Why I’m Leaving the Political Science Association

Looking forward to a lively annual conference of the American Political Science Association, due to start this week in San Francisco, I proposed a panel on “Viewpoint Diversity in Political Science.” After all, I thought, wasn’t the 2016 election a signal lesson in the continuing relevance of diverse viewpoints in the American body politic?

My submission featured four of the most prominent political scientists in the country who have written on the issue of political diversity in the field. They included Joshua Dunn, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, whose co-authored 2016 book entitled Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University has been a focus of the national discussion among academics interested in the issue; and April Kelly-Woessner, Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Legal Studies at Elizabethtown College, whose co-authored 2011 book The Still Divided Academy: How Competing Visions of Power Politics and Diversity Complicate the Mission of Higher Education is the gold standard on how to promote respectful political dialogue on campus.

Quaint Notions of White Identity?

Now, granted, every major conference receives far more submissions than it can accept. Still, I was surprised when the panel was rejected. I assumed that it had been bested by superior panels submitted to the jointly-organized teaching and education sections of the conference. But when the official program came out, I could see that it was not. Instead, it was crowded out by APSA’s serious lack of political diversity.

A total of 11 full panels or roundtables were accepted in the teaching and education sections. Of these, 7 are on mainstream teaching topics. Another 4 were set aside for, shall we say, more politicized topics. One, entitled “Let’s Talk about Sex (and Gender and Sexuality)”, is on how to restructure the classroom around ideas of being “genderfluid, transgender, or gender nonconforming.” Another, on “Tolerance, Diversity, and Assessment” will focus on how to use administrative coercion to enforce various group identity agendas.

The third, called “Taking Advantage of Diversity,” will help scholars to understand why their quaint notions of cutting edge knowledge are merely expressions of white identity. Another, “Teaching Trump”, is composed of left-wing feminist scholars. Final score for political science education at this year’s APSA conference: left-wing approaches to diversity and difference: 4; conservative or classical liberal approaches: 0.

The Holy Trinity of Leftist Grievance

For good measure, I looked at the entire conference program to see whether the preponderance of panels on left-wing approaches to diversity in the teaching and education sections was to balance a lack of them elsewhere. I searched for panels on the holy trinity of identity politics: sexism/feminism, racism/white privilege, and sexual orientation/homo/transphobia. My best guess is that conference attendees will have a choice of 104 panels on these topics, in addition to the 4 in the teaching and learning sections. Just for laughs, I searched for panels on political, ideological, or viewpoint diversity. None.

There are, of course, special sections controlled by conservative or classical liberal groups at the APSA conference. But as for the sections that are open to all submissions, they essentially fall into two groups: strictly empirical work or normatively left-wing ideas. Am I the only one scratching my head?

I have worked with political scientists of an overwhelmingly left-wing bent for all of my career, so I know that there is nothing nefarious in this. Indeed, this is a key finding of  Dunn’s Passing on the Right. Sometimes, conservative commentators on the academy write as if there is a vast conspiracy operating on campus. There is not. Most of my left-wing colleagues in political science are reasonable and rational people who are aware of the importance of bringing a variety of political viewpoints into the classroom. When I asked the section organizer why our panel was rejected, she genuinely seemed not to remember – not indicative of an intentional censoring of non-left-wing issues – and added: “I agree it’s an important topic.”

So why the lack of balance? Despite the lip-service to the importance of viewpoint diversity, asking an APSA organizer committed to the advance of left-wing viewpoints to take one for the right is like asking a glutton to forego ice cream. There are no practical means to translate theory into practice. The eyes roll tiredly over proposals concerning viewpoint diversity but perk up excitedly at the sight of one, to cite another of the offerings at this year’s conference, “Disavowing Violence: Imperial Entitlements, From Burke to Trump (Fuck That Guy).”

Looniest End of the Academy

Indeed, for the looniest end of the left-wing academy, even the theory is hostile to viewpoint diversity. They view the academy as a special zone of (left-wing) Truth that must be protected against (right-wing) Falsehoods of the real world. Genuine pluralism, from this vantage, is a cover for privilege and oppression. Why import such falsehoods into the charmed realm of truth they have carved out with taxpayer’s money? Or more to the point, why go through the pain, inconvenience, and potential disapprobation of importing falsehoods?  I do not think the teaching and education section leaders of this year APSA were of that sort. But the system is heavily stacked against even a brief effort in the direction of idea pluralism. Why stick your neck out to accept a panel on political diversity at a political science conference when, to cite another of this year’s offerings, one can win kudos for accepting a panel entitled: “Pussies Grab Back: Feminism in the Wake of Trump”?

