Tag Archives: anti-conservative bias

The Power of Buzzwords, like ‘Dispositions” and ‘Social Justice’

Mitchell Langbert, a professor at Brooklyn College, wrote last week about the grandly titled and resolutely leftist faculty union that he and all teachers at CUNY are stuck with, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). Langbert mentioned, briefly, that PSC had made no effort to defend our excellent writer, KC Johnson when KC was under attack at Brooklyn College and nearly lost tenure.

Langbert wrote, “When favored faculty—those with left-wing views, or those whom a departmental chair favors—are denied appointments or tenure, the PSC has been quick to protest. However, when KC Johnson, a politically moderate history professor who had published two acclaimed books but wasn’t sufficiently zealous about many leftist causes was denied a promotion, the union sided with the departmental chair who had denied it. (Eventually, Johnson’s position was secured, but only because of the intervention of trustees and the chancellor.)”

Johnson clashed with the left at Brooklyn College over many issues, but one of the best known was “Dispositions,” one of the apparently harmless but actually dangerous buzzwords in use at the time. The word seemed to say simply that prospective teachers at teacher education classes must have the correct “disposition” needed to help the young learn. But what it really meant was that teaching candidates should be weeded out if they lacked commitment to the hard left. Indicators of a poor disposition were lack of commitment to “social Justice,” another buzzword whose meaning was never quite clear, although it seemed to include commitment to gay marriage, aggressive environmentalism and redistribution of wealth.

During the flap over Johnson, it apparently included mandatory resistance to teaching standard English to young black kids who spoke versions of black English. Soon it may mean telling public school girls that after gym class they must shower with boys who think they’re girls, because otherwise it may hurt the self-esteem of those boys, and besides the current tsunami of gender nonsense is basically a left-wing cause. Beware of apparently harmless buzzwords.

Pollyannas on the Right: Conservatives OK on Campus

“Forget what the right says,” the title of a recent Washington Post OpEd proclaims, “Academia isn’t so bad for conservative professors.”

The sub-title, “Right-leaning professors do face challenges on campus, but we can still thrive,” both reveals that the authors — Jon A. Shields, associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, and Joshua M. Dunn Sr, associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado-Colorado-Springs— regard themselves as conservative and summarizes the argument of their new book, Passing On The Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University. “As two conservative professors,” they write, “we agree that right-wing faculty members and ideas are not always treated fairly on college campuses. But we also know that right-wing hand-wringing about higher education is overblown.”

The authors’ sanguine conclusions about the nature of conservative life in progressive-land rest on the wobbly foundation of their survey of and interviews with 153 conservative academics in the social sciences and humanities. For reasons I will discuss, that survey is far too rickety to support robust generalizations about conservative academics, but that does not mean its results are without value or interest — just as the fact that the plural of anecdote is not data does not mean that anecdotes cannot be revealing, instructive, and amusing.

Having decided to limit their focus to social science and the humanities, the authors further restricted their search for conservatives to six disciplines — economics, political science, sociology, history, philosophy, and literature. The effect if not the purpose of this restriction was to exclude a number of fields — they mention psychology, anthropology, education, and all the race/ethnicity/gender “studies” programs — where progressives are dominant and conservatives especially scarce or even virtually absent.

Next was the problem of deciding “who should count as a conservative.” Their solution side-stepped the difficult problem of definition, of deciding what principles or policy preferences are essential. “We simply decided,” they write, “to classify professors as conservative if they identified as such.”

That left the problem, however, of how to find the professors who so identified, and their solution was rather haphazard. They began by “culling names from right-wing journals and academic membership lists with distinct ideational profiles,” followed by asking professors culled from these sources “to help us grow our snowball sample by identifying other scholars that are likely to self-identify as “political conservatives or libertarians.”

The culled were in turn asked to identify others, who were asked to identify others, and so on, which generated “249 confirmed conservatives,” which in turn resulted finally in the authors conducting interviews with 153 self-identified conservative professors from 84 colleges and universities. The institutions are named in a table; the interviewees were not named, in part to protect those who were afraid of being outed. “Approximately a third of the conservatives we interviewed, for example, concealed their politics prior to tenure by ‘passing’ as liberals.” The comparison of conservatives on campus to gays in the closet was pervasive throughout the book, usually implicit but often explicit.

