Thursday, November 25, 2004

Liberal hubris in academia

Two recent studies offer further confirmation of the political imbalance prevalent in American academia. The are cited in the NY Times for November 18: “Republicans Outnumbered in Academia.”

Professor Daniel Klein (Economics, University of Santa Clara) found that at Stanford and Berkeley Democrats outnumber Republicans 9-1. A national survey of 1000 professors revealed a pro-Democratic ratio of 7-1.

Moreover, this imbalance is increasing, as the cohort of younger professors shows an even greater liberal bias. The dominant liberal faction in most departments sees no problem in their becoming more so. And many who are conservative or middle-of-the-road decline to apply, sensing that even if they are hired they will not receive tenure. Two years ago there was a prominent case of this sort at Brooklyn College, when a highly qualified, much published conservative historian was only saved from canning by the intervention of the chancellor of the university.

I am not a Republican but a libertarian. So I have no dog in this fight. As a professor of art history, I am not called upon to comment in the classroom on contemporary political matters. For many students and colleagues, silence indicates consent. I am, many assume, one more soldier in the universal academic liberal army. A few colleagues, though, sense that “something is not quite right.” Perhaps I am harboring some dangerous heterodoxy—I might even be a fascist! Some academic liberals, mystified as to why the larger society has not embraced such eminently sensible ideas as theirs exhibit a touch of paranoia.

For someone like myself, who has spent 35 years in college teaching, the imbalance causes uneasiness for two reasons. 1) Having one side so clearly dominant tends to reduce the liveliness of discussion. Where is the diversity liberals claim to be seeking? 2) The present situation tends to erode public support. The general public does not share the orthodoxy that most liberals in academia cherish, and is increasingly resistant to funding it.

The piece in the NY Times elicited some correspondence from liberals defending the imbalance One writer offered a kind of compensation theory. That is, since Republicans dominate in big corporations, why not Democrats in academia? This is to compare apples and oranges. Corporations exist to make money. Those of us who are lucky enough to teach in the universities, ostensibly not for profit, are supposed to encourage a forum for the exchange of ideas.

As one insider recently remarked, at one time universities were islands of tolerance in a sea of intolerance. Now they are redoubts of intolerance in a generally tolerant society.

Liberals, we are told, are more logical, they are smarter. Yet what is logical about supporting affirmative action, especially when only lip service is required? There is no chance of a liberal white male who is tenured being fired and replaced by someone with a different background. These jobs, the last refuge of feudalism, are for life.

Liberals in universities believe that all cultures are more or less equal. To be sure, when reminded of Aztec human sacrifice or African genital mutilation today, they will back down—but only briefly. Cultural relativism is their default setting.

I could go on, but it is unnecessary. Unthinking support for the whole megillah of PC positions is not a sign of logical thinking or intelligence; it indicates a herd mentality.

But that is not the way the academic liberals see themselves. For any thinking person, they hold, the views they entertain are inescapable. They are simply the way things are. There is no need to ponder any alternative to the liberal orthodoxy in academia. “We are smart, they are stupid.” That is all one need know. What hubris! A system of thought that bars any serious consideration of other views is sometimes termed an ideology. It might also qualify as a religion.

It may be then, that as currently practiced, hegemonic liberalism in the universities is indeed a religion. As such, liberal dominance in publicly supported colleges ought to be forbidden as contrary to the First Amendment.

There is no need to go that far. All that is needed is an injection of the diversity academic liberals claim is so dear to them. This means not only seeking out persons to appoint with a different outlook, but taking what is for these folks a revolutionary step: seriously confronting ideas different from their own.


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