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March 30, 2005



Yea but the liberal bias on the college campus is all relative. Go to any Ag college or business school and I'll tell you what there is no liberal bias there. How about a professor at Liberty or Patrick Henry College....I wonder how many liberals are at those institutions. I swear conservatives have turned into the whiniest bunch of babies, they started the phrase bleeding heart liberal, but oh my have they taken it to a whole new level-- nothing and I mean nothing can beat the bleeding heart of a conservative, they are so picked on!!


Way (way) back, when I was in college, I was a women's studies major. and clearly, we were all liberal (frankly, I was probably the most conservative of the bunch, thinking that socialism could not work on a national scale). I had one sociology professor who was clearly conservative (his favorite go-to sociologist? Charles Murray), and he would spout these ridiculous things in class about how any statistic that showed blacks (or women, or gays) getting screwed by lenders (it was urban sociology), or whatnot, was clearly not adjusted for things like the fact that black people lie. That sort of thing. The class? about 100 people, probably 30% african-american. I (a white girl) was the only one who challenged him on it, and he threw a hissyfit in the middle of class. I certainly didn't report him or anything, I just, essentially, engaged him, as all students shouldn't be afraid of doing, regardless of the perceived political bias of the professor. What's really interesting is the e-mails and thank yous I got afterwards, and the class got much "louder" after that point.

I can't really speak to liberal bias, as I'm sure my own liberal self wouldn't notice it, but all of the folks who are all "well, no one's offering Rush Limbaugh a job, so they're biased"? um, I'm pretty sure Rush isn't looking for a job in academia, and i'm pretty sure he doesn't have a ph.d., making him pretty unqualified. They need a better argument.


If I were a liberal, which I am not, I'd stop worrying about solidifying the conservative stereotype of "elitist" liberals. It has degenerated into a word with no real content for most of them: anyone they disagree with is an elitist. It's kind of like the word "fascist" in some leftwing circles, just a sneer and a smear when unable or unwilling to address substance.

Now I have not previously thought about your argument that it makes absolutely no difference if academics are predominantly center-left. The three weak points about it that come immediately to mind are a) is it really that obvious that beliefs seldom or never have any meaningful effect on what the believer presents and how effectively the believer presents it, b) if your argument is true, then is academic diversity of any sort important, and c) if your argument is true, isn't the academy insignificant because it does not house Mill's marketplace of ideas.

Not trying to be unfriendly, just curious.


Jeff, I'm just answering with my own limited knowledge of the subject, it's just my opinion.

a)That would be an interesting question only if the professor was teaching about politics. Someone lecturing on Structural Engieering would have to digress quite a bit to touch on left or riht wing politics. Saying that, if the subject was political then I'm pretty sure debate would be encouraged.

b)Anyone who wants to become a professor can do so long as they are qualified. Political leanings aren't as obvious a characteristic as eloquence or intelligence, and probably won't appear on resumes or interviews.

c)It's pretty hard to find anywhere in the job market that houses Mill's marketplace of ideas.

here's what's left

this is an interesting debate, and both of y'all might want to respond to four points i made in the post below, which are, shortly:

1) many professions are associated with certain political parties (i.e., businessman and military are republicans) and no one's really complaining about that.

2) there's no evidence to suggest, or reason to assume, that political beliefs bias teaching.

jeff is wondering whether this is true, i suppose. i've never seen any evidence for it, apart from anecdotal evidence ("my professor is a stark-raving leftist!"). given the nature of the academy, and that all academics are used to dealing with peer review, it seems to me that a professor couldn't really get away with true bias without being called on it, a la Ward Churchill. he might be biased, but he's also a very poor scholar and is in no way representative of the the academy.

3) (as jimmy says) it doesn't matter if an engineer or a french literature teacher is liberal or conservative.

4) there's no evidence for, or reason to assume, that there's a blacklist of conservatives, as many on the right claim.


If there's a blacklist of conservatives, I've never seen a copy--and I've handled probably at least a dozen faculty searches in the last five years. Not only do we not ask the people we're hiring to teach chemistry what their politics are, we wouldn't be allowed to ask that question even if we wanted to. Because if the Affirmative Action officer heard about it, I guarantee you she would make us start the search over again.

