.

So again here we have something that one could explain in terms of left/right ideology, and construct a victim’s brief the way Brooks does, but where the deeper truth has to do with a much less political and much more institutional truth about how academia functions. The complaint about ideology has some validity to it, but it’s ultimately superficial: it mistakes a single manifestation of a complex pattern for the whole of it.


Chun the Unavoidable 09.28.03 at 8:32 pm


Explanation is not dismissal. The idea patterns of abstract reasoning tend to support the material interests of the reasoners goes a long way.

Speaking of dismissal, it’s very arguable that Greenspan is the most powerful organism ever to exist, in any dimension, ever (even more powerful than Galactus), and he’s a dedicated Randian.


Michael Blowhard 09.29.03 at 3:47 am

What strikes me about these discussions is a repeated pattern — righties will point out that academia or the media tend strongly left, and then lefties will say, no way. Back and forth, and back and forth, all mutual incomprehension.

I wonder if this might not have to do with the “compared to what” factor. Many people I know in the American media consider themselves quite moderate. Many others feel like they’re really quite left or radical but have to, for professional reasons, behave and perform like moderates. Many of them know someone at (say) the Voice or the Nation, and feel both “to the right of” a real lefty, and secretly envious that the Voice or Nation person gets the chance to openly strike such genuinely lefty attitudes. So they’re amazed if anyone says, Hey, y’all are a bunch of lefties — they don’t feel like lefties, and they know people who are really lefties … Yet by common American standards, these media people (all of whom *feel* moderate) are all left-ish — devoted feminists, multiculturalists and Democrats.

Another element I notice is that many of these media lefties are very Eurocentric. They compare the States to Europe all the time; they seem to think it a tragedy that America isn’t constantly doing its best to become a social democracy. Heck, over in Europe there are actual Socialists-with-a-capital-S! Back here in the States, gosh, the best you get is Clinton. So again, despite the fact that in American terms these media people are lefties (feminists, Democrats, affirmative-action buffs, etc), they don’t *feel* leftish — because they know what real leftism is, and they aren’t that. They just think that the righties who are accusing them of leftism are a bunch of rubes who don’t really known what leftism is. Yet, by gosh, the media people all do vote Democratic.

And on and on…


Admiral Waugh 09.29.03 at 6:27 am

People… there are a lot of conservative student publications, put up by the Republican or libertarian groups on campuses, that actually check voter registrations and such for people, then publish the results.

In spring 2002, an article divulging just such information was published in The Gator Standard, which served the University of Florida. What they found was that out of something like 40 political science faculty (professors, assoc. professors, etc.) *1* was Republican, 30 were Democrat, 1 was Green, and the rest were independent/unaffiliated. Now, since we were all familiar with the faculty, the 1 Republican was easily identifiable, and since that excluded everyone else, it was easy to assess the relative leanings of the faculty… and it was/is not moderate– that is to say, out of the 40, maybe 3 could be called conservative. It’s a joke to say there’s any equality represented in personal beliefs at UF, and I suspect the same goes for the a good many universities.

At the same time, I believe it was at Vanderbilt, they showed a conservative majority. So obviously it varies around the country, but let’s not stick our heads in the mud– these jobs will tend to be taken by the left.

But the big deal shouldn’t be their voter registration or their voting records. The big deal should be what they teach and how they teach it. If they’re good teachers, they’ll frame the questions right, and the students will go from there.


PZ Myers 09.29.03 at 4:53 pm

Two points:

1) One justification I’ve read (on the Corner, another reason I don’t find it credible) for the accusation that academia filters out conservatives is the personal anecdote. Conservatives know lots and lots of fellow conservatives who are failing to get jobs at universities, therefore they are being discriminated against. They fail to notice that lots and lots of liberals are also failing to get university jobs. Part of the problem of perception here is that it is extremely difficult to get tenure-track positions, no matter what your political affiliation.

