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Why the Academy Will Remain Mostly Unwelcoming to the Right

Chris Eisgruber, the President of Princeton University, recently expressed concern that universities are perceived “right or wrongly, as blue dots” in a politically divided America and thus said that universities must be concerned with political diversity. Some other university leaders have also cautiously suggested that the academy may put out the welcome mat for the right.  Nevertheless, there is reason for doubting that political diversity will be increased or discrimination against conservatives and libertarians ended in the elite university setting. The causes of political imbalance and of discrimination are entrenched and are unlikely to change soon.

First, begin with the reigning “diversity” on campus, which involves institutional preferences for hiring women and minorities as professors.  Assuming, as is the case in law, that minority and female academics lean even further left than most others, these kind of preferences, which at least at my own university appear stronger than ever, will continue to decrease political diversity. Indeed, if one accepts, as many in the legal academy do, that the disparate impact of a rule can be a form of discrimination, such preferences themselves discriminate against conservatives.

Second, many professors who have been hired in part because of the multicultural program of the modern university or are otherwise committed to it will fear that conservatives and libertarians are hostile or indifferent to the preferences that support the program.  Thus, some professors are likely to believe that hiring more conservatives and libertarians threatens a core institutional commitment of the elite university.  And since most faculty hiring requires a consensus, not a bare majority, such a group does not have to predominate for it to block politically diverse hires.

Third, political polarization is on the rise.  For instance, more people than ever do not want to their children to marry someone of a partisan affiliation different than their own. One of the reasons that academics moved left in the 1960s was the polarization created by the Vietnam war that led the left to taking up refuge in the academy where they could more easily attack capitalism and convention.  The Trump era is another polarizing wave and this time it will reinforce the always present temptation of academics to avoid associating with people they believe have distasteful, even immoral views.

Fourth, the academic conversation—what other academics are thinking and writing about—remains a driving force in faculty appointments. The left has dominated the academy so long that the contours of the conversation often disadvantages conservatives and libertarians. Take the legal academy. Most conservatives and libertarians are sympathetic to some form of formalism, like textualism in statutory interpretation and originalism in constitutional interpretation. But most public law professors are just not that interested in  the working out of the difficult issues that such formalism raises.  Some in fact are willing to say so publicly: one colleague at a previous law school at which I worked sneered that the best published entry candidate we ever had was just giving more subtle reasons for following “high school civics.”

And law even has advantage over many other fields in that it has connections to the real world. It is hard to completely ignore originalism when there are two originalists on the Supreme Court. It is much easier to ignore traditional approaches in history or literature where the academic conversation does not feel the tug of more politically diverse institutions.

In a subsequent post, I will consider what conservatives and libertarians can best do to advance their ideas given the entrenched hostility of the modern university.

Reader Discussion

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on July 24, 2017 at 08:52:48 am

Thank you for speaking the truth.

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Mark Pulliam
on July 24, 2017 at 09:54:37 am

On the topic of systemic bias: National Public Radio’s On The Media broadcast an episode on Doubt, in which they explore how a person’s preconceptions influence their perceptions and judgments—including how the preconceptions of the show’s hosts and editors would influence the show’s content. This episode had four segments:

1. Dartmouth College's Brendan Nyhan discussed new research that challenges his "backfire effect" theory—the idea that people double-down on their false ideas when confronted with contrary facts. To his credit, Nyhan refrains from doubling-down on his own theory.

2. Generalizing from the fact that researchers couldn’t replicate Nyhan’s results, University of Toronto's Uli Schimmack offered a review of the replication crisis throughout the field of psychology, and the effort to promote more rigorous research practices.

3. New York University's Jay Van Bavel discussed how social psychology is trying to face the possibility that a liberal slant, both in research subjects and in the system itself, is producing biased results. (Note that “liberal” here may simply mean WEIRD—Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic.)

4. Finally, the show’s co-hosts revisit their post-Election Day confrontation about the meaning of Trump’s election, and discuss how best to cover Trump going forward. Specifically, should you cover Trump as just one more politician, and leave it to the audience to draw their own conclusions? Or should you spell out for the audience how Trump’s behavior is undermining the norms of democracy and a free press upon which the show (and the republic) relies?

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nobody.really
on July 24, 2017 at 10:22:46 am

1) Definition of WEIRD is Priceless!
2) Shall we say that the best description of YOUR last sentence is WEIRD.
The only thing *free* about the press is their own freedom to speculate, embellish, distort and sensationalize - then again, this does appear to be the *norm* of left-wing democracy. (I assume that this last sentence reflects a sentiment that you share and that it is not simply a restatement of the typical mellifluos malice propagated by NPR. Am I wrong?).

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gabe
on July 24, 2017 at 11:25:50 am

Chris Eisgruber, the President of Princeton University, recently expressed concern that universities are perceived “right or wrongly, as blue dots” in a politically divided America and thus said that universities must be concerned with political diversity. Some other university leaders have also cautiously suggested that the academy may put out the welcome mat for the right.

