Saturday, October 15, 2005

Well, so, why can't they?

This little teaser at the NY Times tempted me for a moment to become a subscriber to TimesSelect, their pay-for-view columnist service:

Why Righties Can't Teach
Published: October 15, 2005

Liberals on campus have become so used to hearing their opinions reinforced that they have a hard time imagining there are intelligent people with different views.

Sounds intriguing, especially for the NY Times. But I managed to resist.

Then again, it's a sentence that actually does quite well standing alone, a succinct explanation for a common phenomenon.


At 12:31 PM, October 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They could have called it " Why Lefties cant compete in the marketplace of ideas", but that would never have made it through the editorial board.

At 2:02 PM, October 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the full article:

I am in debt to liberal scholars across America. After I wrote about the leftward tilt on campus, they sent me treatises explaining that the shortage of conservatives on faculties is not a result of bias. Professors helpfully offered other theories why conservatives do not grace the halls of academe:

1. Conservatives do not value knowledge for its own sake.

2. Conservatives do not care about the social good.

3. Conservatives are too greedy to work for professors' wages.

4. Conservatives are too dumb to get tenure.

I'm studied these theories as best I could (for a conservative), but somehow I can't shake the notion that there just might be some bias on campus.

I can imagine reasons why liberals would be intrinsically more inclined than conservatives to pursue academic careers. But even if that's true, it doesn't explain why there are so many more liberal professors now than there used to be.

Surveys last year showed that Democratic professors outnumber Republican professors by at least seven to one, more than twice the ratio of three decades earlier. The trend seems likely to continue, because younger professors are far more likely than older professors to be Democrats.

You could argue that fewer conservatives today want to become professors, but that seems odd given the country's move to the right in recent decades. Conservative student groups and publications are flourishing. Plenty of smart conservatives have passed up Wall Street to work for right-wing think tanks that often don't pay more than universities do, and don't offer lifetime tenure and summers off.

At think tanks and other research institutions outside academia, there's a much higher percentage of Republicans than there is on university faculties. Apparently, despite their greed and other failings, many conservatives do want to become scholars, but they can't find work on campus.

One reason is the structure of academia, where decisions about hiring are made by small independent groups of scholars. They're subject to the law of group polarization, derived from studies of juries and other groups.

''If people are engaged in deliberation with like-minded others, they end up more confident, more homogenous and more extreme in their beliefs,'' said Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago. ''If you have an English or history department that leans left, their interactions will push them further left.''

Once liberals dominate a department, they can increase their majority by voting to award tenure to like-minded scholars. As liberals dominate a field, conservatives' work comes to be seen as fringe scholarship.

''The filtering out of conservatives in the job pipeline rarely works by outright blackballing,'' said Mark Bauerlein, a conservative who is an English professor at Emory. ''It doesn't have to. The intellectual focus of the disciplines does that by itself.''

Suppose, he said, you were a conservative who wanted to do a sociology dissertation on the debilitating effects of the European welfare state, or an English dissertation arguing that anticommunist literature from the mid-20th century was as valuable as the procommunist literature.

''You'd have a hard time finding a dissertation adviser, an interested publisher and a receptive hiring committee,'' Bauerlein said. ''Your work just wouldn't look like relevant scholarship, and would be quietly set aside.''

Social scientists call it the false consensus effect: a group's conviction that its opinions are the norm. Liberals on campus have become so used to hearing their opinions reinforced that they have a hard time imagining there are intelligent people with different views, either on campus or in politics. Last year professors at Harvard and the University of California system gave $19 to Democrats for every $1 they gave to Republicans.

Conservatives complain about this imbalance in academia, but in some ways they've benefited from being outcasts. They've been toughened by confronting skeptics on campus and working at think tanks in Washington involved in the political fray. They've come up with ideas -- welfare reform, school vouchers, all kinds of privatization schemes -- that have been adopted around the country and the world.

But how many big ideas from liberal academics are on anyone's agenda? Democratic politicians are desperately trying to find something newer than the New Deal to run on next year. They're glad to take campaign contributions from professors, but they're leery of ideas from intellectuals who've have been talking to themselves for so long.