Much has been written about the general problem of a lack of political diversity in political science and its drift to the far left. The ratio of Democratic/left-of-center to Republican/right-of-center professors in political science is variously estimated at around 15 to 1 nationwide, not counting moderates and centrist independents. In my home state of Oregon, I believe the ratio is infinitely large because I do not know of a single Republican or conservative in our profession here (I am a swing voter and independent). APSA is not only indicative of this worsening problem but, and here is the issue, a key cause of it and thus, potentially, a fulcrum point for change.

It was not always this way. APSA was founded in 1903 to defend the ideal of impartial empirical inquiry. It’s constitution still declares that “the Association as such is nonpartisan. It will not support political parties or candidates. It will not commit its members on questions of public policy nor take positions not immediately concerned with its direct purpose” of academic inquiry. For years, it upheld those ideals. Remarkably, APSA and political science more generally survived the onslaught of illiberal radicalism, political correctness, and censorship of the 1960s, as John Gunnell of SUNY-Albany wrote in the association’s main journal in 2006. APSA presidents well after that era included prominent conservatives like Samuel Huntington of Harvard (1986-7) and James Q. Wilson of UCLA (1991-2).

The real problems arose when the graduate students of the 1960s and 1970s became tenured faculty and APSA executives. While political science and APSA were able to withstand an assault on academic freedom and viewpoint diversity from illiberal students, they had no means to defend themselves when those illiberal students became the governors. From the 2000s, a string of such far-left scholars came into office as APSA presidents: they included old-left scholars of class and socialism like Theda Skocpol of Harvard (served in 2002-3), Margaret Levi of Washington (served in 2004-5), and Ira Katznelson of Columbia (served in 2005-6); and “new-left” scholars of racial and gender grievance such as Dianne Pinderhughes of Notre Dame (2007-8), Rodney Hero of Berkeley (2014-15), and Jennifer Hochschild of Harvard (2015-16). There is of course nothing wrong with a variety of positions being represented in the APSA presidency. However, there was never any countervailing tendency. The moderate leftists who took the helm between the growing frequency of radicals could do nothing more than steady the ship before the next gale of fanaticism.

Under this new post-2000 leadership, APSA turned from being a fairly pluralistic and professional-oriented body into a shock force for the latest thought liberations of the left. This has been evident most clearly in the bevy of special task forces that have been commissioned. One of these, on “Inequality and American Democracy” published in 2004, deserves special attention because it was the point where APSA lost its credibility. The report claimed to have uncovered “profound threats” to American democracy as a result of inequality, which was reinforced by social programs that served mainly old white conservatives; indeed that political scientists had reached a “consensus” that such a threat existed. Again, it was not the radical leftism per se but the growing suggestion that only radical viewpoints were welcome or even recognized in the discipline that rankled.

A Little Diversity? No Thanks

One political scientist, Robert Weissberg of the University of Illinois-Urbana, was allowed a dissenting voice in a symposium on the report. He called the report a “professional embarrassment” for its hysterical claims of what he called “an AARP coup d’état.” Putting aside the possibility that “overeager interns absconded with APSA letterhead,” Weissberg warned that professional political scientists who adopted an “overheated radical egalitarian tone” of the report were not just, in his view, getting it wrong on American democracy. The bigger problem was what it said about the state of APSA. The obliviousness of the report’s authors to what a conservative, classical liberal or centrist would see as its “embedded totalitarianism” might have been at least acknowledged if the 14-member task force had included one or two non-leftists. “A little diversity, so to speak, would have saved considerable embarrassment.”

Yet such diversity was, as it was becoming clear in 2004, precisely what was on the wane at APSA. The new generation of political science faculty and APSA leaders no longer saw their role not as engendering an appreciation and curiosity about the pluralism of the American body politic and its institutions (as well as those abroad). Instead, APSA had become a key citadel to storm and capture: “Transforming a discipline’s intellectual center of gravity is not rocket science once the administrative apparatus is secure,” Weissberg wrote.