But I have to disagree with you, Michael. I don't think Ezra was trying to say that liberals are inherently smarter than other people--because there's plenty of evidence against that hypothesis, just as there is against the hypothesis that all conservatives are stupid louts.

Ezra's point, and I think it's correct, was that if you are a person who depends on being able to think and reason critically for your living, it's probably going to be advantageous to you to adopt a philosophical and ideological outlook that embraces that kind of thought process. That does not seem to be the Republican model these days.

There is also the obvious money angle. Academic positions (at least outside the hard sciences and the really high-profile stuff like senior administrators, football coaches, and the like) do not tend to pay very well. I barely make $30K a year as an administrator in a chemistry department. If I'm successful in getting my Ph.D. in history and decide to take a teaching position, chances are I'd wind up taking a pay cut to do it. If money is one's prime motivation (as it seems to be for many Republicans), salaries like htat are going to be a major disincentive.


I shall try to avoid debate. For one thing, I have not thought deeply enough about this topic to dignify my impressions with that word.

a & 3) Because politics affects so many things, which are in turn affected by politics, I disagree that political beliefs might be relevant only in the teaching of politics. Obviously it would be a stretch to think that a course on abstract algebra would be affected by a teacher's political views. But it is not a stretch to think that courses in ethics, history, sociology, or economics might be affected by political views. (Not claiming that they usually are, but claiming that it is not so inconceivable as implied above.) Moreover, for those of us who believe that literature is a valid mode of knowing, and particularly those that claim that all politics are personal, even the teaching of literature may be affected by political views.

b) That is an empirical statement. I have no evidence to rebut it, but you have not shown me any to support it. I admit it would be extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to prove or rebut because we would need some objective measure of intellectual competence, academic knowledge, and teaching capacity and an agreement on how these different attributes are to be weighted. The measure cannot be granting of tenure or peer review because that is the very issue in dispute.

2) I think this is a different issue from b. Someone teaching 19th century political and economic thought would probably address Mill and Marx. And that someone might well attempt to be fair to both. But I am quite dubious that it is possible for any human mind to be so impartial that political beliefs would not color to some extent what was said about both and how it was said. I doubt that anyone wants seriously to posit that two different teachers, equally knowledgeable on the subject, would teach the same course the same, objective way. There is no objective way. And surely that is the reason for caring about intellectual diversity in the university.

1 & c) The university and academics get some important privileges, e.g. tenure and academic freedom. Most of the rest of us get nothing like that. What is the social justification for it? Well possibly it is that the university is indeed supposed to be Mill's marketplace of ideas. People in the business world may make a bunch of money (if they are lucky and talented), but they are not given carte blanche to say unpopular things. Lawyers and politicians have an ethic that discounts truth telling and truth seeking. If the university is unwilling to aspire to being society's marketplace of ideas, where shall we look?


When Republicans talk about liberal elitism they are being hypocrites. It's much more offensive to claim you are morally better than another person (what they do) than merely smarter.

But in the context of a struggle for society's soul we can't afford this modesty. What would be rude on a personal basis is necessary. The left are simply better people than the right and they have a moral duty to make that clear regardless of their modesty.

It is NOT moral to hate gays. It is NOT moral to fuck the poor. It is NOT moral to start wars. Republicans are immoral people. We are better than them.


Jeff, you haven't worked in academia, have you? I can tell, because nobody who has would ever make the statement "The university and academics get some important privileges, e.g. tenure and academic freedom."

Tenure is awarded only to professors--and not all of them, these days. More and more work is being done by instructors and adjunct faculty, people who have little job security (if any) and who generally get paid a pittance per course taught. They barely get office space, much less anything fancier. And let's not forget the legions of graduate students toiling away in classrooms as the price of furthering their education--and often finding their work being published under someone else's name.

"Academic freedom" is a nice theory. Most university regulations will assure members of the university community that they have it. But it has no legal existence, and no one has ever really worked out a satisfactory definition of just what it is, how far it goes, what it covers, and who has it. And that was before people like Horowitz started showing up and trampling all over it in the name of making the classroom safe for conservatism.


