Here, via NROs The Corner, is a transcript of a panel discussion held at AEI. The subject, the ideological tendencies of American higher education, is one on which I have gassed on at great length here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Among the panelists are leaders of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and the AAUP, along with Daniel Klein, whose research on faculty political opinions I discussed back in December. It was, I think, somewhat courageous for Roger Bowen, General Secretary of the AAUP, to enter a roomful of critics.
Indeed, Bowens comments, for once outside the "mainstream" of this particular moderate-to-conservative room, were the most revealing. Heres his response to Kleins data:
with all due respect, I dont think weve learned anything new. If you go back to the Lipset-Ladd study, 1975, or you look at the Michael Faia study, The Myth of the Liberal Professor, probably issued in 1974, what you find is this was based on the Carnegie survey that looked at over 100,000 faculty, 300 colleges, asked 300 questions and had a 60 percent return rate. So as a data source in comparison I think much more reliable and perhaps more interesting.
But the bottom line, if you set aside Faia, is that, yeah, then 75 as well as today, you will find in the social sciences and the humanities most faculty tend to be Democrat. And as anticipated by our moderator, so what? Not that one ever inquires, my earlier point, but if they are, I think there may be reasons, and those reasons are suggested in the classic study by Seymour Martin Lipset.
This is taken from him, paraphrased, Im not quoting, its too lengthy, but I encourage you to look at this study. Anthropologists, which apparently according to the study, Democrats far outnumber Republicans. What do they do? Anthropologists, the discipline itself is focused on questioning religious and cultural myth, particularly myth that celebrates national, cultural or racial superiorities. That in many classrooms will be a shocker for a lot of students.
Sociologists tend to inquire on the origins of inequality as a source of alienation. New concepts to many college students that will seem, I imagine, given illustrations using the American example, rather shocking.
Political scientists, they focus on questions of legitimacy, and when Lipset was doing his study it was in the wake of the Vietnam War and we were trying to understand why are campuses these hotbeds of revolt? Is it because the faculty are so liberal? And many said yes.
Historians, they look at progress frequently in terms of overcoming inequalities of the past, sometimes inequality is endorsed, even embraced by conservatives.
Id translate these remarks this way: in Bowens view, theres an inherent "bias" in some of the disciplines in favor of rationalism, progressivism, and, in general, "the Enlightenment." For Bowen, this seems to be just a fact of life. But I would argue that any "science" that loses sight of its origins and of serious alternatives to its foundations runs the risk of degenerating into mere ideology. Those in the academy who are honestly devoted to "good science" ought to welcome the debate fostered by their conservative and neo-conservative critics.
When challenged along these lines by Jeff Wallin of the American Academy of Liberal Education, Bowen had this to say:
Were speaking as if the professoriat, even if they were all Democrats, are somehow monolithic, that you dont have distinctions between liberal Democrats, moderate Democrats, weak Democrats, whatever. Anyone who spent time in the academy knows that there are enormous differences. It is not monolithic, and faculty are by nature disputatious. They are taught early in graduate school to think critically, and thinking critically usually means attacking conventional wisdom. Whatever stands within your own particular discipline as authoritative, you make a reputation by going after it, rethinking it, revising it, and they do that with one another. And even then, even then there is so much in the way of substantial difference on policy issues as well as opinions among faculty within one particular party or one particular camp, it is still extraordinary.
In other words, the Democratic Party on campus is a big tent. Cold comfort, that.