Today, APSA has become barely distinguishable from the Democratic Party and its far-left wing. Its web page runs a constant stream of anti-Trump or anti-Republican news. This year, it issued a statement supporting the anti-Trump “March for Science” held in DC in April and another against the Executive Order on a temporary ban for travelers from several Middle Eastern countries. It also felt the need to issue a Letter to Members after the 2016 election (there was no letter issued after the 2012 or 2008 elections) saying the election had “cast into sharp relief an array of issues” for political scientists. I used to think that’s what elections were supposed to do.

Of course, for political scientists for whom every professional endeavor is a pitched battle for social justice waged against the dark forces of tradition and privilege, the takeover of APSA is just another point on the road to total victory. But, like Saigon when the Vietcong arrived, they may find that others have abandoned the city, leaving them with nothing but a Pyrrhic Victory.

The “boat people” fleeing APSA now include me. As it happened, this year’s APSA was on the theme of political legitimacy, one of my major research areas. I proposed a methods workshop on measuring legitimacy along with another scholar who, like me, has spent a lot of time on data and measurement issues. It was accepted, but alas is now canceled as I have chosen not to attend. I will continue to research, teach, and engage policy-makers about legitimacy, but not at APSA.

Maybe this does not matter. As Weissberg noted: “Transforming the profession into scholarly agitprop is lamentable, but hardly catastrophic in the grand scheme of things. At worst, intellectual corruption will render APSA publicly irrelevant.”

But for that shrinking pool of political scientists for whom a vibrant and pluralistic professional association still matters, it may be time for a reckoning. So here is my challenge: make “political and viewpoint diversity” the theme for a future APSA annual conference. Recognizing the problem is the first step on the road to recovery.

24 thoughts on “Why I’m Leaving the Political Science Association”

  1. The academy is never diverse, and it’s never removed from politics; it’s conservative by definition. It’s becoming polarized, within its limits, as the rest of political life has become polarized. Those who call themselves leftists pretend that political movements, civil rights or more, begin in the academy, and those who oppose them claim that civilization itself is at risk.
    It’s a tempest in teapot, terrarium: a bubble economy. The world moves on.

    Claims of enlightened superiority are as absurd now as ever, yours included. And calls for “viewpoint diversity” are now lead by the former elite.

  2. The days of European colonialism are over. “White” people are a shrinking minority in an ever more interconnected world that is increasingly uplifting the people “whites” previously colonized with their exploitative racial caste system. Most of us “white” people, along with most of humanity, want to move on figuring out how to live together peaceably side by side with the rest of humanity. A few “white” people want to reclaim myths of lost greatness. I suspect Gilley is one of them. All I have to say to these “white” people is: the “white race” can’t afford you any more.

  3. lol you want to return to colonialism; you have no right to accuse others of intolerance or fanaticism when you argue for the bloody subjugation of poorer countries

  4. What a lame snowflake you are, Bruce. Your panel proposal gets rejected and you then write a long tirade whining and crying on how the profession does not accept your shitty viewpoints. “Viewpoint diversity” is not a value per se at all, especially in the academia where the quest is for truth. If your viewpoint is straight wrong and especially shitty, why should anyone listen to you? This is like applying to a conference in cosmology arguing that the Earth is flat and then writing a long post whining that your proposal was rejected.

    1. Bob,

      Your premise is flawed. Academia indeed involves the quest for truth. However, an advantage of many viewpoints is (1) Someone with another view may point out something that others miss, which need to be addressed. (2) Even if the view is wrong, pointing out the error engages “intellectual muscles” that may otherwise grow lazy. This is in fact critical to transmitting good ideas across generations.

      This very post demonstrates what I am saying. You are clearly wrong, and I very much enjoyed the exercise of using my more expansive view to destroy your rubbish argument.

  5. It seems that Professor Gilley’s idea of “diversity” is based on having enough cranky conservative’s – whom are inherently counter-revolutionary in every way – to counter the growing leftist academic zeitgeist. Why is he not asking the question, “why is there is a negative relationship between the increasing power of society’s conservative forces and the power of Leftist forces?” If he was truly “objective” and “empirical” (laughable notions to begin with) he would research the trend. In a time like this, when real actually existing fascism is on the rise, his decision to drop out of APSA say it all. He is another white, fragile, man who cannot handle the fact that the more educated people become, and the more reflexive PhDs in every field become, the more Left they become. He should just quit and go to work for one of the many useless middle of the rode think tanks who would love to have him. Leave the university to those of us trying to figure out how to actually counter fascism, capitalist global oligopoly, and produce theory and praxis that HELPS PEOPLE!

