Skip to comments.Profs ponder lack of conservatives on college faculties
Posted on 10/27/2003 11:50:52 AM PST by .cnI redruM
Common stereotypes portray university faculties as "vast left-wing conspiracies," a sentiment most recently articulated by New York Times columnist David Brooks in an attention-getting op-ed piece last month. Brooks' piece, titled "Lonely Campus Voices," criticized university faculties for having a liberal bias and for making it exceedingly hard for conservatives to receive tenure at top universities.
While there is some agreement with Brooks' view among Dartmouth's faculty, most professors here who spoke to The Dartmouth about this issue felt that Brooks inaccurately presented the political atmosphere at most colleges.
In the article, Brooks writes that "faculties skew overwhelmingly to the left. Students often have no contact with adult conservatives, and many develop cartoonish impressions of how 40 percent of the country thinks." Brooks also claims that conservatives face discrimination and resentment when trying to seek tenure.
Among Dartmouth's faculty, especially in the humanities and social sciences, there are a greater number of politically liberal professors than conservative ones, said Linda Fowler, director of the Nelson E. Rockefeller Center. However, she thought that this disparity is most likely due to self-selection.
Liberals, she argued, are more drawn to study topics like history, religion, philosophy and similar disciplines because "they're predisposed to take relativist views -- that's why they study what they study." On the other hand, conservatives who go to graduate school tend to pursue other career paths in the private sector or in politics instead of in academia, Fowler said.
Jeff Hart, emeritus professor of English, took an opposite view. He said that conservatives choose not to go into academia precisely because they fear not receiving tenure because of their political views. "Conservatives don't think they can get anywhere in the academic profession," he said.
But Hart did allow for some exceptions. "A good conservative will get promoted."
Most professors here disagreed with Brooks' claim that conservatives have a harder time receiving tenure. "Political views play virtually no role in the hiring of faculty," chair of the economics department Doug Irwin said, "I would be very leery in the name of diversity to apply a political litmus test for hiring."
Still, Hart contended that liberal professors are more likely to favor a liberal candidate over a conservative one when deciding tenure because "liberals tend to think that liberalism is common sense, whereas there has to be a good reason to be conservative: it might be a psychological aberration or bad character," said Hart.
"Conservatives like to believe they're fighting the good fight against a deeply entrenched enemy," said Fowler, adopting a different stance. "To blame the academy for a dearth of [conservative] people seeking degrees really isn't useful."
While there are fewer conservatives than liberals among Dartmouth's faculty, said English professor Ivy Schweitzer, "the senior faculty tends to be more conservative in general, and as a group, than the younger faculty, and so fewer wield more power." In that sense, it is hard to say if conservatives are really a minority at Dartmouth, she said.
"I think we have a very open forum for faculty to speak, from all sides of the political spectrum," said Schweitzer. "Is the general atmosphere here 'liberal?' Yes, because we are a liberal arts institution, and liberal arts education is supposed to produce 'liberal' attitudes that encourage forward thinking ideas about inclusion, equality and innovation."
Yeah, I bet the Gender Studies, Black Studies and Multicultural Studies departments just have hords of conservatives trying to find rich rewarding careers.
For what it's worth, I graduated and became more conservative as a result of the leftist slant at TLS. There actually is one Republican faculty member a tax prof who is about 80 years old.
What I find interesting is that there has been a total lack of institutional support for alum Bill Pryor who was nominated to the 13th Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bush.
I've been out of touch with the academic world for a long time and am continually surprised by reports of its current condition.
I also wonder how to correctly factor in age. When I was young most professors seemed smart. Now most don't. I don't think that's because they're dumber than they used to be...but I've heard fairly good arguments that they might be.
Horowitz did a study of UC Berkeley and found only 7% of the faculty was registered Republician.
I'm used to the fascist stuff in the street but am surprised to hear that it's coin of the realm in colleges across the nation.
I wonder though if you might be exagerating. I have a friend whose daughter is exceptionally bright and attends UC Berkeley. She seems to have a good grasp on conservative views and is able to discuss them intelligently and without cant.
It is possible to make a career for oneself in academia as a conservative, even in the humanities, but one has to be intelligent, work extra hard and put up with some hypocricy and double standards.
Oddly enough, I find that the people who are more often the targets of radical animus are not the conservatives, but moderates. They're not liberal enough for the radicals, so they really get it. There is much pressure to conform in those circles. (I think Thomas Sowell, Justice Thomas, and Ward Connerly know what I'm talking about. Not that they're moderates, but, because they're black, they're supposed to tow the line . . . or else. Same thing for liberals.) Conservatives are generally too dangerous to tangle with. They actually know how to argue, are generally "well armed," and one tends to come away from a conflagration with an intelligent conservative looking foolish.
This, of course, can lead to retaliatory strikes behind closed doors (in tenure and promotion committee meetings,) but there aren't enough faculty willing to get politically vicious, in my experience, to successfully blackball someone for their views (unless those views are held unintelligently).
My impression, after 10 years in academia, is that the lefties are in positions of power at present, but there is a cadre of young [mostly gen-Xers, who came of age in the Reagan years] climbing the ranks at present. Once the lefties die off and/or retire, we'll take over and clean up the mess they've left behind (like we conservatives always do!).
As for faculty in the professions, engineering, and medicine . . . mostly conservative. They can't afford to be relativists.
So, for example, the DC Chapter trying to go "toe-to-toe" with A.N.S.W.E.R. doesn't impress me much. There's something awkward and pathetic about conservatives doing street theatre of the absurd and trying to beat 60's radicals at their own game. Then we wet ourselves when FR gets a mention in a wire story, or some air on C-Span. Big deal.
Don't get me wrong; I appreciate the work they do, trying to balance the liberal voices in the nation's capital. But one needs to be careful about the methods one employs, lest we become too much like "them." I don't doubt their motives, it's their methods I question. The ends do not justify the means. There are certain methods that conservatives should avoid because we believe in taking the high moral ground, and we believe in reasoned discourse and decorum. We should strive to elevate the marketplace of ideas.
That is to say nothing of the time they devote to being on the streets week after week. Commendable, you say? Don't they have families, I ask? Horowitz cheers on, (eggs on, actually,) people who may eventually develop a need to be out on the streets, waving banners, grabbing headlines and picking fights with left-wingers. I suspect that sort of activism is addictive.
I don't honestly value picking fights with irrational types. I don't think countering the people who make a living grabbing headlines in Washington, DC is a healthy lifestyle, over the long haul. Most real people look at those misfits and clowns and shake their heads as just keep on walkin'. They're buffoons. And we will be viewed in the same light, eventually, if we become too much like them.
In my mind, conservatives have to role model for each generation what it means to be "fit for liberty." Here's a link to a reflection on what it means to be fit for liberty (based on Federalist #1).
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.