Hear, hear, Michael. I've been on the TA end of that system, and know that whatever freedom I had while teaching was at the whim of my boss--a hell of a guy whose personal code of ethics would have precluded any prior restraint on my teaching style--but nonetheless, my freedom was only as long as the tether he placed me on.

And the job market for professors of English literature and writing has gotten so tight that even though I'd like to teach, I can make way more money silk screening tee-shirts with my brother-in-law, the better to pay off my student loans. After all, adjuncts can barely afford to eat, much less make loan payments, and tenure is only a dream for me at the moment. Academic freedom has a nice ring to it, but that and a buck will get you a Coke--maybe.

the exile

I'll speak from 12 years of experience as a prof in a department that does deal with political issues (history). Our dept is probably representative of history departments most places, with faculty ranging from center or perhaps center-right to far left. Typical profile for a humanities dept in a blue state elite univ.

1. a tiny group of faculty do see their position as a soapbox from which to teach "correct" thinking. And I stress tiny, but they do exist and we can't deny their existence. But they know that giving a bad mark for an ideologically "wrong" essay or exam answer is not done. If they did it deliberately, that would be cause for disciplinary action. If they did it unconsciously (the more likely scenario), students are protected by an appeals process. Deans and dept chairs are terrified of student complaints, increasingly hear parents threatening legal action, and almost always bend over backwards to support the student's appeal, whether or not it has much merit.

2. some faculty avoid controversial topics and never let the students figure out what their politics are. This actually has a major downside: it leads to self-censorship and a lack of candor with students. It increases distance between prof and student and prevents the class from discussing interesting and valuable questions that students may find memorable for the rest of their lives.

3. most faculty are up-front about their political views and bring them into the classroom when they are relevant to the material at hand. After all, a lecture is like a book chapter-- you are providing your interpretation of events, and interpretations involve value choices and political ideas. But most faculty also love debate, love disagreement, and love analysis, so they strive extra hard to get several alternative viewpoints on the table. Readings, exam questions and paper topics are specifically designed to force students to choose between opposing positions, If a good political argument gets going in class, they see the class as a success. Students who write essays that disagree with the prof get higher marks than students who agree with everything. The worst marks are reserved for those who never figure out how to recognize a debate and don't know how to argue a position. Any position.

I fall mostly into style 3, though I do tend to hide my politics a bit more than some others, to keep students guessing. Only style 1 is problematic, but even though I strongly disagree with using the classroom as a soapbox, I do not support laws that would ban others from doing so. Students can choose which courses they take. As long as the line of punishing students for thought crime is not crossed (it hardly ever is), and as long as the safeguards to defend students from unconscious bias are functioning well (as they do), nothing in the Horowitz legislation could possibly be an improvement over our own very effective self-regulation. Dissatisfied students have recourse, and assertions that they do not are lies.

As for bias in faculty recruitment-- I've been involved in about 15 job searches and I know how they work.

1. the pool of applicants covers the same ideological range-- center-right to far left. Far rightists are currently not being produced by graduate history programs, for a range of reasons that have already been discussed by both Ezra and Here's What's Left.

2. would a far rightist with a superior record be excluded from the running for ideological reasons? Maybe, maybe not. If the record were far superior, I can't believe we wouldn't hire them. Standards and quality count first. But in the absence of clear superiority (and usually there are several candidates of roughly equal qualifications), I'm sure ideology plays some role in how appointment committee members vote. So do dozens of other subjective things. Do they do social history or intellectual history or cultural history or economic history? Is their approach quantitative or qualitative? Does what they are researching have any relevance to what I am doing, and would I learn useful things from them? (this one comes into play far more than you might think) Is a Harvard PhD better than one from UC Davis? Do i respect the work of the people who wrote their letters of recommendation? Did I find them likable? And who knows what else. So yes, there is some self-selection that probably leads departments to reproduce themselves over and over again, hiring people they are ideologically and socially comfortable with, who attended the same kinds of schools, and had the same kinds of experiences. These issues would never trump quality, but they infuse our subjective perceptions of what quality is. Is that Discrimination? Maybe, but not to a standard that is in any way provable or even DEFINABLE legally, a point that conservatives used to make all the time in their opposition to affirmative action.

