The telltale sign that right-wing mischief is going mainstream is when The New York Times starts reporting on it as though it is something other than right-wing mischief. The Orwellian "Academic Freedom Bill of Rights" (whose aim is to destroy academic freedom, by substituting political criteria for academic hiring)--about which we've taken note previously--is now featured, with the proverbial fake pose of journalist neutrality, in this Times article:
One of the studies, a national survey of more than 1,000 academics, shows that Democratic professors outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one in the humanities and social sciences. That ratio is more than twice as lopsided as it was three decades ago, and it seems quite likely to keep increasing, because the younger faculty members are more consistently Democratic than the ones nearing retirement, said Daniel Klein, an associate professor of economics at Santa Clara University and a co-author of the study.
In a separate study of voter registration records, Professor Klein found a nine-to-one ratio of Democrats to Republicans on the faculties of Berkeley and Stanford. That study, which included professors from the hard sciences, engineering and professional schools as well as the humanities and social sciences, also found the ratio especially lopsided among the younger professors of assistant or associate rank: 183 Democrats versus 6 Republicans.
The political imbalance on faculties has inspired a campaign to have state legislatures and Congress approve an "academic bill of rights" protecting students and faculty members from discrimination for their political beliefs. The campaign is being led by Students for Academic Freedom, a group with chapters at Berkeley and more than 135 other campuses. It was founded last year by the leftist-turned-conservative David Horowitz, who helped start the 1960's antiwar movement while a graduate student at Berkeley.
"Our goal is not to have the government dictate who's hired but to take politics out of the hiring process and the classroom," said Mr. Horowitz, who called the new studies the most compelling evidence yet of hiring bias. "Right now, conservative students are discouraged from pursuing scholarly careers, because they see very clearly that their professors consider Republicans to be the enemy."
Perhaps, though, the ratio of Democratic voters to Republican voters in the academy has increased over time because the Republican party has gone increasingly bonkers, such that educated and informed people by and large can't stomach it any more? Anyone in academia can think of many conservative and libertarian colleagues who won't vote Republican anymore for exactly these reasons; we've seen, before, libertarian commentators taking the same position.
Nothing in these studies, of course, shows hiring bias, unless one assumes that (1) the supply of Republican candidates is more or less equal to the supply of Democratic candidates for faculty positions, and (2) the candidates are of equal merit otherwise. Why think either is true? Some evidence, I'm afraid, is needed, at least in the reality-based community.
Here's a pertinent fact, based on 8 years on the Appointments Committee of the Law School here: of the three dozen candidates I actively supported and recruited during this time, I had no idea what the political views were of about half of them; in some cases, I still don't know! There are some fields, and law is often one of them, where candidates wear their politics on their sleeve; but in most fields, including many parts of law, they don't. I've certainly seen politically motivated voting for and against candidates for law teaching positions from the right and the left--both here and at my former institution, San Diego--but I've never seen it, for example, in Philosophy. And Philosophy is plainly more typical of most academic fields: you either have the requisite technical skills or you don't, and one's party registration is basically invisible. Given that the hard sciences, as well as fields like philosophy, have similar ratios of Democrats to Republicans, bias seems an increasingly unlikely explanation for the overall proportions (though it may be more pertinent in some particular areas than others).
Meanwhile, the confessed right-wing villains at The Wall Street Journal editorial page have also joined in the chorus for the destruction of the universities:
One way to combat groupthink would be if donors to universities and regents began pressuring faculties to adopt an Academic Bill of Rights that would forbid university faculties from hiring, firing, and granting or denying promotion or tenure on the basis of political beliefs. When Mr. Horowitz suggested the idea be adopted at Colorado's public universities, he was accused of advocating "quotas" and "McCarthyism." He calmly explained that his plan eschews quotas and only requires universities to judge professors on their merits, not ideology. After several legislative hearings, Colorado university officials voluntarily adopted a variation of his Academic Bill of Rights to ward off a more muscular one the Legislature was considering.
Colorado has also gone further and adopted a reform that could serve as a model for how to make higher education more accountable to students and the taxpayers which pay its bills. Starting next year, the state will start shifting its higher-ed dollars from direct payments to universities to vouchers that will go directly to students. The idea is hardly radical. It is taken from the GI Bill of Rights, which is widely credited with giving returning veterans a chance at college through a program that won universal acclaim.
Debating such reforms is perfectly legitimate given that about half of the budget of public university systems come from taxpayers. Private universities derive about 35% of their budgets from public money, largely research grants. In addition, much of the student loan and grant money used to pay college tuition flows from taxpayer sources.
Somone worried that conservatives are, in fact, stupid might take much solace from this editorial and its "reasoning" that paying for a portion of a service makes it "legitimate" to determine how the service is provided (so much for academic freedom). Of course, by this logic, the "consumers" are entitled to determine only one-third to one-half of the service; I propose giving them all of English, as long as they leave Philosophy alone!
The real difficulty, of course, is that if you create rights, you also have to have remedies. And at some point even the genuinely dumb conservatives will notice that the Horowitz proposal will create causes of action for Marxist economists who can't be hired by economics departments, for postmodernists who can't get hired by philosophy departments, and on and on. And what is to stop Intelligent Design creationists from suing biology departments that won't hire them? Or alchemists from suing Chemistry departments? You get the idea.
The problem with which no one wants to come to terms is this: not all ideologies have merit. That there are relatively few Republicans in the universities may simply be co-extensional with the fact that there are relatively few educated people who believe that Iraq attacked the World Trade Center, a belief, as we know, that is widely shared among Bush supporters. Surely this possibility has to be entertained, if one were really serious about the question of bias.
There remains, of course, the astonishing irony that conservatives generally resist inferring bias against blacks from their relatively small numbers in academia: insufficient supply of qualified candidates and merit are the preferred explanations. Why not think the same is true with respect to card-carrying Republicans? Surely an argument is needed.
UPDATE: Related thoughts here, with a pleasingly direct conclusion. (Thanks to Bob Seltzer for the pointer.)