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433Nothing sinister about liberal campuses

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  • Ram Lau
    Dec 1, 2004
      Nothing sinister about liberal campuses
      Steven Lubet

      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
      of discrimination.

      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
      prejudice.

      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
      ideas.

      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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