3. So Here's what's left is correct again. the final response is SO WHAT? How is this different from what goes on in every institution, industry, and company in America and the world? It ain't. Would affirmative action for conservatives to create a more diverse faculty be a good thing? I can't deny that it might be, but if you want that, then you've also got to put a socialist on every corporate board.

4. And finally, could Horowitz's legislation be positive in any way as a solution to the very minor problems that I am willing to concede? Not on your life. We can't escape the fact that Horowitz and his ilk aren't interested in diversity. That is a lie and a smokescreen. They want to destroy the last obstacle to their total information dominance. Horowitz has never ceased to be a totalitarian, as Billmon so brilliantly pointed out. He talks about diversity, but if the shoe were on the other foot, he would laugh in our faces. So we should laugh in his.


@ Michael

No, clearly I have never been an academic; I don't think I implied that I ever was. I was responding to a set of questions posed.

I think that the exile essentially corroborated my statement that what is presented is necessarily affected by the presenter's personal views, whether negatively (through self-censorship) or more or less positively.

I concede your point that tenure is something held only by a minority. I stick to my guns that academic freedom is a privilege that is general in academia and absent almost everywhere else. Although those who enjoy a privilege seldom think so, any privilege must be be justified by some social purpose. I proposed such a purpose and explained why it might be the basis for a public demand for intellectual diversity. To address my point seems to require either positing a different purpose or demonstrating that I am mistaken in what is necessary to further that purpose.

Given the fact of academic freedom, I am not sure that the legal protections for it are relevant. But contract and good-faith reliance are such protections, and, in publicly funded universities, academic freedom is also protected as a form of constitutional freedom of speech.

Nor do I think that the pay scale for junior faculty, ridiculous as it is, is relevant to any point I raised.

I suspect that I am becoming a bore. If so, just say so.


Jeff, I don't think you're being a bore. But I also think you're wrong. Academic freedom is a privilege with a purpose, that purpose being to allow for the discussion of controversial views without retribution. But the privilege is so loosely defined it's virtually meaningless. And if it's not legally protected, it's absolutely meaningless. It does nobody any good to have academic freedom if they can't offer it as a defense in court when they're fired.

The university where I work and go to graduate school includes the following articles in its constitution and bylaws:

"9.1 Academic Freedom

Freedom of thought, inquiry, and scholarly and artistic expression is fundamental and essential to the maintenance of the academic community. In all of its actions, the university shall act to uphold this principle and to create an environment totally conducive to the unfettered exploration of ideas, pursuit of knowledge, and scholarly and artistic expression.

9.2 Equality of Treatment

The university shall afford to all members of its community fair, impartial, and equal treatment regardless of sex, race, national origin, marital status, age, color, political views or affiliation, religious views or affiliation, sexual orientation, handicapped status, or other factor unrelated to their scholarly or professional performance. The university may make specific provisions to promote affirmative action."

Looking at those noble-sounding phrases, can you determine who is protected, to what degree, and for what kinds of expression? I'm sure I can't. And while I'm not a lawyer and I don't play one on TV, I have spent some time digging through the case law on academic freedom, pursuant to my appointment to a committee a few years ago that was tasked with writing a new grievance procedure for the university's faculty and staff. And let me tell you, the courts have never come up with anything like a consensus of opinion on what academic freedom means, who it applies to, or whether it has any legal standing.

From my perspective, that makes it a privilege that doesn't have a lot of weight to it. The fact that it doesn't seem to have done much good to the people attacked by Horowitz and his ilk only confirms that hypothesis.


@ Michael

I think you guys should have hired a lawyer. I deal with them all the time, and my guess is that the lawyers would have told you that the failure of the university to be specific would likely be interpreted against them. People are entitled to rely on what is promulgated in official documents: "all of its actions" and "totally" are pretty far reaching phrases and words. I have worked on writing employee handbooks and know just how much care is put into their wording precisely because people are entitled to rely. Actually, I think that your university's broad and vague language is just what is needed to protect the privilege fully; otherwise, you get into legalistic arguments about whether clause such and such applies.

