By Richard Vedder
I didn’t sleep too well last night, thanks to Heterodox Academy’s (and NYU’s) Jonathan Haidt and John Leo, who recently carried on a provocative exchange in this space. Two questions really bothered me: Why is there so little intellectual diversity in the academy? And what can we do about the related problem of weak university leaders capitulating to ever more outrageous demands from student protesters?
So why is the academy increasingly a leftist monoculture, at least in the social sciences and humanities? The standard answers relate to self-selection: conservatives and libertarians want to make money, so they go into business or the professions, or, more uncharitably, they are not as smart and thus cannot meet academic standards. In short, they are cognitively unfit for a life of the mind. Last month, James Phillips in an excellent paper discredited the latter notion with respect to law-school faculty presenting compelling empirical evidence that conservative underrepresentation amongst law-school faculty likely reflects some ideological discrimination.
Faculty—Wards of the State
One reason discrimination exists is that faculties are in some respects like fraternities—they like to have people around them with similar tastes and preferences; people who are simpatico ideologically probably will be closer colleagues and friends.
But it goes beyond that: faculty are increasingly wards of the state. They derive their income in large part directly or indirectly from governmental largess even at so-called private schools. Progressives favor big governments; big governments shower more dollars onto college campuses, providing larger salaries and lower teaching loads for academics. Those on the left push for free college and loan forgiveness; those on the right talk about restricting student-loan programs. The progressive view promotes larger enrollments and budgets, and with that more and higher-paid faculty. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
That brings me to the problem of recent student protests and the spineless reactions of presidents of prestigious universities like Yale. As temperatures rise this spring, protests will mount (our fragile students don’t want to discomfort themselves by protesting in the cold). Continued appeasement of students who seize control of buildings and curriculum and threaten university leaders destroys the rule of campus law and further reduces intellectual diversity and academic freedom. What can be done?
More Adult Supervision
I agree with Jonathan Haidt: bring in some adult supervision. Specifically, trustees and prominent alumni were educated when children were not protected by their parents from hearing or seeing hurtful things, when kids were raised to endure hardships and occasional blows to their self-esteem. By and large, I suspect trustees and large donors do not approve of coddling students. And one thing trumps everything else on campus: money. You don’t offend big donors
Typically, trustees rubber stamp administrative actions, and are seen but not heard. But they have significant power that needs to be unleashed: to borrow from a misguided University of Missouri professor, “Let’s have some muscle over here.” Presidents should be told in no uncertain terms that groups of spoiled brats cannot be allowed to ignore university procedures, disrupt operations, and threaten unfettered scholarly inquiry.
The problem ultimately is one of ownership. Radical students think they own the university. Faculty think they own or co-own it. Senior administrators think they are the owners, as sometimes so do powerful wealthy alumni. Universities earn financial surpluses that get disbursed to the putative owners, much like the dividends corporations pay to stockholders. That is what “shared governance” is all about –give the faculty low teaching loads and good salaries, administrators armies of junior administrators to do the heavy lifting, students low workloads and good recreational facilities, and the alumni a good football team. Everyone is happy except those paying the outrageous bills.
But for non-representative groups of students to claim an absolute right to determine major policies in return for not using violence is extortion. The legal owners of universities need to assert themselves and tell the presidents to show leadership and not let the lunatics run the asylum.
Richard Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, teaches at Ohio University, and is an Adjunct Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.