Ironic: That people opposed to Affirmative Action might, by that very fact, become the beneficiaries of Affirmative Action. But if Clarence Thomas can bear this irony, why not others?

“[D]iversity” on campus … involves institutional preferences for hiring women and minorities as professors. Assuming, as is the case in law, that minority and female academics lean even further left than most others, these kind of preferences, which at least at my own university appear stronger than ever, will continue to decrease political diversity.

Not following this. If these new faculty members “lean even further left than most others,” why would this result in greater diversity? I suspect McGinnis means that it wouldn’t result in the kind of diversity he values.

But this prompts the question: What kind of diversity should academia value?

If minority and female academics had previously been excluded from the faculty, but his has now changed, and this change in hiring resulted in a change in intellectual content, then this strikes me as a vindication of Affirmative Action policies. It suggests that the prior academic perspectives were driven by race and gender bias, and that new policies are correcting these biases.

Now, all else begin equal, I would favor having a broad diversity of viewpoints in the faculty. Thus, I favor the Econ Dept. bringing on a Marxist, and the Philosophy Dept. having someone who teaches Zeno’s Paradox. From my perspective, both theories have been rather thoroughly rebutted, but the arguments themselves are useful for providing foundations from which more contemporary theories arose.

But clearly, not all else is equal. Universities are growing ever stingier with tenure. I suspect that this scarcity is a factor causing faculty to be more selective—more risk-averse—in picking their colleagues. If the Econ Dept. only gets one new faculty member this decade, they may conclude that they will need to bring on the econometrics guy rather than the Marxist guy. They both provide diversity, but one type may seem more compelling than the other.

One of the reasons that academics moved left in the 1960s was the polarization created by the Vietnam war that led the left to taking up refuge in the academy where they could more easily attack capitalism and convention.

I suspect McGinnis may be onto something linking the Vietnam protests and the association of liberalism with academia, but this needs to be fleshed out.

I’d argue that WWII caused a surge in statism and respect for authority. The post-war era saw an era of big, centralized institutions—big business, big labor, big mainline churches, organized social activities (the Lion’s Club, school sports, the Boy Scouts), ABC/NBC/CBS, talking head authority figures, etc. Even court decisions were more deferential to government power.

But various cultural dynamics would erode this centralization, causing society to regress to the mean. The beatniks and biker gangs, and later hippies, rebelled against conformity and materialism. Folk, and then Rock & Roll, rebelled against musical convention. Blacks, and later women, rebelled against prevailing power hierarchies. Within this larger context, Vietnam was a big bolder, but it wasn’t the entire avalanche.

How did this affect liberalism and conservatism? Recall F.A. Hayek’s 1960 essay, Why I Am Not a Conservative. Note that 1960 pre-dates most US involvement in Vietnam:

”Unlike liberalism, with its fundamental belief in the long-range power of ideas, conservatism is bound by the stock of ideas inherited at a given time. And since it does not really believe in the power of argument, its last resort is generally a claim to superior wisdom, based on some self-arrogated superior quality.

[T]he most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it - or, to put it bluntly, its obscurantism.... I can have little patience with those who oppose, for instance, the theory of evolution....

Connected with the conservative distrust of the new and the strange is its hostility to internationalism and its proneness to a strident nationalism.... The growth of ideas is an international process, and only those who fully take part in the discussion will be able to exercise a significant influence. It is no real argument to say that an idea is un-American....

The anti-internationalism of conservatism is so frequently associated with imperialism. [T]he more a person dislikes the strange and thinks his own ways superior, the more he tends to regard it as his mission to ‘civilize’ others....”

Given this mindset, should we be surprised that academia might attract liberals (just as the military attracts conservatives)? And is it true that academia has grown more liberal? Or is it simply the case that over time obscurantism has grown ever more strongly associated with the Republican Party, causing ever fewer academics to want to associate with that label? (Perhaps both dynamics apply.)

The Trump era is another polarizing wave and this time it will reinforce the always present temptation of academics to avoid associating with people they believe have distasteful, even immoral views.

A fair statement. But it might be fairer to say, “…reinforce the always present temptation of human beings to avoid associating with people they believe have distasteful, even immoral views.” This is a human dynamic to which, as McGinnis appropriately notes, academia is not immune.

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nobody.really
on July 24, 2017 at 12:16:55 pm

WEIRD refers to an empirical problem of overgeneralizing based on a narrow sample.

Consider the old joke, “Psychology is the intensive study of the college sophomore.” Social scientists tend to conduct research on their own students, yet publish results as if they’ve discovered something true about humans in general. What if college students are unrepresentative of the world at large?

Others have taken this further, observing that only about 1/8 of people live in nations that could be characterized as Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. To what extent do our conclusions about human nature merely reflect conclusions about our WEIRD human nature?

Consider the Ultimatum Game: You are given $100 on the condition that you offer a share of it to a stranger, and the stranger agrees with the partition you offer. If the stranger agrees, you each get your share; if he rejects, you each get nothing.