At 2:03 PM, October 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read it. It's a fair piece. He starts out by citing four theories about why so few conservatives become college profs.
The first--"Conservatives do not value knowledge for its own sake"--is silly. The jeremiads about higher ed, starting with "The Closing of the American Mind," came primarily from conservatives and proposed that lefties/liberals had abandoned the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. True.
But today, few do, no matter on what political side of the fence. That's why the liberal arts ("what are they?") are in such sad shape.

At 4:26 PM, October 15, 2005, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

I have often wondered what would happen in open situations, when conservative and liberal ideas would have to contend on their own merits. The first such experiment was talk radio, where even intelligent liberals went down in flames and even average conservatives held up. The interactive nature meant that your ideas had to actually withstand confrontation. It really doesn't matter if you're more intelligent if you're trying to peddle stupid ideas to a free audience.

The net is repeating the experiment, allowing both sides to go as shallowly or deeply into a discussion as they wish.

There are a few well-reasoned, well-sourced, well-written sites on the left, but many of them are simply profane, angry, paranoid screeds. So far, the score isn't even close. Conservatives are so intellectually dominant in the blogosphere that we can actually speak intelligently about varieties of conservatives and how well they are doing. The libertarian/free-market folks, the cultural conservatives, the foreign policy hawks, or the classical liberals all are making a good showing. Even better, I think the paranoid screamers on the right are drawing ever less audience -- there are now more sympathetic alternatives to choose from.

The brighter children are gradually making different choices: core curriculum schools, online study, tech entrepeneur-ing, religious schools, science and technology schools. They will drive the market. It's the parents who keep leaning on kids to go to "name" schools.

At 5:49 PM, October 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, it just seemed so obvious to me that I should respond with the mote-in-your-eye-log-in-mine response that that's exactly what liberals say about conservatives, I was intimidated to be faced with page after page of apparently learned and erudite support for your position.

I don't want to read all that junk just now; I'll retreat in confusion and return to the fray another time.


At 6:19 PM, October 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"1. Conservatives do not value knowledge for its own sake.

2. Conservatives do not care about the social good.

3. Conservatives are too greedy to work for professors' wages.

4. Conservatives are too dumb to get tenure."

Come on. That's way beyond being enough. Any reasonable person knows that's total horseshit (I've just today apologized for an intemperate remark, but there's no way I'll apologize for this one).

This thread has gone way off the rails.

Are you people stupid, or what?


At 8:14 PM, October 15, 2005, Blogger neo-neocon said...

tequila: Those four explanations for why there aren't many conservatives on campus were the ones columnist Tierney said that liberal scholars had sent him.

At 8:17 PM, October 15, 2005, Blogger neo-neocon said...

I've got an additional explanation (or maybe it's really just a different version of the same explanation): people don't often like to go where they're not wanted.

At 9:19 PM, October 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Well,if that's true -- and I'm not doubting your veracity, but Tierney's -- that's a pretty huge embarrassment. I'm glad to join in the criticism of such stupidity.

"people don't often like to go where they're not wanted", but here I am. (I tried to put in a smiley emoticon here, but your site watchbot wouldn't allow it.)


At 9:19 PM, October 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for posting Tierney's article.

The "four reasons why conservatives aren't in academe" (which, as neo-neocon pointed out, are *not* reasons that Tierney espouses, but are reasons that Tierney claims *liberals* sent him) are interesting, and in fact, I've overheard similar thoughts in the halls of academia.

I always found such thinking annoying and self-righteous, to say the least. The thinking here doesn't represent a *real* attempt to come to grips with the phenomenon, as much as to make those espousing them feel good about themselves. One might just as easily say that more liberals aren't in business because liberals a.) can't deal with the real world, b.) aren't able to handle hard facts instead of speculation, c.) are too lazy to work a forty-hour work week 12 months a year (this one might actually have some validity), or d.) don't possess any real marketable skills. Yet somehow, I'm guessing these aren't going to be making most college professors' lists of why they're not in business....