The resulting “snowball sample” of conservative academia was commendably interesting, easily justifying the effort of creating it and trying to cull observations of and about such an elusive minority group, but it does not have a snowball’s chance in hell of providing reliable generalizations about the lives of conservatives on campus. It comprised a collection of individuals that was both too small and too idiosyncratic in the situations and experiences of its members to support reliable generalizations.

I believe, in short, their net could have been cast wider (or the snowball allowed to gather more snow). Apparently no one on a popular listserv of conservative historians had been consulted, nor were a few prominent conservative historian friends of mine approached. In addition, books and memoirs, such as Paul Gottfried’s Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers would have added a dimension that is missing here.

Regarding the 153 conservative specimens who were collected by Shields and Dunn, here is their distribution by discipline:

Political Science      25%

Economics                  22%

History                        19%

Literature                   15%

Philosophy                 10%

Sociology                       9%

On the face of it there’s nothing unreasonable about this distribution — though there’s also no reason to think it represents anything other than itself — but in one important respect it demands the Sesame Street query, “which of these things is not like the other?”

The answer, of course, is economics. “Economics,” the authors recognize, “is odd. Surveys of faculty consistently show that economists are far more likely to be on the right than professors of any other discipline…. [T]he discipline of economics is not plagued by partisan polarization.” Thus, unlike other interviewees, “the economists we interviewed do not feel discriminated against, nor do they ever feel the need to hide their political views.”

The authors found, for example, that 46% of of political scientists, 42% of sociologists, and 42% of historians but only 4% of economists among the conservatives they studied indicated they had concealed evidence of their politics before tenure. 36% of their economists, in fact, were actually in conservative-majority departments, compared to 0% of sociologists, 4% of literature professors, and 12% of historians.

The large proportion of economists in the sample — and even of political scientists, since that field also contains many with orientations such as behaviorism and rational choice that are “indifferent and sometimes even friendly to conservative points of view” — makes the authors’ frequent generalizations about conservative academics as a whole problematic.

What should one make of their finding, for example, that 36% of their respondents omitted information from their CV’s that might identify them as conservatives or libertarians? Does that number— masking what must have been much much lower responses from economists and higher responses from philosophers, sociologists, and literature professors — reveal anything useful about what it means to be a conservative in the humanities and social sciences in general?

There were other survey results that suggest the situations and experiences of the conservatives located by the authors’ rolling snowball method do not reflect those of most conservative academics. For example, I think it unlikely that 21% of conservative philosophers, 17% of conservative political scientists, and 12% of conservative historians actually work in departments that have a majority of conservatives.

The text of Passing on the Right is heavily salted with tables containing numbers similar to those I’ve quoted, giving the book an air of field-based social science research, but in fact its argument and conclusions rest all but exclusively on quotes from the authors’ interviews. That argument in a nutshell: academia itself, and the position of conservative professors in it, is much better than portrayed by “David Horowitz’s campaign and other right-wing efforts to scandalize the radicalism of higher education.”

The authors’ attempt to distance themselves from “right-wing critics” is a recurring theme, often in the form of snarky put-downs of critiques like Horowitz’s, Roger Kimball’s Tenured Radicals, or “the designs of conservative organization’s like the Koch Foundation.” Some conservatives, they regretfully acknowledge, “accept monies from the coffers of right-wing foundations,” as though that were somehow subversive of the mission of the university.

“While many on the right and left conclude that academia is not an appropriate career choice for conservatives,” Shields and Dunn write in their Introduction, “they do so without knowing very much about the right-wing thinkers who are already quietly making a living as professors.” Their book, they believe, “corrects that shortcoming by illuminating the hidden world of right-wing professors.”

