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Outlook: GOP Black-Listed Out of the Ivory Tower

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Robert Maranto
Associate Professor of Political Science, Villanova University ; Author, "Reforming the Politically Correct University"
Monday, December 10, 2007; 12:00 PM

"I spent four years in the 1990s working at the centrist Brookings Institution and for the Clinton administration and felt right at home ideologically. Yet during much of my two decades in academia, I've been on the 'far right' as one who thinks that welfare reform helped the poor, that the United States was right to fight and win the Cold War, and that environmental regulations should be balanced against property rights. ... At many of the colleges I've taught at or consulted for, a perusal of the speakers list and the required readings in the campus bookstore convinced me that a student could probably go through four years without ever encountering a right-of-center view portrayed in a positive light."

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Villanova University associate professor of political science Robert Maranto, author of "Reforming the Politically Correct University" was online Monday, Dec. 10 at noon ET to discuss difficulties he and colleagues have experienced as conservatives struggling to get along in higher education careers.

The transcript follows.

Archive: Transcripts of discussions with Outlook article authors

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Washington: Do you have any evidence that a professor's party registration affects the way they teach or treat their students?

Robert Maranto: That's a great question. We have enormous anecdotal evidence, and some systematic evidence from history and education. Check out the essays by Sandra Stotsky on education, and Victor Davis Hanson on history, forthcoming in my book. I think we need to do more of those kinds of studies. Generally I think that there is much more of that kind of bias than academics are prepared to admit, but much less of it than critics charge.

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Washington: Your piece really hit home for me, but I just want to note that it's not just in getting jobs! As an undergrad and a grad student I have had massive difficulty getting teaching assistant spots because I'm a known conservative -- I've even had two professors tell me that this was the reason. It's a vicious cycle and really hurts careers.

Robert Maranto: That's really interesting, and very unfortunate. I'd be curious to hear what field. It's generally much less of a problem in political science than in some other fields, though occasionally here too.

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Washington: Enjoyed your article. Do you think that public colleges and universities are more likely to tolerate diverse political views, and therefore more likely to provide a balanced, real-world education? If you do, do you think the state involvement, via Board of Trustees selection, is behind it or are there other factors?

Robert Maranto: That's a great question that we really need to look at. My sense is that the relative impersonality of a large public university combined with civil service rules make it easier to have minority views of any kind, but that is only a sense. I'm not sure the data would show that.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Are you familiar with the hearings that were held of the issue of academic bias before the Pennsylvania state legislature? It seemed that even legislators who feared there was academic bias conceded they could find no one who could testify that academic bias existed, at least in Pennsylvania. Does academic bias exist in any Pennsylvania university or college?

Robert Maranto: I'm very familiar with those hearings, and I think they needed to be done confidentially/closed door. I've seen people say things privately on this matter that they would never say publicly, for fear of offending everyone where they worked and perhaps spending the next five years teaching 8 a.m. classes!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Professor -- I understand your complaint, but I don't necessary see it as completely valid. Maybe certain departments in universities are more liberal than others, but what about the business schools and engineering and science departments? I know many engineers and computer scientists who are very libertarian in their viewpoints. And business schools probably have very few liberals on their staffs. Plus, if certain departments are selective, what about certain power centers in society? I would bet that military and the business communities are self-selecting toward conservative Republicans. I doubt very seriously that any person expressing liberal view points in those spheres who be able advance. These professions have great deal of influence on the current shape of our society. From the viewpoint of liberals in academia, our society's looks generally hostile to their viewpoint and reinforces belief that capitalism, materialism, and conservative political beliefs are absolutely good and don't need serious examination by their proponents.

Robert Maranto: I agree with much of what you have said, with a few caveats. First, data do indicate some ideological diversity in areas like business/computer science/agricultural engineering -- but those are areas in which ideology really doesn't matter in terms of the problems one seeks to answer or how to answer them. Second, business schools etc. are actually roughly split (half liberal/half conservative) from the data we have, so they do have some diversity.

