Conservative Professors

Rachel Lu has an interesting piece at NRO on why there are no [few] conservative professors.  Let’s review a few of the points and then try to add some of our experiences to it.  She is reacting to Nicholas Kristof in the NYT who addressed it not once but twice.  Amazingly, he had to defend the idea conservatives were bright enough in the second.  It is more proof, if it was needed, that discrimination against conservatives in the academy is very real.

First point: it varies by discipline.  True but more importantly some disciplines enforce discrimination academically.  The humanities and many of the social sciences are heavily left and far left.  Some of the disciplines enforce it academically.  The peer reviewed journals are looking in certain directions.  If you are not successful publishing then you cannot earn tenure at most universities.  For example, wars and battles do not have the luster that they once had in history.  Sciences tend to be much softer left and the leftism might influence some decisions at the margin but there are opportunities for conservatives to thrive.  The School of Business tends to be closer to the center.  It is still left of center but, generally, there is something like free speech.

Sidebar: Once at an all-faculty meeting it seemed like the Chancellor was going to zing W.  The anticipation was palpable.  When it turned out to be a mild rebuke of HW the disappointment was real.  That is the environment.  End Sidebar.

Professors are not the only thing that leans left at the university and interacts with the students. What we call Non-instructional Academic Staff (NAS) includes host of folks like student housing, advising, and so on.  Many trips to “White Privilege” seminars come from these sources.  These are even more troubling because they are not under faculty review.  Leftist faculty often have high standards.

Second point, Lu finds: first and foremost because liberal intolerance adds to the insularity that is already undermining scholarship.  Again that is not in all disciplines but it exists.  Universities exist, largely, for scholarship.  As scholarship standards become lax universities become uninteresting places.

Third point that Lu makes is that intellectual diversity is good for undergraduates (it seems equally good for graduate students).  It is a problem that we have in the university and particularly a problem in some disciplines.  One discussion in our university committee concerned a professor noted for “opinions” who received relatively low scores from student evaluation.  Should we discount those scores?  Certainly, it would not have been considered if the faculty member had other opinions.

She also makes the point that universities are so far out of sync.  As we have said numerous times, this leads to questionable decisions by the university and political conflict with the wider world.

So what to do?  Lu recognizes that the pipeline is not filled with conservatives but does offer much help other than to suggest that we review what the left did.  We are not optimistic because the left has one agenda, power, and the right another, principles.  The last fifty years have had their impact.  Trying to find a conservative now is many disciplines was like trying to find a female to make partner in a public accounting firm in 1980.  The accounting classes in 1965-1970 that would be up for partner had precious few females.  We know that quotas will not work.  It is likely that conservatives will not flock to all disciplines just like any other group will have observed preferences and skills.

It took decades for the left to control universities.  It will take decades to bring them back into balance.  One thing is to encourage conservatives to do the hard work.  Just as women of three or four decades ago broke into accounting classes and then the accounting firms there are ways to encourage conservatives and moderates to enter the academy.

More immediate change can be created with NAS.  The university needs to find a way to bring them under control so that students see a variety of experiences beyond the classroom.  NAS can turn over much more quickly than faculty.  This is where there is a real opportunity to have an impact and have it quickly.


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