The most illuminating word in that claim is an adverb: quietly. Although Shields and Dunn produce numerous quotes from conservative academics who “generally told us that the academy is far more tolerant than right-wing critics of the progressive university seem to imagine,” the weight of the evidence they produce seems to undermine their own rather rosy conclusions.

Consider, for example, the poignant beginning of Chapter 4, “Closeted Conservatives”:

We met our first closeted professor in a leafy park, about one mile from his prestigious research university. Though we found a secluded spot, our subject was edgy and spoke softly. When the sound of footsteps intruded on our sanctuary, he stopped talking altogether, his eyes darting about….

Given the drama of this encounter, one might think that he is concealing something scandalous. In truth, this professor is hiding the fact that he is a Republican. It is a secret he guards with great care.”

I have already alluded to the similarity of the situation of closeted conservatives to closeted gays. Another comparison, not mentioned by the authors, also comes to mind. Their title, Passing On The Right, obviously refers to blacks crossing over the color line and passing as whites, but another fraught racial situation may be an even more apt comparison: blacks under slavery who were allowed to work in the plantation house and later, during segregation, as servants, as long as they were on good behavior and “knew their place.”

Finally, in my view, Shields and Dunn sound far too much like Polyannas on the Right, but the best thing about their book — and it is a good thing indeed — is that they present more than enough evidence to allow readers to reach their own, and far different, conclusions.

Affirmative Action for Conservative Faculty?

According to many critics, the case is shut. Higher education — the one American institution that should make intellectual diversity a first priority — actually appears to do just the opposite. In fact, some critics suggest that universities have made it a top priority to create an environment of intellectual homogeneity – to an extent that is rarely found in most other areas of American life.

A series of studies beginning in 1995 were conducted by The American Enterprise Institute and are often cited as persuasive evidence of the exceedingly narrow bounds of intellectual discourse at American universities. The initial study relied on the political party affiliation of professors in a handful of academic disciplines at Cornell and Stanford, using voting records of two counties, Tompkins County for Cornell and Santa Clara County for Stanford. That study discovered 171 registered Democrats and just seven Republicans at Cornell. In the Stanford sample, they found 163 Democrats, 17 Republicans, and six independents.

Related: Social psychology, a Field with Only 8 Conservatives

In answer to critics on the left who claimed The American Enterprise methodology was both overly narrow and politically biased, a far more comprehensive academic study was led by Daniel Klein, an economist at Santa Clara University. That study was published by the National Association of Scholars in its journal, Academic Questions. Klein’s methodology was essentially the same but the study covered many dozens of universities and academic disciplines across the country.

In his 2005 essay in The American Enterprise, “Case Closed: There’s No Longer Any Way to Deny It: College Campuses Are the Most Politically Undiverse Places in America,” TAE editor Karl Zinsmeister said. “Perhaps universities should recruit intellectually conservative professors with the same zeal they display for balancing flesh tones,” Zinsmeister’s essay said, quoting TAE reporter Ken Lee. “Political lopsidedness does not bode well for the educational process. While today’s students are taught by professors of diverse skin colors, they are not exposed to a diversity of ideas. The university, once dubbed the free marketplace of ideas, has been transformed into a gray one-party state where only one set of views thrive.”

Even some liberals agreed. In a 2012 commentary in the Christian Science Monitor, historian Jonathan Zimmerman, a self-described “devout” Democrat, based his pro-affirmative action argument by following the money flowing from college campuses to political campaigns.

Related: How the Leftist Monoculture Took over the Campus

Zimmerman found, for example, that at Columbia University some 650 professors and staff members gave money to the Obama campaign compared to just 21 who donated to Mitt Romney’s campaign. At the eight Ivy League schools, some 96 percent of staff and professors contributing gave to Obama. “Race-based affirmative action has made our universities much more interesting and truly educational places, adding a range of voices and experiences that hadn’t been heard before,” Zimmerman writes. “Hiring more conservative faculty would do the same thing.”)

