The New PC
Conservatives complain relentlessly that they do not get a fair shake in the university, and they want parity--that is, more conservatives on faculties. Conservatives are lonely on American campuses as well as beleaguered and misunderstood. News that tenured poets vote Democratic or that Kerry received far more money from professors than Bush pains them. They want America's faculties to reflect America's political composition. Of course, they do not address such imbalances in the police force, Pentagon, FBI, CIA and other government outfits where the stakes seem far higher and where, presumably, followers of Michael Moore are in short supply. If life were a big game of Monopoly, one might suggest a trade to these conservatives: You give us one Pentagon, one Department of State, Justice and Education, plus throw in the Supreme Court, and we will give you every damned English department you want.
Conservatives claim that studies show an outrageous number of liberals on university faculties and increasing political indoctrination or harassment of conservative students. In fact, only a very few studies have been made, and each is transparently limited or flawed. The most publicized investigations amateurishly correlate faculty departmental directories with local voter registration lists to show a heavy preponderance of Democrats. What this demonstrates about campus life and politics is unclear. Yet these findings are endlessly cited and cross-referenced as if by now they confirm a tiresome truth: leftist domination of the universities. A column by George Will affects a world-weariness in commenting on a recent report. "The great secret is out: Liberals dominate campuses. Coming soon: 'Moon Implicated in Tides, Studies Find.'"
The most careful study is "How Politically Diverse Are the Social Sciences and Humanities?" Conducted by California economist Daniel Klein and Swedish social scientist Charlotta Stern, it has been trumpeted by many conservatives as a corrective to the hit-and-miss efforts of previous inquiries by going directly to the source. The researchers sent out almost 5,500 questionnaires to professors in six disciplines in order to tabulate their political orientation. A whopping 70 percent of the recipients did what any normal person would do when receiving an unsolicited fourteen-page survey over the signature of an assistant dean at a small California business school: They tossed it. With just 17 percent of their initial pool remaining after the researchers made additional exclusions, some unastounding findings emerged. Thirty times as many anthropologists voted Democratic as voted Republican; for sociologists the ratio was almost the same. For economists, however, it sank to three to one. On average these professors voted Democratic over Republican fifteen to one.
What does it show that fifty-four philosophy professors admitted to voting Democratic regularly and only four to voting Republican? Does a Democratic vote reveal a dangerous philosophical or campus leftism? Are Democrats more likely to deceive students? Proselytize them? Harass them? Steal library books? Must they be neutralized by Republican professors, who are free of these vices? This study opens by quoting the conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks on the loneliness of campus conservatives and closes by bemoaning the "one-party system" of faculties. Nonleftist voices are "muffled and fearful," the researchers say. They do not, however, present a scintilla of information to confirm this. It is not a minor point. No matter how well tuned, studies of professorial voting habits reveal nothing of campus policies or practices.
The notion that faculties should politically mirror the US population derives from an affirmative action argument about the underrepresentation of African-Americans, Latinos or women in certain areas. Conservatives now add political orientation, based on voting behavior, to the mix. "In the U.S. population in general, Left and Right are roughly equal (1 to 1)," Klein and Stern lecture us, but in social science and humanities faculties "clearly the non-Left points of view have been marginalized." This is "clearly" not true, or at least it is not obvious what constitutes a "non-Left" point of view in art history or linguistics. In any event, why stop with left and right? Why not add religion to the underrepresentation violation? Perhaps Klein, the lead researcher, should explore Jewish and Christian affiliation among professors. A survey would probably show that Jews, 1.3 percent of the population, are seriously overrepresented in economics and sociology (as well as other fields). Isn't it likely that Jews marginalize Christianity in their classes? Shouldn't this be corrected? Shouldn't 76 percent of American faculty be Christian?
The Klein study and others like it focus on the humanities and social sciences. Conservatives seem little interested in exploring the political orientation of engineering professors or biogeneticists. The more important the field, in terms of money, resources and political clout, the less conservatives seem exercised by it. At many universities the medical and science buildings, to say nothing of the business faculties or the sports complexes, tower over the humanities. I teach at UCLA. The history professors are housed in cramped quarters of a decaying Modernist structure. Our classiest facility is a conference room that could pass as generic space in any downtown motel. The English professors inhabit what appears to be an aging elementary school outfitted with minuscule offices. A hop away is a different world. The UCLA Anderson School of Management boasts its own spanking-new buildings, plush seminar rooms, spacious lecture halls with luxurious seats, an "executive dining room" and--gold in California--reserved parking facilities. Conservatives seem unconcerned about the political orientation of the business professors. Shouldn't half be Democrats and at least a few be Trotskyists?