I am concerned about institutions like the military becoming too ideologically homogeneous; that is a legit concern. But I'm not in the military, so I'll let others address that.

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Philadelphia: Isn't it a 'natural progression' for someone entering college to learn new things not taught in grade school? After learning these 'new things' about History, Humanity, and the powers that Govern, isn't it that natural progression that takes them to the world of Progressives?, with the exception of the 'die-hard' conservative such as yourself?

Robert Maranto: First off, I'm not a die hard conservative. I'm pretty middle of the road. Second off, I'm not sure a progression in any particular direction is natural. I've seen liberals get some things right (Clinton's tax increases) and conservatives get some things right (Reagan's foreign policy, welfare reform), so I would hope that people in academia would study the real world and, in the words of Colin Powell, not get your ego so close to your position that if your position gets shot down your ego goes down with it. In other words, real academics need to show the flexibility to change their minds.

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Washington: Why do you think universities become so left leaning in the first place? Is it possible that the more people learn the more likely they are to move to the left? Or, do left-leaning individuals find academia more attractive than their right-inclined counterparts? Thank you!

Robert Maranto: Good question. I used to be around where David Horowitz is now, more of an angry young man (okay David is no longer so young). But over time and looking at lots of data I'm convinced -- my collaborators Matt Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner make this point in their chapter in our forthcoming book -- that conservatives are reluctant to go into academia because they value home and family too much to put making money and having a family on hold for seven or eight years to get a Ph.D., so some of this is because of that dynamic. At the same time, and Stan Rothman and Bob Lichter make this point, conservatives do seem to have a rougher time on the academic job market and seem to have to publish more to get the same jobs -- so a bunch of dynamics are at work here.

I don't want special set-asides for conservatives or lots of regulations which God knows will be abused, but I do want academia to recognize that universities work better with ideological diversity -- it is key to the academic enterprise -- so we must not discourage people with minority views (okay, not Hitler/Stalin or flat-Earth types, but neither Democrats nor Republicans generally fit into those categories).

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South Bend, Ind.: Thank you for the excellent article. I'm a student at the University of Notre Dame, and I was wondering how you think the Catholic nature of the school might affect its tolerance of diversity?

Robert Maranto: I'm glad you asked that. I am at a remarkably tolerant school (Villanova), and I think the Augustinians make sure of that. There is an understanding that we are all fallible before God, so we have to approach our work with some humility and tolerance toward others. I'm not Catholic, but have come to enormously respect them. I think good priests and nuns are able to establish a comfortable enough environment for people to feel free to express alternative viewpoints without fear of being defined by them.

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Washington: Is ideological balance really what we are supposed to expect from our universities? I thought they were in the business of preserving, discovering and imparting knowledge. In other words, suppose a department is convinced based on the evidence that global warming is occurring; does it make any sense to hire someone who thinks the reverse just for the sake of balance? Does a history department have an obligation to hire someone who argues positions that are against the weight of evidence for the sake of balance? In other words, conservatives have a tendency to see things as ideological whenever they disagree with them.

Robert Maranto: That's a great point. I think that some issues really can be settled by data, so for example, I would not expect intelligent design to be taught as authoritative (rather than a good theory that does not fit the data) in biology class; nor Marxism to be taught seriously in an economics class. The point is that Marxism is taught very seriously in many departments at the leading schools, while intelligent design is not save perhaps at Patrick Henry University.

I do not think that the sort of things Democrats and Republicans disagree about have for the most part been settled authoritatively -- I think reasonable people can read the data to support either John McCain or Hillary Clinton, so it seems odd to find either unacceptable at universities.

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Bethesda, Md.: At one point in your article, you wrote that you didn't think there was overt discrimination against conservatives on campus as much as subtle bias in the form of people in charge hiring/promoting people like themselves. The "subtle bias" argument has often been used to explain why women or minorities are underrepresented in tenure/tenure track positions in universities. Do you think the argument holds true for those groups as well? If not, why not? If so, do you support "conservative affirmative action" to correct the ideological imbalance, as others have proposed gender or race based affirmative action to correct those imbalances?

