433Nothing sinister about liberal campuses
- Dec 1, 2004Nothing sinister about liberal campuses
Published December 1, 2004
Conservative activists are on the march, determined to expose
hotbeds of liberal influence wherever they find (or even suspect)
them. Their latest target is higher education, one of the few
corners of American life where liberal ideas still hold sway.
Indeed several recent studies have confirmed that Democrats greatly
outnumber Republicans -- by ratios as much as 7-1 -- on many
university faculties. This revelation has caused outrage in
conservative quarters, where it is seen as evidence of liberal
manipulation, and worse.
Leading the charge is David Horowitz, a former student leftist who
is now president of the right-leaning Center for the Study of
Popular Culture. According to Horowitz, there has been a "successful
and pervasive blacklist ... of conservatives on American college
campuses" that can only be rectified by the intervention of state
legislatures and boards of trustees. He has called for enactment of
an "Academic Bill of Rights" to protect the interests of
conservative faculty and students.
Other conservatives make similar claims. Thomas Reeves of the
Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, for example, has insisted
that "conservatives are discriminated against routinely and
deliberately" in faculty hiring.
These are odd arguments to hear from conservatives, since they
usually deny that disproportionate statistics can be taken as proof
When it comes to job discrimination or affirmative action,
conservatives blithely insist that the absence of minorities (in a
workforce or student body) simply means that there were too
few "qualified applicants." And don't bother talking to them about
a "glass ceiling" or "mommy track" that impedes women's careers.
That's not discrimination, they say, it's "self-selection."
Conservatives abandon these arguments, however, when it comes to
their own prospects in academe. Then the relative scarcity of
Republican professors is widely asserted as proof of willful
Of course, there are other possible explanations. Perhaps fewer
conservatives than liberals are willing to endure the many years of
poverty-stricken graduate study necessary to qualify for a faculty
position. Perhaps conservatives are smarter than liberals, and
recognize that graduate school is a poor investment, given the scant
job opportunities that await newly minted PhDs. Or perhaps studious
conservatives are more attracted to the greater financial rewards of
industry and commerce.
Beyond the ivy walls, many professions are dominated by Republicans.
You'll find few Democrats (and still fewer outright liberals) among
the ranks of high-level corporate executives, military officers or
football coaches. Yet no one complains about these imbalances, and
conservatives will no doubt explain that the seeming disparities are
merely the result of market forces.
And they are probably right.
It is entirely rational for conservatives to flock to jobs that
reward competition, aggression and victory at the expense of others.
So it should not be surprising that liberals gravitate to
professions -- such as academics, journalism, social work, and the
arts -- that emphasize inquiry, objectivity and the free exchange of
After all, teachers at all levels -- from nursery school to graduate
school -- tend to be Democrats. Surely there cannot be a conspiracy
to deny conservatives employment on kindergarten playgrounds.
Alas, there have in fact been instances of political discrimination
in academic hiring and promotion. And yes, conservatives, both
faculty and students, have been snubbed or mistreated on
overwhelmingly liberal campuses. More seriously, certain professors,
and in some cases entire departments, have crossed the line from
legitimate scholarship to overtly politicized advocacy, most
frequently coming from the left. These situations should be
vigorously addressed as individual cases, and remedied where
necessary. But none of this is proof of systematic intimidation or
blacklisting, as alleged by Horowitz and others.
The reality is that universities, by their nature, tend to be
liberal institutions (not only in the United States, but in many
countries around the world).
Conservatives may bemoan the social forces behind this phenomenon,
but there is nothing sinister about it. Nonetheless, liberals (like
me) should admit that faculties face a resulting risk of
intellectual conformity, which can be stultifying and confining even
when it is unintentional.
Most major universities would likely benefit from the presence of
more conservative scholars, who would sharpen the dialogue and
challenge many assumptions. I might even be persuaded to support
some form of recruiting outreach or affirmative action for
Republicans -- but surely my conservative colleagues would never
stand for it.
Steven Lubet is a professor of law at Northwestern University.
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