Let's get to purpose. I hope you did not think I was saying that I thought academic freedom was without purpose. What I was saying is that to justify any privilege, and perhaps to define it, its purpose must be made explicit.

There seem to be two legs to your current argument. One is that academic freedom is virtually worthless. In which case what is the point in defending it?

The other, much stronger, leg is, I think, that the purpose is simply to establish universities as institutions that permit the expression of "controversial views without retribution" That I believe is way too simple. There is no socially worthy purpose in having an institution that facilitates controversial views regardless of their merits. There is perhaps no socially worthy purpose in having an institution that promulgates popular or unpopular political propaganda at public expense (admittedly a value judgment on my part.)

I believe that the purpose of the university, and therefore the subsidiary purpose of academic freedom, is to act as Mill's marketplace of ideas. But in that case, the marketplace must contain a multiplicity of ideas, and here the argument for a diversity of viewpoints comes in. Now I can think of several counter-arguments, e.g., the need for minimal levels of competence, so I am not claiming that my argument is cast iron. As I said, your post of yesterday first got me thinking about this.

I shall close with a tactical thought. If the left wants to persuade people in the center and on the right that universities and academic freedom have worthwhile purposes and need to be maintained as they are, that diversity in race and gender are necessary for the university to perform its functions properly, but that intellectual and political diversity are antipathetic to those functions, then I suspect that arguments more compelling than "I disagree" will be needed.


First off, Jeff, I'm not the Michael who blogs here. I'm just a lowly commenter. When he comments here, Heather's Michael signs himself "Here's What's Left."

Back to the matter at hand:

We have a whole stable of lawyers on staff, and a law school among the other colleges. So I think we can safely say that there were lawyers consulted in the process of drawing up this document.

"Broad and vague" is not what I would want backing me up in a court of law. Sure, it covers a lot of ground--and that's precisely what dilutes it. Saying that the university shall act to "uphold" academic freedom in "all of its actions" doesn't really tell me what actions the university must take, or on whose behalf, or in what circumstances. What I want to know is what the penalties are for a given action in a specific set of circumstances--that tells me what kind of latitude I have, and what support I can count on. Because my experience tells me that when the fertilizer hits the ventilator, it's far better to have a specific, written policy to follow, rather than a vague statement of "support."

I have to disagree with you that "there is no socially worthy purpose in having an institution that facilitates controversial views regardless of their merits." The thing about academic research is that we don't always know what the merits of a viewpoint are until much, much later. There are certain sets of guidelines that academics use to evaluate these things, but they're not infallible. And we almost never know what's going to come out of the other end of the process when we start it. We do the best we can with what we have at the moment--and that often stirs the pot (as witness, oh, Galileo, Copernicus, Darwin, Vesalius, and dozens and dozens of others). So merit-based criteria are not going to get much mileage.

The purpose of a university is twofold (at least). Boiling it down to the barest essentials, those purposes are the creation and dissemination of knowledge--whether or not that knowledge has any useful consequences, and whether or not it proves acceptable to the powers that be. That's why the principle of academic freedom was developed, and why it's important. If there are places where inquiry cannot go, or subjects that it cannot touch, it vitiates the whole purpose of having a university in the first place.

I'll counter your tactical thought with this. It is not "the left" that thinks that either intellectual or political diversity is a bad thing. That would be Mr. Horowitz and his crowd. They don't like what the academics are saying, and they're trying to shut them up. As not-me Michael (and I, and everyone else here) has demonstrated repeatedly, this alleged liberal conspiracy to keep conservatives out of the halls of our colleges and universities is a myth that emanates primarily from Horowitz' own fevered brain. There is no evidence for it that would stand up in any court, and the rules by which the academic game is played themselves would prohibit the very kind of bias that Horowitz is alleging.

It is of course possible that there is something in the academic life that conservatives find off-putting, such that they either leave it in disgust or never enter it in the first place. But that something is almost certainly not deliberate bias by liberals or academics.