Robert Maranto: I think the subtle bias case certainly does hold for women and minorities in many cases; indeed as two of the chapters in the forthcoming book (those by Stan Rothman/Bob Lichter and by the Woessners) point out, women seem to be underplaced in colleges and universities, just as social conservatives are.

I've written about how Republican academics I know act and feel like black government executives I know -- they feel a bit scorned in some environments, and have special ways of signaling their confederates.

But is affirmative action the answer? A little bit, sure. When I'm on a hiring committee I tend to give thumb on the scale sort of plus points to under-represented groups. I do not, however, employ different standards, nor say people from over-represented groups cannot apply.

I do think that ideology is actually more important to the academic enterprise (or at least to much of it) than race and gender. How can I study public policy if I have no real familiarity with Republican or Democratic people and their ideas? Lacking that familiarity, will I be aware of my own biases?

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Baltimore.: I'm an anthropology Ph.D. currently working in a school of education, and I would certainly have to own up to a preponderance of liberals in both fields. However, I think this has as much to do with self-selection and disciplinary histories as it does with bias. Few conservatives are committed to an anthropological view of culture, and those interested in urban education seem only to want to turn it into a for-profit enterprise. Thoughts?

Robert Maranto: I think that as the work of the Matt Woessner and April Kelly Woessner suggest, there is much to the self-selection argument. I think that would explain a five- or 10-to-one liberal to conservative ratio in Anthropology -- but not the current 30-to-one or so, which is about what Klein and Stern find in their work.

I think we need to talk to the right of center Anthropologists -- there are a few -- and see what they think. After all, if we were studying alleged sexism in a company, we would not just talk to the men to see if there is anything to it.

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Washington: To follow-up on your comment to the effect that Marxism shouldn't be taught in economics courses -- I recently read a piece in the Wall Street Journal where some working on the Street mentioned that "everyone" in finance had read "Das Kapital" because Marx really did understand the dynamics of capitalism. Given that these are the people at the apex of our economy, does it really make sense to say that a Marxist analysis of capitalism is of no use in a course on economics?

Robert Maranto: I think that's a really good point. I must say I myself have students read some Marx in public policy. He did get some things right, and in any event set forth some interesting theories (as do the Intelligent Design types) that seemed logical even though they were later found wanting (again like Intel Design).

But I think overall Marxism has not fared well in the real world. I find it troubling when certain disciplines see Marxism as a guiding light, as if the 80 million or so deaths (see Courtois et al, "The Black Book of Communism," published by Harvard in 2000) and general collapse of planned economies never happened!

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Kansas City, Mo.: Thank you for your thoughtful piece. From your research, is there any correlation between perceived unequal treatment in a college/university hiring process, and perceived fairness afforded students of different political persuasions in the classroom?

Robert Maranto: That's a great question, and so far as I know no one has looked into it. I do know that the vast majority of professors, while liberal or even radical, are too professional to force their views on the students (save perhaps in textbook selection!).

We have some good evidence that job markets, though, are a bit dicier, for understandable reasons of group dynamics. I'm hoping that with the work of my colleagues and I the sensible majority in academia will start to look into this and address it.

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St. Cloud, Minn.: "I would not expect intelligent design to be taught as authoritative (rather than a good theory that does not fit the data)"

"I do not think that the sort of things Democrats and Republicans disagree about have for the most part been settled authoritatively"

As a college physics professor, I sympathize with much of what you have to say. But I am puzzled by the excerpts quoted above.

In what sense is "intelligent design" a "good" theory? It is almost universally rejected among biologists, and its support appears to be theologically motivated.

Neither political party is particularly good at attending to science that does not conform to its prejudices. But conservatives have been particularly prone to this sort of thing of late -- global warming is only the most prominent example. Like a good many scientists, of all political persuasions, I find this sort of thing disturbing.

