Affirmative Action for Campus Conservatives: A Modest Proposal

by Henry Farrell on April 1, 2005

I’ve been reading Michael Lind’s Up From Conservatism, which started me thinking about a justification for affirmative action for conservatives that even the most red-bloodedly partisan liberals ought to be able to get behind. Lind, a former conservative himself, is pretty grumpy about the lack of debate within the conservative movement. By his account, conservatives are allowed a little leeway for free thinking before the Republican magisterium has pronounced on an issue, but after that they’re expected to parrot the accepted line or find themselves excommunicated. Probably a bit of an exaggeration, but I’d imagine that there’s some truth to it too. The interesting bit is Lind’s argument about the source of this discipline. Because most prominent conservative intellectuals are in think tanks, they’re vulnerable to the threat that if they stray too far from the flock, their cushy think tank position will be axed, their funding from conservative foundations will dry up, and they’ll be cast into the outer darkness. Thus, they have a strong incentive to keep their disagreements with the prevailing Republican wisdom to themselves.

Lind’s thesis has some interesting implications when you compare the sad plight of Heritage and AEI Senior Fellows with the cosy situation of tenured lefty academics. The former are required to toe the party line or lose their livelihoods; the latter can say whatever the hell they want and still keep their jobs. So here’s the kicker: the obvious way to encourage more dissent in the ranks of conservatism is to liberate as many conservative wonks as possible from the golden handcuffs of the Scaife Foundation by offering them comfortable tenured positions at prestigious universities. We can then expect conservative thinkers to become as quarrelsome, disputatious and inclined to carp in public about their political leaders as their left-wing equivalents, if not more so, as they give free rein to their natural tendencies towards spleen, orneriness and gouty irritation with politics. How about it?

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10.24.05 at 2:08 pm



ogged 04.01.05 at 6:56 pm

A couple of problems. First, because ideologues tend to equate extremism with authenticity, the newly splenetic conservative academics will just be dismissed as traitors, or, more likely, weak minds corrupted by the infinitely pernicious liberal academy.

Second, the attack on the academy (along with the attacks on the judiciary and the press) is part of a larger strategy of doing away with the entire category of non-partisan facts. Talk of conservative and liberal academics already cedes the main point.


fyreflye 04.01.05 at 7:49 pm

I understand there’s an opening in the History Department at Fairleigh Dickinson. Think it’s too late for them to recruit Wolfowitz?


jet 04.01.05 at 8:33 pm

That’s right, 60 million ideologues all as extreme as can be. Didn’t you get the memo, every single person who voted for Bush is right of Rush and would instantly assume any reasoned conservative voice from the academia is a poisoned liberal propaganda source trying to throw us off from the Truth.

Heh, And you call the right extremist.

I on the other hand, I think it is a brilliant idea. The more political debate had in the realm of the ethos and logos of acadamia and the less that happens in the realm of the pathos of politics, the better.


Seth Finkelstein 04.01.05 at 8:53 pm

No, in the tradition of “The Prince And The Pauper”, what’s needed is an exchange program. Sort of like living abroad. Right-wingers get tenured spots as poor faculty, left-wingers get the cash-cows of con$ervative foundation money. Which side finds the grass greener …


cw 04.01.05 at 9:52 pm

Let them start their own universities.


Henry 04.01.05 at 11:48 pm

Seth – I reckon there’s a reality tv show in this. As long as we can work in Paris Hilton somehow.


buermann 04.02.05 at 3:57 am

There are plenty of conservatives in academia as it exists, and they’re pretty thoroughly ignored by the ‘conservative movement’ unless they’re towing the party line. Or you’re trying to convince prominent conservatives that do tow said line to take a pay cut and get a real job.


Rob 04.02.05 at 7:35 am

Really, why then isn’t Victor Davis Hansen a leading unorthodox conservative. I mean look how tenor has made Glen Reynolds flee the the fold of orthodoxy, right?


Brett Bellmore 04.02.05 at 8:26 am

“There are plenty of conservatives in academia as it exists,”

In the sense that they wouldn’t all fit in one telephone booth, yes, there are plenty.


Steve 04.02.05 at 8:37 am

What is the prevailing attitude towards cloning amongst plumbers? Who gives a rat’s ass?

We are finally coming to realize that political attitudes amongst professors are about as significant as political attitudes amongst plumbers. Universities are little more than expensive social clubs for society’s misfits. And its not so bad-if liberals weren’t all penned up in universities where nobody listens to them (least of all their students), they might actually matter.

The one flaw to this is that one group in our society does listen to them; the judiciary. But don’t worry; Bush still has his second term to take care of that.