2) Another reason that lefties are disproportionally represented in the academy might be because, with such a rigorous filter present at every stage of the game, and relatively few people making it, there is a greater selection for people who are simply correct (OK, I say that only semi-seriously). American conservativism, at least, is also infested with a nasty anti-intellectual streak. In my field, biology, the Republican party can’t avoid being seen as vividly anti-science, with painful examples like the Bush policies on global warming and stem cell research, and their affiliation with the religious right and their insane beliefs about evolution. Even scientists with conservative leanings (and there are many), are rarely going to want to label themselves as conservative, not because it would harm their career or irritate their peers, but because the conservatives in this country are dragging around a lot of lunatic baggage with which they profoundly disagree.


Bryan C 09.29.03 at 10:32 pm

pz myers, that’s a very interesting statement, but perhaps not in the way you intended. I’m dismayed by the very notion that among a wide range of biologists there’s only one “proper” way to think about incredibly complicated topics like global warming and stem cell research. Or that scientific and academic peers could exersize such bigotry as to write off colleagues who associate with people of the wrong religious beliefs. If people you know actually operate and think like that, then you’ve made a pretty strong argument against academic political monocultures, because there’s obviously something seriously wrong.


PZ Myers 09.29.03 at 11:25 pm

Well, yes. Biology is not infinitely labile, able to accommodate any answer you want if you just go through enough contortions — there are correct answers to problems. I’m afraid there is no way somebody can look at the evidence and draw the conclusion that the world is 6000 years old, and still be a competent biologist. And yes, there are complex topics that require a more sophisticated approach; which means, of course, that we will naturally repudiate the simplistic attitude of the worst conservative positions on those topics.

Religious bigotry doesn’t play into it. I have colleagues who are atheists, others who are Catholic or Baptist or Lutheran or Moslem or Buddhist. Their faith simply doesn’t come up in our professional life.


Robert Schwartz 09.30.03 at 3:29 pm

“If the people being hired there still vote for Democrats disproportionately then this shows that conservatives are probably just nitwits (especially considering the fact that those departments tend to be skew male) and aren’t smart enough to get hired.”

I read this blog instead of scrappelface because it is funnier.

Tim comes the closest to getting it right.

Here is the problem. To a fish, the air seems like the vacuum of outer space. The academy in America lives in its own little world somewhere on the outskirts of Paris, France. The rest of us (a/k/a the chumps) live in a trailer park near Luchenbach, TX.

While the academics sip their chablis and nibble at their brie, they complain that the chumps do not send them enough money.

The chumps, who are still intimidated by the academics, gnaw on their venison jerky and guzzle their beers and shrug their shoulders in blank incomprehension. Not liberal? they ask. If they aren’t, who is? Who do they think they are kidding?

Bottom line. The chumps are either pond scum who must be exterminated or they are your meal ticket and they must be understood and courted. Because there are a lot more of them than there are of you and they will inevitably divert the tax revenues and privileges on which you live, to services they can understand, your continued dissdain for and uncomprehension of the average American, can only injure your own interests.

I no more expect the academics to follow my advice than I expect the Palestinians to behave like rational men. I am therefor long DeVry and U Phoenix and short the rest of the academy.


Antoni Jaume 09.30.03 at 10:34 pm

What if the answer is that right-wing do not like to study? In fact from what I have had the occasion to read through quite a few years is that they heartily despise intellect. hen there is no point in claiming a bias from university, the bias is in the right.



nick 09.30.03 at 11:18 pm

One comment: Niall Ferguson isn’t really a military historian. He’s an economic historian, and always has been. Which is nice when it comes to getting gigs such as writing the history of the Rothschilds. And yes, he’s high Tory, but he’s also a very good historian. And Oxford history (and EngLit) skews… well, high Tory, really.


Anonymous 10.30.03 at 3:58 am

In most all academic conversations I have been in–in classes, at conferences, in private conversation–liberal-to-left political opinion is presented not as one belief in a pluralist public sphere, but as a casually accepted universal, a quasi-ritual expression of communal bonding. To express conservative opinion is taboo–a disruption of communal rituals. So long as liberal-to-left political opinion and the profession’s rituals of community are fused–and they are tightly fused–discrimination against conservatives will remain not merely incidental to, but essential to, academia

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