UNIVERSITY OF PC
As a Republican, I'm on the Fringe
Are university faculties biased toward the left? And is this diminishing universities' role in American public life? Conservatives have been saying so since William F. Buckley Jr. wrote "God and Man at Yale" -- in 1951. But lately criticism is coming from others -- making universities face some hard questions.
At a Harvard symposium in October, former Harvard president and Clinton Treasury secretary Larry Summers argued that among liberal arts and social science professors at elite graduate universities, Republicans are "the third group," far behind Democrats and even Ralph Nader supporters. Summers mused that in Washington he was "the right half of the left," while at Harvard he found himself "on the right half of the right."
I know how he feels. 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.
All these views -- commonplace in American society and among the political class -- are practically verboten in much of academia. 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.
A sociologist I know recalls that his decision to become a registered Republican caused "a sensation" at his university. "It was as if I had become a child molester," he said. He eventually quit academia to join a think tank because "you don't want to be in a department where everyone hates your guts."
I think my political views hurt my career some years back when I was interviewing for a job at a prestigious research university. Everything seemed to be going well until I mentioned, in a casual conversation with department members over dinner, that I planned to vote Republican in the upcoming presidential election. Conversation came to a halt, and someone quickly changed the subject. The next day, I thought my final interview went fairly well. But the department ended up hiring someone who had published far less, but apparently "fit" better than I did. At least that's what I was told when I called a month later to learn the outcome of the job search, having never received any further communication from the school. (A friend at the same university later told me he didn't believe that particular department would ever hire a Republican.)
Now there is more data backing up experiences like mine. Recently, my Villanova colleague Richard Redding and my longtime collaborator Frederick Hess commissioned a set of studies to ascertain how rare conservative professors really are, and why. We wanted real scholars to use real data to study whether academia really has a PC problem. While our work was funded by the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute, we (and our funders) have been very clear about our intention to go wherever the data would take us. Among the findings:
Daniel Klein of George Mason University and Charlotta Stern of Stockholm University looked at all the reliable published studies of professors' political and ideological attachments. They found that conservatives and libertarians are outnumbered by liberals and Marxists by roughly two to one in economics, more than five to one in political science, and by 20 to one or more in anthropology and sociology.
In a quantitative analysis of a large-scale student survey, Matthew Woessner of Penn State-Harrisburg and April Kelly-Woessner of Elizabethtown College found strong statistical evidence that talented conservative undergraduates in the humanities, social sciences and sciences are less likely to pursue a PhD than their liberal peers, in part for personal reasons, but also in part because they are offered fewer opportunities to do research with their professors. (Interestingly, this does not hold for highly applied areas such as nursing or computer science.)
Further, academic job markets seem to discriminate against socially conservative PhDs. Stanley Rothman of Smith College and S. Robert Lichter of George Mason University find strong statistical evidence that these academics must publish more books and articles to get the same jobs as their liberal peers. Among professors who have published a book, 73 percent of Democrats are in high-prestige colleges and universities, compared with only 56 percent of Republicans.
Despite that bad job-hunting experience I had, I doubt that legions of leftist professors have set out to purge academia of Republican dissenters. I believe that for the most part the biases conservative academics face are subtle, even unintentional. When making hiring decisions and confronted with several good candidates, we college professors, like anyone else, tend to select people like ourselves.
Unfortunately, subtle biases in how conservative students and professors are treated in the classroom and in the job market have very unsubtle effects on the ideological makeup of the professoriate. The resulting lack of intellectual diversity harms academia by limiting the questions academics ask, the phenomena we study, and ultimately the conclusions we reach.