Affirmative action based on political ideology seems a rather drastic step. In their forthcoming book, Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University, Jon A. Shields and Joshua Dunn Sr., have written what they describe as a glimpse into the “hidden world of right-wing professors.” While clearly sympathetic to the arguments that much of higher education is populated with faculty on the political left, Shields and Dunn (who do not disclose their own political preferences) also suggest that most of the conservative professors they interviewed for their study had managed to survive and even thrive in academe.

Related: Don’t Beat Up on the Faculty

Shields, who teaches government at Claremont McKenna College, and Dunn, a political scientist at the Center for the Study of Government and the Individual at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, did extensive interviews of 153 “right-wing” professors in six academic disciplines at 84 universities. A quarter of their sample of 153 included political science professors, followed by economics (22 percent), history (19 percent), and so on. The sample of conservatives included just 9 percent who worked in departments of sociology. More than half the sample included full professors and fully 60 percent of the sample worked at Ph.D. granting research institutions.

“Such professors,” Shields and Dunn write, “tend to regard themselves as political scientists or economists who happen to be conservatives, rather than conservative political scientists or economists.” They go on, “And this means that conservatives are often tolerated by their progressive peers not because they are repressing their politics in a sharply ideological work environment or even because of the broad-mindedness of liberal academics — they are tolerated because large swaths of the academy itself is not very politicized to begin with.”

Indeed, at its core, American higher education is a centrist — and arguably a largely conservative enterprise — despite the personal political preferences of faculty or even the presence of a very small percentage of radicals on the left or right who are employed at universities.

To assess just how ideologically slanted higher education is in American society, it’s instructive to follow the money. The vast majority of institutions are publicly funded, as state legislatures, with majorities of Democrats or Republicans, have signed on to a social compact that has remained remarkably steady over several generations.

What Can Be Done about Campus Decline?

States have agreed that colleges and universities remain a pretty good bet to meet the economic demand for human capital, by educating and training new generations of Americans who will get decent jobs, have families, go to church, vote, stay out of jail and off welfare, purchase goods and services, and invest in the future for oneself and family. This production cycle works, in part, because the public and private sectors have decided to invest in future economic growth and political and social stability.  In fact, American universities have followed social movements, not led them. African Americans won their civil rights in black churches and on the streets of Selma and Montgomery, not because a cabal of leftist professors thought it was a radical idea.

Clearly, American higher education does not exist to promote or execute a radical leftist (or right wing) political or economic agenda. The very existence of mainstream colleges and universities depends on behavior that, ultimately, answers to other mainstream institutions that hold the purse strings. And that includes billions of dollars in private money that alumni, corporations and other big-money donors give to both public and private universities — especially private universities.

In 2015, Stanford University raised a total of $1.63 billion in charitable contributions, the most ever recorded in in a single year, according to Council for Aid to Education in its annual report.  Harvard, the nation’s wealthiest university, raised $1.1 billion from private donors.  In total, charitable contributions to universities increased 7.6 percent to $40.3 billion from the prior year — “the highest recorded since the inception of the survey in 1957.” More than 55 percent of that record amount came from private foundations and alumni. Except for UCLA and UC-San Francisco, the top ten universities receiving the most charity were all elite private institutions, including Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. What’s more, private gifts of $100 million or higher totaled almost $1.5 billion, and went to just four universities.

It’s inconceivable that either the public or private sectors of the U.S. economy would provide so many billions to higher education institutions if corporations, foundations, legislatures and other aspects of mainstream society believed for one minute that universities would fail to serve the interests of mainstream society. Case in point: The Associated Press recently reported that a major donor to the Harvard Law School, the law firm Milbank, yanked its $1 million commitment to pay for scholarly conferences at the law school after learning its donation “helped pay for a discussion supporting an independent Palestine.”

A Conversation with Jonathan Haidt

Don’t be fooled. Despite the “charitable” moniker that exists to satisfy IRS rules for charitable organizations, individuals and other private sector donors give billions to American universities out of self-interest. Often, that interest is to promote an agenda that serves private financial interests and/or preserves the very social arrangements that have allowed major donors to mass great wealth.  Follow the money and then assess just how the professoriate’s political affiliation really matters to the real work of the modern university — which is the preservation and growth of mainstream society.