    1. Leo,

      I’ll be blunt, the view that the Left now dominate universities because they’re more educated is a dumb conceit. Many left theories are incredibly stupid, being little more than elaborately rationalized hatred, envy and greed.

      Oh, and fascism is a Left movement. Italian fascism had socialist roots, as did the Nazi party (which was short for called the National Socialist German Workers Party). Nazis were only characterised as “right wing” in the sense that they were “to the right” of the Stalinists (but still, politically speaking, left wing). A principal distinction between Stalinists and Nazis was that the Nazis were “racial socialists” – kind of like the ironically-named Antifa goons of today.

      Putting the “doubt quotes” around the words objective and empirical marks you as an intellectual lightweight. Reality exists, and humans can and do engage with it dispassionately. (And please don’t try “science is a social construct” nonsense.)

      Finally, attempting to dismiss Professor Gilley’s views because he is a “white, fragile man” is both racist and sexist. (And please don’t try the self-serving and intellectually bankrupt formula that “racism = prejudice + power” . Prejudice can rot the soul of any person.)

      1. “Many left theories are incredibly stupid, being little more than elaborately rationalized hatred, envy and greed.”

        Name one.

      2. Nazi was Leftist just because it bears the name “socialist”??? Wow. Then North Korea must be democratic too as it bears the name “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” . What a fascinating examination of politics!

  6. “As it happened, this year’s APSA was on the theme of political legitimacy, one of my major research areas. I proposed a methods workshop on measuring legitimacy along with another scholar who, like me, has spent a lot of time on data and measurement issues. It was accepted, but alas is now canceled as I have chosen not to attend. ”

    This strikes me as a real shame. For one, if there is a problem with diversity in terms of the political preferences of scholar participating, then voluntarily removing yourself just unnecessarily adds to the problem.

    Second, getting on the APSA program is difficult, as I have experienced in my 20+ career, so canceling is squandering an opportunity.

    Third, don’t the rules preclude/limit being on the program more than once, and that might explain why your teaching panel was not accepted? (I may not be recalling the rules correctly).

  7. “This year, it issued a statement supporting the anti-Trump “March for Science” held in DC in April and another against the Executive Order on a temporary ban for travelers from several Middle Eastern countries. ”

    On the one hand, I can see an argument for not taking a stand on politics in any way. On the other, is it not problematic to associated “pro-science” with “liberal” or being “anti-conservative”?

    And, for that matter, is the travel ban “conservative”?

    Is Trump “conservative”?

  8. You think it’s bad in Political Science…it’s been that way since the 60’s in Sociology. And I don’t think “ideological blindness” is any excuse at all. These people are supposed to be intellectuals, not ideologues. While sociology lacks the hubris of putting “science” in its disciplinary name, it nonetheless prides itself on being scientific and (of course) far too often fails to live up to that. At the recent meetings of the ASA I came early to the room where I was to present (in other words, this was a very random visit), and what did I hear…bitching and moaning about Trump dressed up as “scholarship” (and no, I was not a big supporter of Trump…just tired of hearing about how he undermines democracy, yada yada yada). This is why I rarely go to presentations anymore…I already know what they’ll say!

    Solutions? Other than efforts like this website, I have no idea. We’ve reached the point of no return; the bias is now self-replicating and tribalism is the new coin of the realm.

  9. What the APSA needs to remember is that if the Higher Ed Act isn’t re-authorized this year, most of them won’t be receiving paychecks anymore. The problem with the academy being virulently anti-Trump is that Trump might just veto it out of spite.

    And then what?

    How much more could Trump be hated? And would his supporters even notice, let alone care?

    1. Yes, authoritarians try to starve their opponents into submission (or cudgel them). That is why it is impossible to live side by side with them.

  10. Unionized Public sector ctrl-left Indoctrinators are America’s most dangerous enemy.

    Every single one of the Black Masked Communists roaming our streets was purposefully created by the ctrl-left anti Liberty Teachers Unions..

  11. Not what I would have expected, given your focus and your own (avowed) leanings. Quite fair, and unfortunate. As my undergraduate training was thoroughly Straussian (I was even in attendance at the 1985 APSA convention, in New Orleans), I wish I could say that I was surprised, but our department was unique even in my undergraduate years, now more than thirty years ago.

