December 11, 2007
In light of the recent thought policing of students at Delaware University, and similar efforts elsewhere, Robert Maranto’s article on academic monoculture may help explain how such absurdities come about, and persist, apparently unchallenged from within these institutions.
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-centre view portrayed in a positive light… 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…
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… A leftist ideological monoculture is bad for universities, rendering them intellectually dull places imbued with careerism rather than the energy of contending ideas.
In an environment supposedly geared to the cultivation of critical thinking contending ideas should be grist to the mill. Responding to dissent, even outlandish or ill-informed dissent, may prompt us to revisit our own ideas about the world and our own political assumptions - assumptions that are not infrequently arrived at by unconscious imitation or a kind of peer group osmosis. It generally helps to know why we think whatever we think, especially if claims of unassailable righteousness are being staked upon it - and disagreement is, very often, how that insight comes about. And yet, as we’ve seen, great efforts are being made, often successfully, to eliminate debate and the testing of ideas.
KC Johnson asks whether events at Duke, Colorado, Delaware and Columbia are merely shameful anomalies or evidence of something more systemic.