Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

"Liberal" education

Here, via NRO’s 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, Bowen’s comments, for once outside the "mainstream" of this particular moderate-to-conservative room, were the most revealing. Here’s his response to Klein’s data:

with all due respect, I don’t think we’ve 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, I’m not quoting, it’s 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.

I’d translate these remarks this way: in Bowen’s view, there’s 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:

We’re speaking as if the professoriat, even if they were all Democrats, are somehow monolithic, that you don’t 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.

Discussions - 7 Comments

While there is truth to the claim that some social science disciplines lean heavily toward ’progressive’ thinking, the fact remains that there is plenty of intellectual ’room’ for conservative and centrist thinking in those disciplines. What has happened is a form of inbreeding. When the most conservative person on a faculty is a moderate Democrat, the hard Leftists tend to run the place. And because these disciplines quickly take on a ’clubby’ feel, pretty soon you’ve got strong selection pressures in hiring, firing, and matriculation.

Ultimately, inbreeding is bad for science and bad for these faculties. They have set themselves up for irrelevancy in the long-term. But then again, as a coccoon the university serves quite well. Many of these faculty members aren’t thinking about the long-run viability of their disciplines, but rather are cloistering themselves from "red" America. Very sad.

Frightening. I’m not that critical that a campus may have a higher DP contingency, I’m worried that it is so easily dismissed. Inbreeding does happen, and creates a nasty trend. But this happends not only at liberal univeristies and colleges; look at businesses, schools, or your local Boy Scout troop. The fact is, a good balance of political views maintains the conversation on issues as "American". The same could be said of Religion, sexual preference, etc. Yes, I am saying that a conversation could teach tolerance. But that needs to be kept in check, too...what a mess...

It reminds me of how many colleges in the late 19th and early 20th century used to boast about their religious diversity by noting that their faculty included both Presbyterians AND Episcopalians.

Then, of course, there’s the old Blues Brothers line: "We play both kinds of music--country AND western!"

I suspect a part of the problem is revealed in a stunning comment in Bowen’s argument about the big tent. He says we have to keep in mind the fact that academics have been trained "since early in grad school" to think critically. Whoah! What happened to the undergraduate years? No critical thinking there? Indoctrinate students for four years, screen them, and then introduce them to critical thinking?

Rick, don’t forget the indoctrination of high school. It is enough to make someone come to the realization that when they are thinking most clearly, they aren’t thinking at all the rest of the time. Time to develop some new habits?

Just because you vote Democrat or Republican doesn’t mean you endorse all aspects of the party or even the general ideology of the party. "And because these disciplines quickly take on a ’clubby’ feel, pretty soon you’ve got strong selection pressures in hiring, firing, and matriculation. Ultimately, inbreeding is bad for science and bad for these faculties." This is a tremendous issue... how do you judge the expertise of the experts? Is it possible that Harvard could be the worse school in the nation, and still be considered the best? If the standards and criterion of judgment are themselves ideological then that which wants to be considered good conforms.

Perhaps one does not make it to grad school unless one already understands the structure implictly.

You can think critically about what the ideal speed is but you are going to get a ticket for anything above 60 in a 55. The standard of what is good in a particular field is like the speed limit, you can object to it and violate it, but you are powerless to change it, unless and until you are already established and respected. Those who have gainned an establishement and respectibility have little to gain by undermining the basis for the very credentials they hold.

Do Politicians that are Democrats question Social Security and medicare? Do Politicians that are Republicans question God? Maybe privately, but to be a thing already entails a belief structure. To be a Democrat or to be a Republican is an identity. This identity is something specific, likewise to be a proffesor of a certain field is to have a specific identity. It isn’t an individual, it isn’t a man, it is a proffesor of philosophy! With the identity comes a responsibility to a certain bearing. The title shapes the thinker, as much as the thinker could hope to shape the title. The title even goes so far as to define for the thinker what thinking is and is not. But this isn’t to say that the individual is destroyed per say, rather he was already inclined slowly so as to reach the conclusions that he ultimately reaches. In its completed state the proffesor does not think that there is another way of thinking that is clearer, that is more instrumental to the ends he wishes to accomplish.

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