At 10:41 AM, October 16, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

tequila: Those four explanations for why there aren't many conservatives on campus were the ones columnist Tierney said that liberal scholars had sent him.

Look, anyone that disbelieves that liberal professors harbors uch beliefs, just cause the Helot followers of Leftist philosophy doesn't belong to the Supreme Enlightened Sect of Professors and Ph.Ds does not mean we should believe the follower as opposed to the prophet.

Both sides have their perspectives, and each should be considered, regardless of whether either thinks the other as ignoramuses.

Sometimes people should really pay attention to and believe what others are saying. Whether that is Mein Kampf or the Communist Manifest, Al-Qaeda's philosophy, or etc.

Regardless of how preposterous it seems on the surface, or farfetched, or utterly contrary to one's own personal beliefs about the world.

Maybe we should start calling it advanced sense instead of common sense...

At 3:31 PM, October 16, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it's been illuminating. I have to confess I stopped reading after those four points. It's so idiotic on its face I didn't think it worth spending any more time on it.

Now I've read it all, and I've learned that John Tierney is a NYT columnist, which I didn't know (I don't know how I've missed it; I've been downloading the NYT daily for years, and I thought I recognized the names of their columnists).

Anyway, neo-neocon, I only glanced at your introduction before clicking on the link, and I missed the fact that he was an NYT journalist. I assumed he was some weirdo academic hack.

I've read the whole article now and done some reading elsewhere about it. If you sent out a questionnaire to every professor in every business school in the U.S., I think it's safe to say you'd get a majority of Republicans and a scattering of flaky responses. The four points are simply rubbish. As a liberal, I'm not embarrassed by them: They're simply the views of people who are seriously deluded (a very few, I hope). I don't think the fact that there are some such nutjobs around is worthy of discussion, though; some people rave. So what? I don't pay any attention to such junk, whichever end of the political spectrum it comes from.

The liberal preponderance on the faculty of journalism and law schools, though, is a fact of which I was unaware -- yeah, I knew it was there, but I didn't know the liberal majority was so massive -- and a topic for discussion and consideration of why things are that way. I wish they weren't; I'd like to see more balance.


At 9:07 PM, October 16, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not just those - go to a university outside of the tech meajors (and even some in there).

I graduated in 2001 (seven years of undergrad) and I can tell you that I failed (well, actually dropped after recieving grades that wouldn't have been recoverable) many many due to my political leanings. I learned which teachers wouldn't do so - while all of them were also liberal they allowed opposing viewpoints (otherwise one could say I deserved the "F"'s - I recieved A's and B's in those classes). Out of 15 or so teachers in the English department there were two, in the history department none but the Dean was an alright guy and I wasn't afraid to complain by the time I took the last course, philosophy took me 3 different teachers before I found one, and the number of teachers who ranted and raved about Republicans in congress in the tech departments could get very irritating (though math, computer science, and others were not politically motivated in assignments it was tiring to hear - except that we were required to write papers as to why software engineers needed to be liscensed - no thought that we might disagree with that and an "F" (until you went and complained to the CS chairman) was the result).

The school I went too even went so far as to post that they *required* a liberal as one of the hard requirements for an English department post until someone pointed out that could result in a lawsuit.

Wether they considered themselfs biased, and I am pretty sure they just considered themselfs correct, being a conservative and expressing that idea was hit with a big sledgehammer with respect to grading in most of the humanities. I would imagine that attitude carried to hiring since several departments were at the 100% liberal, >%50 leftist. Most of the students, OTOH, were pretty nice no matter what. Nosr is my experience unique. I worked in a research department (computer science) at Oak Ridge National Labs and dealt with many students from undergrad to PhD candidates - mine was pretty good as many required raving moonbat leftist - even the fairly liberal students complained bitterly about it as I did.

At 10:19 AM, October 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my philosophy TAs once told us we shouldn't be in class, we should be on the rooftops with rifles offing the pigs, but that was far from typical. But I think you're right about the students generally being pretty levelheaded. By university age you are -- or should be -- able to think for yourself and do a pretty good job of filtering out the crap.



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