There’s another equally significant reason why universities themselves mitigate the academic effects of the political affiliation of individual professors in the humanities and social sciences. Unlike the hard sciences, where ideology rarely comes into play, the humanities and social sciences are the fields in which questions of intellectual conformity matter most.

A social science professor’s political beliefs undoubtedly influence the intellectual framework with which one poses academic questions and approaches scientific problems. But fears of abuse of personal ideology are probably overstated. Increasingly in the social sciences — and in some cases almost pervasively — the effects of personal ideology occur at the margins of far more dominant methods of inquiry and proof. Quantitative analysis based on math, statistics, and theory is now the dominant methodology to prove or disprove truth claims in many of the social sciences, particularly in economics, political science and, increasingly, in sociology.

Shields and Dunn emphasize this phenomenon frequently in their book.  Nowhere is method more pronounced than in the field of economics, which is also where the authors found the highest percentages of conservatives in the social sciences and humanities. In the authors’ sample, fully 77 percent of the economists surveyed identified themselves as libertarian scholars of the Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” variety, who believe that unfettered markets and limited government oversight most efficiently allocate resources and create wealth. But even that core believe is overshadowed by quantitative methods in economics, a field that since the second world war has come to resemble physics and other hard sciences in its reliance on data and quantitative analysis to prove or disprove causal relationships in economic and even social behavior.

The dominance of method in economics means that scholars from diverse ideological perspectives can meet on the same playing field of research — and get along quite nicely. The National Bureau of Economic Research is a case in point.  Economists from a wide range of ideological viewpoints participate in NBER’s research program, all unified in a common believe that scientific rigor is the most critical underlying ideology in their work.  Left-leaning economists from UC Berkeley get along with libertarians from the University of Chicago because economic science almost religiously adheres to that value. The economists’ personal views about human nature take a back seat to method — the data set and what the commonly accepted tools of analysis can permit one to prove from the data.  .

“Many conservative economists we interviewed emphasized a commitment to scientific rigor,” Dunn and Shields write. “As an economist at a prestigious university put it, ‘[politics is] just not what we’re focused on that much. We’re more focused on, ‘Did you ask interesting questions? Did you do the model well? Did you understand the method? It’s a science thing. People’s views of the science may be affected by their own underlying values but there is a common language, a common framework, a common methodology.’”

Even in sociology, which has long been identified as a bastion of true believers for leftist causes and impervious to scientific rigor, is being infiltrated by more by quantitative methods than by radical ideologues. The authors interviewed one conservative sociologist who had successfully presented a paper about the fluidity of homosexual identity. The sociologist argued that homosexual identity was not simply hardwired by biology but was also shaped by “’some element of social construction.’”

This sociologist commented on the reception his paper drew from other sociologists. “Sociologists, as a rule, if you’ve got an argument and a data set, are willing to listen.” This is not to suggest that many conservative professors do not suffer from genuine bias that comes from their minority status.  But one economist at a prestigious university said a lot of the bitter complaints from conservatives stemmed from professional jealousy. He noted a tendency for some conservatives to blame failures on liberal bias if their accomplishments or research activity did not receive the respect they believed was deserved.

Thus, two major influences have led universities to restrict the influence of liberal politics on the intellectual output of higher education: First, universities do not exist in a vacuum segregated from the demands of the larger society. In fact, it’s just the opposite.  American universities are completely dependent on the financial resources of its constituents in the public and private sectors.   Universities and the professors who are employed by them are largely servants to the larger society —  hardly institutions who employ an army of leftist scholars who have a secret agenda of subversion or revolution.  Second, in the interest of truth-seeking based on the science and method, political differences between conservatives and liberals are increasingly irrelevant.

Still, the charge remains: political liberals remain dominant in terms of percentage of total faculty on most college and university campuses, creating an imbalance of power that inevitably leads to the intentional or even unintentional indoctrination of students.