Actually I have to disagree with you about whether there are standards of academic research. Of course these change over time. But Galileo appealed to replicable experiments. Copernicus appealed to Occam's razor. Darwin appealed to evidence collected and organized over 20 years and presented in the Origin of Species. Even your examples differ somewhat from someone spouting off in a bar.

Frankly, I do not know why you would want to argue that the purpose of the university is to produce ideas without merit or without any process to aim at merit.

But I shall let you guys alone henceforward. We are talking past each other.


Whoa, there, Jeff. I never suggested that Galileo et al. were just talking out their arses. My point in bringing them up was to demonstrate that when people do research that calls into question the received wisdom, there can be drastic consequencs if they do not enjoy some form of protection. The troubles that people like Copernicus and Darwin went through are what probably gave us the tradition of academic freedom as we now know it.

Nor was it ever my intention to suggest that the purpose of a university was "to produce ideas without merit or without any process to aim at merit." All I meant to say was that we can't know at the outset of the process which ideas or which research avenues will lead to usable results. But I would argue that the goal of the university is more research for its own sake: we do research because we want to know more about the world and what goes on in it, not because we necessarily expect to get anything tangible out of it.


@ Michael

So far this has been a very polite conversation, but I hesitate to keep intruding into a blog that has a very different Weltanschaung from mine. If the hosts ask me to leave I shall. If I become convinced that I am merely being a nuisance, I shall leave without being asked.

Let's clear away some false issues. I am NOT arguing that I think academic freedom is unimportant. It was you that said academic freedom "doesn't have a lot of weight to it," not I. With that said, I think academic freedom is completely irrelevant to Copernicus, a priest, and Darwin, a country gentleman, neither of whom suffered "drastic consequences" for his views. Darwin did suffer severe criticism and unpopularity, but I presume that neither of us believes that academic freedom means freedom from criticism or a guarantee of popularity.

Nor did I intend to imply, nor do I think I stated, that the merit of ideas is to be found in criteria such as immediacy or tangibility of application. You created that strawman. I concede that the best that can be hoped for is that ideas be tested against purely intellectual criteria, such as consistency with empirical evidence, Occam's Razor, logical consistency, etc.

I shall try to phrase my argument as simply as possible: if the function of the university that socially justifies its privileges, e.g. its exemption from taxation, academic freedom, etc., is that the university is to be the marketplace in which ideas compete, then diversity of views within the university is essential to meeting its function.

Now the two obvious counter-arguments are that the justification of the university's privileges is not, or is not solely, based on being the marketplace of ideas. The other counter-argument is that somehow a marketplace of ideas works without effective representation of certain points of view. A third counter-argument is that the university has standards of quality that must be achieved before an idea is let into the marketplace of ideas. I view that third argument as less obvious because as you pointed out above "we cannot know at the outset ... which ideas" will eventually turn out to have merit.

I hope it does not seem rude to say that so far no one at this site has given me reasons to question, let alone, abandon my argument.


We are in complete agreement that academic freedom is important. But you seem to think it has more teeth to it than I do. My experience in the profession leads me to believe that it is constantly talked about, overbroadly defined, and almost never of much use outside a university's internal processes. Did "academic freedom" help John Scopes in Tennessee in 1925?

I can't agree with you that the university is the sole (or even necessarily the primary) locus of the marketplace of ideas. Let's remember that the main purpose of a university, as with any school, is to teach knowledge. Universities are unique in that they also create it through research. But knowledge (practical, theoretical, ideological, or of whatever other variety) is hardly limited to the universities.

I would therefore say that universities are privileged (to the extent that they are anymore) because they are engaged in education, which we have defined as a societal good. The privileges accorded to universities and schools are, presumably, to make it either possible or easier for them to be successful in their educational endeavors.

An idea gets into the marketplace when it is expressed publicly. There is probably at least a two-tier system, in that people can express all kinds of ideas in vehicles that don't get them much attention (newspapers, blogs, e-mails, etc.). That is in contrast to the world of scholarly publication, where things do get noticed, and where there is also some kind of control over just what does get printed or otherwise disseminated. So there would seem to be something of a "standards of quality" argument to be made.