    The Association is diminished by your exit, even if those in charge will probably celebrate it.

    B.A., with Honors in Political Science, 1986
    Hampden-Sydney College

  12. “The eyes roll tiredly over proposals concerning viewpoint diversity but perk up excitedly at the sight of one, to cite another of the offerings at this year’s conference, “’Disavowing Violence: Imperial Entitlements, From Burke to Trump (F*** That Guy).'”

    You may not find this sort of thing neither nefarious nor evidence of a conspiracy to keep conservatives off campus, but as a social scientist, perhaps you should consult employment statistics rather than try to Stockholm Syndrome your way to favor. Ditto your peers. Their research on conservatives in academia is one giant pander.

    Would you recommend to a graduate student that they conceal their conservative politics in order to get a job? Responsibly, of course you would, if you were actually trying to help that person get a job outside the handful of silly endowed posts set aside for so-called “conservative” scholars — populated usually by malleable, apologist libertarians.

    And what does that tell you?

    Your denial is utterly offensive to those of us actually driven from our fields. And no, we did not imagine it.

    1. Do you object to only the last 3 words, or the entire title/topic? The last 3 words are unnecessary and uncivil, although far more civil, I would say, than many declarations by Trump and his cadre. Regardless, the imperialist content of Trump’s rhetoric is so bald-faced that anyone who claims not to recognize it is either disingenuous or lacks the basic comprehension necessary for a college graduate, let alone a graduate of a PhD program. It’s time for those who take offense at this kind of thing to be more honest — to stop claiming that Trump and his allies are not imperialist, colonialist, and white supremacist — they will always say something to undermine your defense of them if you do that. Just come out and admit that Trump, his allies, and his supporters, share a religious faith in discredited early 20th century racial eugenics that were used to justify the horrors of European imperialism and colonialism. It’s the truth after all — just like so many of Trump’s supporters also have a religious faith that the earth is a few thousand years old and that their “god” would never have allowed anthropogenic global warming to happen, or even if he did, it’s a GOOD thing and we should not in any way try to stop it. And just like so many Trump supporters have a religious faith in magical “market solutions” always bringing about the best and most moral social arrangements. White supremacism/nationalism, Christian fundamentalism, and libertarianism are, at this point in history, overlapping religions, and their adherents steadfastly refuse to live side by side with those who do not share one, or preferably all, of these faiths. Many on the far right DO admit this, that’s why many of them make, wear, and sell T-shirts celebrating Pinochet’s night-time helicopter rides for leftist dissidents (where they were thrown into the ocean), or Assad’s barrel bombing of his citizens, and these people, their literature, and often their clothing, suggest that similar ends are in store for anyone who is not white and right-wing. That’s why National Review publishes articles suggesting we are already in a “civil war” that must end with the left being “vanquished.” These people are honest about what they believe and what they are going to do to achieve it: a far right-wing, authoritarian whites only ethno-state in north America. This is the dream of most diehard Trump supporters, let’s be honest here.

  13. Did Gilley really think APSA would take his panel proposal on Viewpoint Diversity seriously?

    Doesn’t Gilley realize that “universities” and academic conferences now exist to promulgate left-wing talking points?

    Has Gilley been living on Mars for the past decade?

    Whenever I encounter a naif like Gilley (who actually holds himself out as an expert on political legitimacy and public policy!), all I can do is shake my head. Since when did we start hiring Pollyannas as poli-sci professors?

    Frankly, even though I find their politics and their debasement of the university risible, I prefer hardcore leftist ideologues to people like Gilley.

    At the least the leftist ideologues know that modern universities have become de facto indoctrination centers.

    At least leftist ideologues know that Viewpoint Diversity is verboten in the modern “academic” arena.

    At least leftist ideologues know what time it is.

    1. Your comment may be objectively true but misses the point and so is untrue in a deeper sense.

      There is an enormous strategic benefit in adopting the language that Gilley does, and in presuming as true the conceits of ASPA. It does not hold itself out to be a hard left organization. Instead it says it stands for a bunch of other, reasonable things. So strategically the only way to deal with it is point to the good things it says it’s about, and say “Now let’s actually do that.”

      I assume you have no proposal for action at all. not an option for those who want to do something slightly useful.

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