improperly biased

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I don't recall where I caught the second-hand link, but wherever it was led me to Erin O'Connor's citation of this article by Mark Bauerlein in the Chronicle Review, called "Liberal Groupthink Is Anti-Intellectual." Three guesses what it's about...

In fact, it's a pretty measured and temperate piece, even if it falls back unproblematically into the equation of diversity with so-called "intellectual diversity" of the sort that David Horowitz has been pushing for the past several years. And the slide from surveying "humanities and social science scholars" for their political affiliations to making claims about campuses, colleges, and universities (which, as we know, don't teach the hard sciences, business, engineering, or technology) goes unexamined as well. Nevertheless, Bauerlein's root claim, that there are various fields where conservative thought is basically unwelcome, is fairly accurate.

The secondary claim, however, that there is "an indirect filtering process that runs from graduate school to tenure and beyond," is one that I'd dispute to a degree. The trick at work here is to accuse leftists of being anti-discrimination in theory and discriminatory in practice--fair enough. I'm not so naive as to believe that this doesn't happen, or that there aren't "several conservative intellectuals in the last year who would love an academic post but have given up after years of trying."

Bauerlein cites a Chronicle survey, though, which found that roughly half of those surveyed agreed with the statement that "campuses are havens for left-leaning activists," that "colleges improperly introduce a liberal bias into what they teach." Okay. Setting aside the colossal hubris required to make a statement of that magnitude--which I myself couldn't comfortably make about any school that I've ever studied or taught at--I want to raise a chicken/egg question. Bauerlein, Horowitz, and others who make this argument suggest/assume that universities are a place from which conservatives have been expelled, but I guess I'd suggest that it's at least as relevant to consider campuses as places, as havens, to which these dreaded left-leaners aspire.

Why is this an important point? Because, contra Bauerlein, this process doesn't begin in graduate school. By the time students arrive in my courses, they're adults, albeit young adults, but they have a full set of values that steer them towards particular fields--they've been raised in a society where the hierarchy of values is pretty clear, and they don't need to see the comparative salaries of assistant professors to know which departments, programs, or careers are most compatible with their value set. I'm not arguing that those of us who are less than economically rational about our career choices are any more noble, or any better for that matter, than anyone else, but I think it safe to surmise that I may hold values more similar to those of my immediate colleagues than they are to, say, those of the faculty in the business school. I suspect that someone with my beliefs would feel just as out of place there as someone with conservative beliefs might feel in an English department. But then, that's hard to say, because Horowitz didn't include them in his survey.

I don't disagree with all that much of this essay in one sense. I do think it's important for students at every level to be party to asking questions rather than assuming answers, and I do acknowledge that there are fields where the latter happens more often than perhaps it should. But to paraphrase O'Connor's prior post, "I won't deny that such schools and such attitudes exist--but I will say that it's wrong to stereotype [higher education] and the [faculty] who [populate it] in such narrowly rigid ways." And to do so in the name of diversity is to misunderstand intentionally that particular ideal, in a way that elevates the stereotypes of conservatism and liberalism to the level of knowledge, an elevation that Bauerlein rightly, I think, recognizes as anti-intellectual.


It is just that, too often, we've looked at political persuasions as they apply to bloc of voters. Hispanics, for instance, are often viewed as Democratic voters, but it wasn't just in this election that some of them turned for Bush: the same happened in 2000.

Academia, likewise, has been labled as a purely Democratic bloc vote. I've always been partial to the explaination (thought perhaps this speaks to the greater issue that we Dems. must face) that most of the people who aspire to higher education tend to be more open-minded/critical thinkers, and open-minded/critical thinking lends itself more towards the Democratic Party which tends (I'm trying to choose my words carefully here) towards the gray's in the black and white arguements of the conservatives.

This has always been my explaination of why Conservative talk radio does so much better than liberal talk radio: Pounding your hand on the table and saying "this is right and this is wrong" is a whole lot sexier than saying "but what about this... and this... and this..."

Sorry I got long-winded here...

I don't think I've ever read an article about the shameful right-wing, anti-labor bias that dominates business schools. Havens for right-wing activism!

After representing my faculty union at the collective bargaining table for some time now, I feel confident in saying that it's never safe to make broad political claims about academics.

This is a right-to-work state, so people don't have to join the union that represents them. Many of the more outspoken "liberal" types prefer to freeload than to join and pay dues--which makes me wonder how "progressive" they are in the ballot box.

For one thing, there's a huge range of "liberalism" even in the more liberal departments. One of my untenured colleagues spoke out publicly against the decision of a student group to post an American flag in every classroom (funding donated by a very right-wing local radio host). He was quite concerned later, after he went up for tenure, that his colleagues would vote against him as a result, because not everyone agreed with his desire to speak out against the U.S. flag. (And the disagreement was for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from the guy's being Canadian to his "my flag, right or wrong.")

Even my colleagues in the business school are not uniformly conservative. As contract negotiations grind slowly into their second year (!), our business management colleagues grow increasingly supportive. Why? Because it's not about the money for them. They have a comfortable income. They can afford to care more about luxuries such as academic freedom, while some of our more cash-strapped social science and humanities colleagues would like us to just settle already, no matter what the terms.

An interesting factoid: About a year ago, I got an anonymous email from a student group with a non-descriptive name asking me what political party I'd registered with. A little sleuthing turned up the identity of the group. It was affiliated with our more well-known superconservative student group. Naturally, I didn't bother to answer the email. Let them do the hard work of sifting through public voter records if they want that info. I assume most of my colleagues had the same reaction.

If this is the methodology of these "research" projects, than these researchers should be taking a few more of those liberal social science courses.

Now I'm even more long-winded than Dylan!

aargh--I see a few typo-inspired weirdnesses above. Pls forgive me. It isn't easy to be eloquent in the midst of the preschool set.

No worries, Beth--your point is a good one, that our politics often have a lot more to do with the specific situation than they do with the person we vote for every four years. There's just way too much in our fields and academic lives that falls outside of the scope of liberal/conservative, which themselves have become pretty meaningless as labels anyway.

The folks who still believe in them tend to be the ones pounding their hands on the tables...


Four thoughts:

* It seems to me that the basic premise of "conservativism" is anti-intellectual, while the basic premise of "liberalism" embraces intellectualism. Conservativism is about preservation and about going back to the old ideas and values, while liberalism (and the university) is about exploring new territories and new ideas, etc. Conservatives have a claim on God, and it seems to me that a lot of the philosophic and scientific work done in universities by Liberals (at least public universities) bring into question our relationship to God or God's very existence. So yeah, it doesn't surprise me that there are a lot of Liberals in the university.

* I'm tempted to say that Liberals are just smarter than Conservatives, but that might be too simple....

* Just because people are Liberal intellectually doesn't automatically mean that they're going to vote for the Democrat.

* I agree with Bradley that taking a look at faculty unions on campus might be an interesting way to examine the "real" Liberalism in academia. My own union right now is headed up by folks from the College of Business, and the newly elected president has spoken out quite positively about the War in Iraq. I presume he voted for W. Personally, I think the faculty union at EMU is under dubious leadership, but that's another issue entirely...

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on November 11, 2004 2:32 PM.

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