In WEIRD countries, offers of much less than $50 get rejected; we are accustomed to giving and getting equitable treatment from strangers, and we punish those who don’t conform. But in other cultures, the highest value is loyalty to tribe. You are expected to exploit a stranger ruthlessly in order to secure maximum advantage for your tribe; to do otherwise is to betray your tribe, a grave act of selfishness. Thus, people in these cultures offer, and accept, much lower partitions. In contrast, allegedly some researcher found cultures that highly value charity to strangers, and autonomy. People in these cultures routinely offer more than 50% of the amount—and reject these offers in turn!

In short, any conclusion about “human nature” based on the Ultimatum Games would be questionable. The outcomes seem to reflect culture, not nature. But you’d only discover this fact if you looked beyond our own WEIRD culture.

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nobody.really
on July 24, 2017 at 13:02:08 pm

"Or is it simply the case that over time obscurantism has grown ever more strongly associated with the Republican Party, causing ever fewer academics to want to associate with that label? "

From Websters:

Definition of obscurantism

1
: opposition to the spread of knowledge : a policy of withholding knowledge from the general public

2
a : a style (as in literature or art) characterized by deliberate vagueness or abstruseness b : an act or instance of obscurantism

I suppose it depends upon which definition of obscurantism one wishes to employ.
Can we not argue that definition #2 applies to the academy with all of its obscure, jargon ridden dissertations on let us say, as an example, the phallic suggestiveness of ballistic missiles (true, BTW), or the econometrics professor with reams of partially digested data, etc - or even the example of the WEIRD pyschology professor you cite.

As to definition #1: I suspect that there is little difference between the parties as regards the "withholding of information" and I know of nobody.really who wants to prevent the spread of knowledge. I mean, after all, only nobody.really believes that the offering of a countering opinion constitutes a desire to PREVENT the spread of knowledge.

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gabe
on July 24, 2017 at 13:05:25 pm

Oops! and as to nobody's style of diversity, I suppose, if pushed, one could argue that having 700 zebras in a zoo, albeit some small, some large, some fat, some thin is MORE diverse than having only fat ones, it is straining credulity to advance the proposition that this is an adequate substitute for actual intellectual / philosophical / political diversity - unless, of course, like a zebra, one only sees things in black * white.

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gabe
on July 24, 2017 at 14:45:05 pm

So what I am taking away from this is that (a) diversity programs are really NOT about a diversity of ideas, but really are simply about gender and race; and (b) law professors on the left shy away from intellectual challenges ("most public law professors are just not that interested in the working out of the difficult issues"). I think conservatives have good reason to be cynical.

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Phil
on July 24, 2017 at 16:56:59 pm

Oh, THIS must be an example of the GOP's obscurantism (or is it just another rant by) of which nobody.really speaks wherein a fierce critic of Christianity is denied the ability to speak:

http://hotair.com/archives/2017/07/24/berkeley-radio-station-cancels-richard-dawkins-event-criticism-islam/

Oops, I forgot to mention that the REASON for the denial was that Mr. Dawkins was intending to speak critically of ISLAM. Hey, and it was in Berkeley, CA, that renowned hotbed of right-wing extremism.

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gabe
on July 25, 2017 at 16:55:23 pm

More on the topic of systemic bias: Why don't brilliant girls pick science/tech/engineering/math (STEM) careers? On theory says it's because they have better options.

That is, people who go into STEM careers tend to be people who score strongly on math but not verbal skills. People who score strongly on both math and verbal skills tend not to pursue STEM careers. And, by nature or nurture, girls are disproportionately likely to scope strongly in both verbal and math skills, whereas boys are disproportionately likely to score well on math, but not verbal, skills.

Yet research suggesting that the disparity is caused by social bias gets cited more than research showing that the disparity is caused by girl's having the intellectual capacity to pursue things OTHER than STEM careers.

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nobody.really
on July 25, 2017 at 18:49:40 pm

"On theory says it’s because they have better options. "

And the shame of it is that leftist academics have convinced a number of bright young women (and men) with high verbal / math scores that Gender Studies is a better option. I, for one, would prefer that they study engineering, architecture, physics, etc.

Of course, one thing missing from the link is just how poorly do the 33 year old STEM workers do communicating with others. This is not Dilbert, now is it. Some of the most articulate people with I worked (had as employees) were engineering types. So how much lower do they score?

Anyway, thanks for the link - it IS pretty good!

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gabe
on August 07, 2017 at 10:16:24 am

Universities are bastions of irrationality, explicitly rejecting reason down to their philosophy departments; their ideological core. Most professors have an agenda- political power- and they knowingly shovel falsehoods into young minds in their lust for authoritarianism in politics.

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StopAllUnivSupport
on August 07, 2017 at 10:25:46 am

The Right should leave the Ivy League to the Left and just create a new world. The Ivy League takes a half century to turn around, and that is too long in the modern world.

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Andy McGill
on August 07, 2017 at 12:51:56 pm

Sending you child to a university/college amounts to child abuse.

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grnberet

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.