But I'm afraid you're over-simplifying the marketplace analogy. I categorically deny that there is any systematic exclusion of conservatives from the academic segments of that marketplace, although there may be other factors that disincline them to enter it or to remain in it for long. But there is certainly a consensus that some opinions and some points of view are beyond the pale. You won't find any serious scholar arguing, for example, that David Irving's views on the Holocaust should be taught as fact (though they should arguably be mentioned so as to make scholars aware of their existence). Same thing with science and "intelligent design." Those viewpoints have been tried in the crucible and found to be flawed (or, if you prefer, they were put on offer in the marketplace but found no serious buyers). Now, if evidence were to come to light that demonstrated or suggested that their exclusion was based on flawed data, that would warrant a re-examination of the case. But otherwise, once an idea or a point of view flunks the acid test, it gets tssed on the refuse heap of history and is no longer admitted to the market.


@ Michael

I do not want to get into whether academic freedom is relevant to grade schools and high schools, and the Scopes case was after all dismissed.

"The privileges accorded to universities are ... to [facilitate] their educational purpose." OK, I can accept that as a rational argument even though we may disagree about the purposes of the university.

But accepting for purposes of argument your view, I can question whether academic freedom as currently interpreted is relevant to the teaching or creation of knowledge. For example, I completely agree with you that intelligent design has been exploded since at least 1859. If the purpose of the university is to teach knowledge, academic freedom should not be construed to protect someone teaching intelligent design. That is not transmitting knowledge, but ignorance. Academic freedom then should also not be construed to protect political propaganda disguised as teaching. I think I may be able to live with the consequences of your argument.

here's what's left


just for record, i'm not going to ask anyone to go away. i wouldn't do that unless someone gets really out of line. and that's only happened once, when a commenter started imitating other commentings and saying rude things about them. so far you've been the politest conservative we've had around here for some time.

here's what's left

just to throw a wrench in this discussion, i think not-me Michael is on to something when he says

"I categorically deny that there is any systematic exclusion of conservatives from the academic segments of that marketplace, although there may be other factors that disincline them to enter it or to remain in it for long."

This is a largely unexplored point in this debate, generally speaking. There are tons of reasons why a conservative might be disinclined to enter the academy, and I suppose a hiring bias is a possible (i.e., not logically contradictory) reason, there is still no evidence for a bias. No causal connection has even remotely been established.

what's likely, no doubt, is that there is a very complicated series of reasons for it, and for me, this is the interesting question, and unfortunately, is the one that has been most demagogued by many on the right.


@ Michael and Michael

As has been pointed out, I have never worked in a university so I am not competent to make comments about how the hiring process in any university actually works.

I am sure that there is some adverse self-selection at work: for example, both my parents were academics and I fled from that genteel poverty.

It is not hard to believe, however, that people doing the hiring feel that in the choice between hiring someone who is interesting and competent but wrong and someone who is interesting and competent and right, the latter should be hired. Now if we were all really absolutely certain what was right, that "natural" decision would be no problem. But certainty of knowledge is a rare thing. Thus, to phrase the argument for intellectual diversity in the university a different way, it advances the transmission and creation of knowledge to provide alternatives (at least so long as each alternative surpasses some floor of intellectual competence.)

I realize that I may be assuming something that is actually in dispute: that competent conservatives are seeking university employment and failing to get employment commensurate with their talents.

If the problem is that intelligent, articulate conservatives are shunning the university as a career, the solution to that is simple: increase faculty salaries substantially. I presume that liberals will not have a problem with that.


Here's the thing, though, Jeff. Unlike non-academic hiring, when universities hire faculty members they aren't hiring into a vacuum. If a newspaper is lacking a typesetter, then they hire a typesetter. Faculty vacancies aren't usually that cut-and-dried. Yes, of course, there's an expectation of being able to teach in the discipline, but it's not uncommon to fill a vacancy with someone in a different (sometimes a radically different) sub-field from their predecessor's. That is especially true if the department's (or the university's) needs have changed, or if they're looking to go in a new direction. So the first consideration is almost always going to be whether or not the applicant's skill-set falls within the range of what the hiring department wants for the new position.