Robert Maranto: I think intelligent design is a good theory since it has a logical flow, clearly specified causality, etc., but the data we have -- the fossil record -- disprove its predictions. So like most of Marxism (which similarly posits the state as God), it's a good theory that fails to work.

I'm a social scientist, and so I am obsessed with things like crime and education, on which conservative solutions seem to have worked far better than liberal ones.

But were I as obsessed with global warming or foreign policy I would very probably be a Democrat. I think your most telling point is that neither party is very friendly to science when science tends to disagree with its core views or powerful constituencies.

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Claverack, N.Y.: Your article contains a statement something to the effect that in some universities, one can construct a curriculum where a student is never required to read a right-of-center viewpoint. Well, I'm sure one can also construct a curriculum where a student is never exposed to Shakespeare, photography, organic chemistry, French philosophy, auto repair or doughnut-making. Just because one could do it doesn't mean it's the norm. And just because one could do it doesn't mean the student doesn't also experience seven million exposures to conservative thought via talking to friends and family, reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, or following the presidential campaign.

Robert Maranto: That too is a good point, but I think you need to spend more time looking at college bookstores (check out the required texts) and to the list of speakers, films, etc.

As those favoring ethnic diversity often argue (and they are basically right on this) it is not healthy for an institution to be extremely isolated from the key cleavages in its society.

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Arlington, Va.: I just finished a Master of Public Policy and had my undergrad in Public and Urban Affairs, I also grew up in this area and have always had politics in my blood. What I recognized during my education is that when I had more conservative professors, my assignments were more cut and dry, I didn't do as much free thinking as I did in classes that were more liberal or even more center where I was encouraged to take a new approach or come up with a new idea, that even if I couldn't conquer I could begin and show support for that idea. Perhaps this is also a reason that there are less conservatives in academia as universities want to promote new thoughts and ideas rather than rehash older arguments or reword facts into papers/research that reaffirm the status quo?

Robert Maranto: I think there is definitely something to that, but again, that would explain a significant differential in the percentages of liberals and conservatives, but not as huge a one as we see in the data.

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Washington: I would certainly agree that there is a left-leaning tendency in English departments: wish I had a dollar for each Marxist analysis I have had to yawn my way through. But on the other hand, while virtually every major writer in the English language is conservative, they are not conservatives in the sense of modern conservatives. That is, Samuel Johnson or Charles Dickens want to uphold values that have nothing to do with the Foucault spouting academics of the left, but they also are antithetical to laissez faire capitalism. What I fear is that in the debate over balance in the academy, we will lose the obligation to come to the subject with as few ideological presuppositions as possible.

Robert Maranto: Really good points. Again at the risk of seeming self-promotional, when my co-edited book comes out you have to read Paul Cantor's chapter on literary studies.

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Fairfax, Va.: Your article hit home with my family. My daughter is a sophomore at George Mason, a university which constantly brags about its "diversity." She finds this either hypocritical or blind, as she has experienced only "progressive" viewpoints from the faculty. Sometimes there is outright hostility to other opinions.

One example: a teacher asked students to compare the platonic "shadows on the wall" image to other works. My daughter mentioned St. Paul's "Now we see the world as through a glass darkly." The professor scolded her for bringing religion into class, told her not to do it again, and took points away from her grade. This is not the only incident which has made our conservative and religious child feel unwelcome on campus. She plans to transfer next year.

Robert Maranto: That's dismaying. I would say in GMU's defense, the public policy parts of it are very ideologically diverse, and I know people on the left there -- I won't embarrass them by naming them -- who are very open to different ideas and indeed who have been helpful to me personally even though we usually vote differently. They are model scholars.

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Henrietta, N.Y.: I am in a pure mathematics department and not a single person in my department voted for Bush in '04. In fact, of the hundred or so other pure mathematicians I know, only one voted for Bush. There is no political component to our work and the group includes people from all sorts of different backgrounds and regions of the world. One thing we do have in common is that we think rationally for a living.