For their part, Dunn and Shields suggest that this concern comes mainly from outside of academe. Within the academy, according to their interviews with professors, even conservatives say the fear of indoctrination is not nearly the threat that outsiders believe. “Unlike some right-wing thinkers outside the academy, conservative professors do not believe that their leftist colleagues convert many students to Marxism, postmodernism, radical feminism, or other popular varieties of left-wing thought,” the authors conclude.

But even when faculty treat students with respect and professionalism, leftist tendencies among the faculty can often skew their teaching, Shields and Dunn suggest. Other scholars disagree. The sociologist Kyle Dobson, for example, argues the university experience often moderates the attitudes of left-leaning students by the time they graduate.  This suggests that students are properly exposed to a wide range of viewpoints at most American universities.  They key factor is whether students are academically engaged.

Whither Affirmative Action?

Nevertheless, fears about the disease of intellectual conformity at universities has prompted a genuinely action-oriented movement.  At the center of this movement is the Heterodox Academy, founded last year by a number of scholars who’ve made it their mission to promote more intellectual diversity on campuses, led by Jonathan Haidt of NYU’s Stern School of Business. The Academy is a self-described “mix of liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and centrists.” Haidt writes, “Scholars have been calling attention to this problem for decades… and nothing has been done. This time will be different.”)

Really? Besides teach-ins, conferences, websites, and calls to arms, exactly what can be done to simply create intellectual diversity? Besides the passage of time and slowly shifting viewpoints in the academy, what legal remedies are there?

Zimmerman suggests hiring preferences for conservative professors are justified in light of the Supreme Court’s Bakke decision. “I am not suggesting schools should have any kind of numerical quota for conservative professors, which every department or institution would have to reach,” Zimmerman says.  “We should simply take political leanings into consideration, just as we do with racial background, when reviewing candidates for academic positions.”

The rub, however, is that political ideology hardly ranks with race, age, religion and gender as a constitutionally protected category, and it would be inordinately difficult to make a legal case for hiring preferences of any kind for the largely white, male population of conservative professors.  For example, in the interest of diversity, hiring conservatives should be a priority for sociology departments. But, by the same token, shouldn’t economics departments, most of which are stacked with libertarians and conservatives, also be required to give hiring preferences for Marxists?

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine conservative professors suddenly being in favor of affirmative action for themselves while arguing against the same preference based on race. For that reason, Shields and Dunn say, most of the conservative professors they interviewed thought special hiring preferences for themselves would be a bad idea. One conservative sociologist told the authors: “I personally think that the only way we should bring up affirmative action for conservatives is the reductio ad absurdum of the diversity rationale, but not as a serious proposal. It’s just a f….. nightmare kind of scenario, a cure worse than the disease.”

What Scalia Did for Undergrads

Justice Scalia had an important impact among many college students, certainly among mine, and especially among those who  often or usually disagreed with his conclusions.

I taught law-oriented classes for thirty-five years—constitutional law and politics, civil liberties, criminal law and justice, jurisprudence and legal theory, and the First Amendment. During this span, Scalia’s opinions were ever-present pedagogical companions in our classes, making him feel like a colleague, even though we never met. More importantly, his impact upon my students can point to what a university should be.

Campus Censorship Returns

I taught at one of the most notably progressive universities in the country, and many of my students came to class predisposed by the student opinion grapevine to dismiss or disrespect Scalia’s thinking because he was a conservative. But such students were often shaken out their dogmatic slumbers by reading Scalia’s cases, and, hopefully, by noting the due respect—critical as well as appreciative—that I exhibited while leading the discussions.

The first lesson students learned was that stereotypes are often wrong, or at least incomplete. Though many of Scalia’s flamboyant opinions did not constitutionally support such liberal causes as gay marriage and abortion rights, others provided protections for free speech, the privacy rights entailed in the Fourth Amendment, and the rights of terror detainees. And his decisions regarding such things as checks and balances cut different ways politically. The reason for these ostensibly unexpected results was that Scalia’s opinions were guided by a judicial philosophy that did not always lead to conventional conservative conclusions or his own personal preferences. Constitutional truth is not the same thing as your own preferences.