Marc 04.02.05 at 10:31 am

The hostility towards intellectualism in the last post is the basic reason why reactionaries like Steve aren’t more common in academe. Rest assured Steve – the contempt is mutual. The wheel will turn, and when it does expect that we’ll treat the conservatives exactly the same way that they’re treating us. No respect for your values or opinions, and none of the brakes on majority rule that you and your ilk have worked so hard to dismantle.


des von bladet 04.02.05 at 10:45 am

As a fledgeling post-Althusserian Marxiste, I bitterly resent the suggestion that the Right has any advantage in “spleen, orneriness and gouty irritation”.


Dan Simon 04.02.05 at 11:04 am

Let them start their own universities.

Careful what you wish for. Ever heard of Fox News?


Steve 04.02.05 at 11:52 am

“The wheel will turn, and when it does expect that we’ll treat the conservatives exactly the same way that they’re treating us.”

Oh, you already do.
Bushitler was predated by Reagan = Hitler by what 20-24 years (and I’m sure Nixon=Hitler 20 years before that)?

Its your worst nightmare, isn’t it. The masses of suburbanites are as aggressive and politically active as bored suburban hippies have been since the 1960’s. You clowns have been saying for 40 years that politics is everything. What’s wrong; are we making the mistake of taking you seriously?



J. 04.02.05 at 12:06 pm

Honestly, what kind of academic brilliance could we expect from educated, middle-class men afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs?


asg 04.02.05 at 12:59 pm

This post is really interesting because it just shows how differently people can see the same things. On NRO’s Corner blog, they just spent two weeks tearing one another to pieces over the Schiavo thing – sure, there were more pro-tubers than anti-tubers but there was genuine debate going on there. (It certainly contrasted with the level of debate on that issue that occurred here!) AEI just released a big study questioning some of the underpinnings of the drug war. Very little would seem more obvious to me than the existence of lively debate within the right side of the political sphere.

I guess this is just a pitfall of relying on the testimony of one disaffected guy.


Barry Freed 04.02.05 at 3:14 pm

Seth – I reckon there’s a reality tv show in this. As long as we can work in Paris Hilton somehow.

If you can work in Paris Hilton I can practically guarantee you a sizeable portion of the “distance education” market.


Yoshie 04.02.05 at 7:46 pm

Are there fewer conservatives in academia than there ought to be? A new study that suggests that is making a splash in the corporate media: Stanley Rothman, S. Robert Lichter, and Neil Nevitte, “Politics and Professional Advancement among College Faculty,” The Forum 3.1 (2005).

While Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte’s research overstates the political gap between liberals and conservatives in academia today, it is true that liberals traditionally outnumber conservatives in the humanities and social sciences, particularly at research institutions that require a doctoral degree as a condition of employment. What should be conservatives’ response to that? I submit that conservatives ought to congratulate themselves. Thinking like the proverbial Rational Economic Man weighing opportunity costs and maximizing utility, many conservatives made the economically correct choice of staying out of Ph.D. programs, especially academic sweatshops in the humanities and social sciences.

Liberals and leftists, on the other hand, should proffer a left-wing remedy that addresses a right-wing grievance while solving at least some of the many problems that plague the life of mind: increase tenure-track jobs massively, and raise faculty salaries as well as teaching assistant wages dramatically, in order to make academic compensation packages competitive with what plastic surgeons, corporate lawyers, business executives, and politicians turned lobbyists would expect. In short, give conservatives what they do not have today: financial incentives to become academics. Turn the ivory tower into a field of conservative dreams of big money: if you build it, they will come.


paul 04.02.05 at 10:20 pm

Per yoshie, is the perceived imbalance in academia bias or self-selection?

And why do people choose the life of the mind, with the attendant low-rent wages for the body? I spent most of a year working as administrative staff in a large law school and I heard an awful lot of whinging about pay. At the same time, I didn’t notice any crowds of angry villagers gathering to deal with any heretical faculty members. So I’m guessing no one was laying out any provocative theories. Is tenure the reason people go that route?

So what is tenure — seen by many as a sinecure, rather than a privilege — really worth? How much more does academic tenure protect unpopular speech that the First Amendment?


Yevgeny Vilensky 04.07.05 at 12:02 am

Whoever made that idiotic jab at Paul Wolfowitz really needs to get his facts straight. Wolfowitz was Dean of the School of International Relations at Johns Hopkins (probably one of the top three schools in the field… along with Fletcher at Tufts and Walsh at Georgetown) before his career in government. The man is a distinguished academic. Bringing up the sceptre of evil Wolfie isn’t really going to cut it. Sheesh.

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