The next set of conversations is going to be after the search committee has weeded out all the inappropriate candidates--the ones whose background isn't even in the required field, the ones who don't have the requisite experience in teaching or research or both, the ones who totally bolloxed up their applications or who didn't bother to send in all the required elements. Then they'll start sifting and weighing the remaining candidates, looking for evidence of superior skills in teaching or research or both, and also for "goodness of fit."

Let's say, to take an example from the department where I work, that we're looking to hire a synthetic organic chemist to replace a retiring faculty member in that division. Once we've gotten down to a pool of reasonably good candidates, the things we'll look at are how many publications the candidates have, and in what kinds of journals; how many grants they've applied for, from which agencies, and how many were funded; whether the candidate's research proposal duplicates work that is already being done in the department; whether that proposed research is even feasible (both from a theoretical perspective and also in terms of the available equipment and budget in the department). It's not a question of rightness or wrongness, but practicality and congeniality, for lack of a better word.

I suppose, at least in some departments (political science being one that leaps immediately to mind), that that "congeniality" might result in a tendency not to hire conservatives if the department's culture is predominantly liberal and the perception is that the candidate will either be unable or nwilling to work harmoniously in that environment. But otherwise, the question of political leanings is unlikely even to come up. In the department where I work, I think I can safely say that there are a few extremely liberal types (myself included), a few extremely conservative types, and a large segment of the mushy middle, though probably more with leanings in the conservative direction than in the liberal. I think the opposite is probably the case in the history department where I'm a graduate student, where a majority of the faculty that I've interacted with (which isn't even a majority of the department's faculty, given that I'm in one of the smaller specializations in this department--so it could be that I'm working from a biased sample) seem to be reliably liberal. But I'd never have known that if I weren't a graduate student and had interactions with the faculty in question outside of classroom settings. Every one of my history professors has been scrupulously viewpoint-neutral in class discussions.



I have decided that I have little more to contribute to this discussion so I shall let you have the last word. That does not mean I will not continue to visit the site nor that I may not comment on some other topic where there may be common ground. You all have been very pleasant to a moonbat even though we have found very little common ground on this topic.

You and I agree that organic chemistry (or abstract algebra) is not likely to be a spot where political and social viewpoints are considered, even subconsciously. We disagree that views about politics and society are potentially relevant only in political science; I would add economics, sociology, anthropology, history, and literature, in short all the fields in which human beings are the subject.

I prefer an argument that defends academic freedom on the basis that the marketplace of ideas is centered on the university and that it is the competition of ideas that leads to the progression of knowledge. That entails a fairly broad definition of academic freedom, but a societal demand for diversity. But I can accept as reasonable your argument that the primary purpose of the university is to transmit knowledge. That entails a narrower definition of academic freedom and eliminates diversity as a legitimate societal demand, provided all arguably valid viewpoints are presented fairly and fully.

As for the paucity of conservative scholars in first rate universities, I suppose there are four possible explanations: a) no one smart enough to teach at such a university could be so stupid as to be conservative (a position that I reject), b) conservatives are not generally attracted to an academic career for some set of reasons, c) there is a tacit but overt conspiracy (like that identified by Adam Smith to keep wages low) to drive conservatives from academic life (a position that I reject), and d) there are subconscious elements in the faculty hiring process, such as the compatability you mentioned or the issues mentioned above by the exile, that result in preferential selection of people with similar social viewpoints.

Perhaps the fundamental issue is that which you identify in your final sentence. Is every academic scrupulously neutral in fact? The exile says not; you say yes, and experience suggests that such an ideal state of affairs is simply very unlikely in any institution. Is scrupulous neutrality even possible? If there is a legitimate difference in views, is it humanly possible for anyone to present what is believed to be erroneous as cogently and persuasively as what is believed to be correct? I think you and I answer that latter question differently and therefore reach different conclusions about the importance of diversity of social viewpoints in the university. I think it is vital and you do not.

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