ORIGINALLY POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 27, 2003. I'm reposting it now in light of the extraordinary spectacle of literally dozens and dozens of blog linking approvingly to Arnold Kling's non-argument on behalf of some conservative conclusions. And conservatives are underrepresented in the academy because?
I'm reposting this, in light of the latest salvo by the right claiming a "bias" against conservatives in the academy. As usual, the possibility that conservatives are underrepresented because of intellectual or scholarly deficiencies isn't broached (how could that topic be broached by a journalist, after all?) (Surely it is relevant to an assessment of why Straussians who work on Plato have difficulty getting hired (except in departments already infested) is that they are viewed by all other Plato scholars as sloppy and philosophically inept scholars.)
Conservatives are usually keen to deny that the absence of, say, Blacks in academia doesn't signal bias; why are they so ready to infer bias from the absence of conservatives?
Only 7% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences believe in God, compared to 90% of the U.S. population. What should we infer?
Readers may also find the discussion here of interest.
The fury of the ex-smoker towards smokers is matched only by the fury of the ex-New Leftist towards anyone to the left of Tom DeLay, which brings us to David Horowitz, and his newest initiative, which ought to scare every scholar in the United States to death. He calls it an "Academic Freedom Bill of Rights," and its text seems almost benign and uncontroversial:
"All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives. No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs."
Who could quarrel with the proposition that "No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs"?
The idea that a "plurality of methodologies and perspectives" be mandated is a bit more worrisome: should someone take the UCLA Philosophy Department to court for not having hired a postmodernist philosopher? At the University of Texas School of Law, we've also passed on a lot of postmodernists and Critical Race Theorists lately. Should we be liable as a result?
Of course, the pathological Horowitz has no interest in these issues. If you want an idea of what "academic freedom" means to him, you need only read a bit of what he has written, for example, this gem on the very same web page where the Academic Freedom Bill of Rights appears, in which he denounces "sociological flat-earthists -- Marxists, socialists, post-modernists and other intellectual radicals -- whose ideas of how societies work have been discredited by historical events" but who "can still dominate their academic fields."
I guess academic freedom doesn't encompass them.
McCarthyism was never so clever. Horowitz says:
"We call on state legislatures in particular to begin these inquiries at the institutions they are responsible for and to enact practical remedies as soon as possible."
Pratical remedies? Over in libertarian fantasy-land, Eugene Volokh expresses relief that Horowitz isn't suggesting quotas for conservatives. But what in the world does Eugene think litigation over violations of the so-called "Academic Freedom Bill of Rights" would look like? If people have legal rights, they have remedies, and those remedies are going to be crafted by courts or legislatures. In either scenario, you might as well kiss universities good-bye.
The next critical race theorist denied tenure at a law school will have her day in court, as will the next Straussian booted from a classics department (I'm assuming, counterfactually of course, that one would ever be hired). And perhaps to avoid endless litigation, the legislature will simply proclaim the appropriate balance of libertarians, social conservatives, Marxists, social democrats, liberals, centrist Democrats, and Republicans for each department at the university.
The Colorado branch of Horowitz's front group, "Students for Academic Freedom [sic]," has issued the following declaration:
"These vastly lopsided figures (94% Democratic faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder, 98% at the University of Denver) provide objective standards of bias, since party affiliation is a choice of the individuals themselves. Even accounting for the fact that more liberals go into academia than do conservatives, can anyone truly claim with a straight face that liberals are so overwhelmingly more competent as teachers and scholars that they deserve to win such an astoundingly high percentage of professorships? This outcome is incomprehensible based on merit alone."
What percent of University of Colorado at Boulder faculty are white, one wonders? 90%, 95%? And since there is no reason to think Blacks are less interested in academic careers than whites (as opposed to conservatives, who would rather make money on Wall Street, or so the argument goes), and since no one could "claim with a straight face that" whites are "overwhelmingly more competent as teachers and scholars," this outcome "is incomprehensible on merit alone." Ergo, it must be bias, ergo, bring in the courts.
In the race and gender discrimination contexts, of course, the courts have largely rejected these kinds of arguments--and certainly right-wingers like David Horowitz reject them out of hand. Too bad they've not noticed the parallel in this context.
And, of course, the argument begs the real question. There are no alchemists in the best chemistry departments; no creation scientists or intelligent design proponents in the best biology departments; no geocentric theorists of the solar system in the best astronomy departments; no supply-side economists in the best economics departments (according to Paul Krugman); no postmodernists or Straussians in the best philosophy departments; and so on.
Do all these underrepresented intellectual perspectives have a claim under the Academic Freedom Bill of Rights? Couldn't it be that fundamental intellectual deficiencies of these views have something to do with their underrepresentation in the academy?
After all, take your favorite "objective" measure of intellectual ability--IQ, standardized test scores, etc.--and there' s no disputing that the level of intellectual ability is much, much higher in the academy than in the population at large. Why don't great believers in "merit" like Horowitz draw the obvious inference from this fact when conjoined with the absence of their preferred political ideology? (Well, the answer to that one is obvious.)
Alas, I'm sure it's not quite that simple. And conservative views aren't quite as underrepresented. Take libertarians in the legal academy: they are well-represented at most of the top law schools (Yale, Harvard, Chicago, Virginia, Texas, UCLA, Northwestern, etc.). (Indeed, they may be better-represented than Critical Race Theorists--most top schools have only one, if that.) That is as it should be since the libertarians, from Richard Posner to Alan Schwartz to Eugene Volokh, are intellectually and argumentatively engaged with the major scholarly issues in law. But if you start looking for conservatives in the Bush/DeLay model, you'll find hardly any. Is this attributable to bias or to the fact that as educational attainment and intellectual sophistication rises, it is harder to sign on to this world view?
That is the question, isn't it?