At what point does it become time to admit the obvious: that modern conservatism is a backwards, irrational, ignorant philosophy that no sane educated person is likely to accept?

Robert Maranto: I think your answer may indicate a certain arrogance, and isolation from the real world. If the left is always right and the right always wrong, then you have to think that planned economies work better (the economic equivalent of intelligent design), that school standards and school choice are bad ideas (even though the data indicate they bring improvements), that NYPD's crime fighting strategy has failed, the Reagan foreign policy had nothing to do with the fall of communism, etc.

I think the real world events of the past three decades show that liberals are right about some things (global warming, Clintonomics), but that on the whole the conservatives have done bit better. Notice I'm not mentioning our more recent foreign policy adventures which, though Hillary signed on, have mostly come from GWB and the normally sensible Tony Blair.

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Freising, Germany: You mention that you think that the biases conservative academics face are probably subtle or unintentional, but how would you compare this political bias with other forms of bias?

For instance, are there faculties that are primarily made up of tennis players and others that are mostly windsurfers, or are there some faculties with lots of East Europeans and others with more South Americans, etc.?

Robert Maranto: That's a really good question, but time is running by so please see my two answers above regarding women and ethnic minorities.

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Self-selection bias Catch-22: To turn things a bit on their head, I've done research into affirmative action programs and found that self-selection biases tend to pick up momentum over time and the effect becomes exponentially more powerful. To use anthropology, one generation ago, it might have been 10:1, but that 1 had a harder time finding thesis advisors, mentors, etc., and the 10 didn't and the advantage grew. If the liberal academic bias is a result of a continuing self-selection process, what remedy can you use that's not a ideological litmus test?

Robert Maranto: I would prefer persuasion first. Ideological litmus tests, like those for race and gender, could easily be abused. I would encourage faculty to embrace ideological diversity, and students to consider it when they decide which colleges to attend. After all, an ideological monoculture is really pretty boring -- who wants to attend such a place?

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Maryland: A couple of comments. First, I always heard that those who can do, and those who can't teach. Secondly, as a retired military officer I can state that the relative homogeneity of political viewpoints in today's armed forces is directly attributable to the ending of the draft in the early 1970's. Finally, if there were no such liberal bias in academia, there would be no concerted efforts to ensure that certain institutions like Hillsdale College would be around and offer the courses of study that they do. Comments?

Robert Maranto: Really good points, though I would say that the military is actually a lot more diverse ideologically than academia is. Further, the military has to operate in a real world environment, so people cannot give free reign to their ideology. The military is held accountable by Congress, the White House, The Washington Post, and the enemy!

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Atlanta: You allude to the post-bureaucratic reform movement in your article. I, too, am in public administration, and have often wondered if public administration as a discipline has been perpetuated by an overwhelming amount of support for the bureaucratic paradigm and not by any tangible assistance offered to the practitioner. Do you think the field is in trouble due to the lack of serious examination of challenges to the traditional way of doing things in government?

Robert Maranto: I tend to agree, though to our credit we are getting a lot better. At the risk of once again sounding self-serving,

Fifteen years back I was one of the only public administration professors defending Clinton/Gore's reinventing efforts, but now I would estimate that a good chunk of the field does.

As one ages, one finds that things really do get better over time.

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Arlington, Va.: How do law school faculties fare in your analysis?

Robert Maranto: I have not looked at them. My collaborator Richard Redding is a law school professor. I think his view is that law schools tilt heavily left, but the need to serve diverse clients (including GOP officeholders) keeps them from going too far that way.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Journalism is another field that claims to be even-handed but is often accused of liberal bias. Some say, though, that essentially liberals see the other side better than conservatives do, so that a liberal reporter will cover their stories more "balanced" than a conservative one?

From where you've sat in both academia and think-tank land, do you think liberals are better at balancing?

Robert Maranto: I see a lot more great question, but alas I must go off to teach two courses, grade nine remaining papers, and entertain a visiting job candidate, so if you want me to answer them please e-mail me, and I will try to answer them in the next seek or so!

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