A second, related, lesson harkens back to Plato’s archetypal discussion of justice in Book I of The Republic, where Socrates and Thrasymachus debate whether justice is something other than that which serves the interests of those in power. Applied to our classes the question was whether a constitutional decision reflects a striving to find impersonal constitutional truth or simply the value or political preferences of the Justices. For example, were Scalia’s opinions regarding abortion rights and the death penalty manifestations of his own values, or of his reading of the constitution?

Scalia’s vibrant and forceful style could bear the appearance—and reality—of self-assertion; but his consistent referral to originalism, textualism, and the principle of judicial restraint pointed to something beyond the self. Such acknowledgement and deference to truth and meaning outside one’s own personal needs and preferences is the beginning of intellectual integrity and even wisdom, as Socrates—the founding father, as it were, of what ultimately became higher education—taught.

Not Always Disinterested

Alas, like all Justices and human beings, Scalia was not always successful in separating his own preferences from the law. Human nature will not countenance complete disinterestedness, nor should it. But it is a matter of degree, and bearing witness to the struggle between reason and self-interest teaches us something fundamental about the stuff of which humanity is made, and how to make the most of it.

Indeed, liberal democracy itself is premised upon striving to achieve a productive balance between universal justice and the self-interest that is an intrinsic element of the pursuit of happiness and liberty itself. In Federalist 51, James Madison wrote, “What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections into human nature?” So were the most important Scalia opinions.

Third, students were impressed by the spirit and élan of Scalia’s pen, and the character it evoked, which made studying constitutional law exciting and showed students how and why the Constitution is important to our nation’s fate. Most importantly, Scalia’s writing highlighted the virtues of intellectual courage and honesty—virtues that lie at the foundation of First Amendment theory and jurisprudence. Such virtues need much more support on college campuses today as the bloated sensitivity bureaucracies and increasingly misguided student leadership call for more “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and what Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has labeled “the escape from freedom of speech.”

Though he did not often talk explicitly about courage, Scalia’s fearless opinions simply embodied this virtue. And his free speech opinions empowered the speech of dissenters. On a personal note, his controversial pro-free-speech majority opinion in R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992) literally stopped the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents in their tracks from adopting a restrictive new student speech code in the spring of 1992. This decision and its impact played a role in the ensuing success of the free speech movement at U.W. Madison of which I have been proud to have participated—a movement that included many students over the years.

Though he did not often talk explicitly about courage, Scalia’s fearless opinions simply embodied this virtue. And his free speech opinions empowered the speech of dissenters. On a personal note, his controversial pro-free-speech majority opinion in R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992) literally stopped the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents in their tracks from adopting a restrictive new student speech code in the spring of 1992. This decision and its impact played a role in the ensuing success of the free speech movement at U.W. Madison of which I have been proud to have participated—a movement that included many students over the years.

Students learned ways to think more conceptually and analytically. Scalia eschewed the mushy two- or three-part tests that characterized so many Supreme Court decisions before his time in favor of more analytical opinions based on concepts linked to the text, historical meaning, and precedents. This emphasis called upon students to respond with reasons rather than personal preferences or sloppy thinking.

A classic example of this effect that many students commented upon was his dissent in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the 2004 case dealing with terrorist enemy combatants. The plurality opinion applied a makeshift balancing test that Scalia thought constituted a wooly subjective deference to the Executive branch that was not justified by the Constitution’s text. His lonely 1988 dissent opposing legislation creating an independent prosecutor in the executive branch is another example of  this same reasoning. Today that dissent is widely considered the best constitutional position.

He was immune to fears of public or elite opinion, as his dissents in some privacy cases, First Amendment cases, and the independent prosecutor case revealed. In Holloway v. U.S. (1999) he dissented when the majority held that a car-jacker had the requisite criminal intent to kill when he told the driver that he would kill him if the driver did not surrender the car. According to Scalia, “conditional intent”—I will do X unless you do Y—is not criminal intent per se. It only becomes intent if the condition is not met. He wrote the opinion at a time when national anger over carjacking was high.

A Source of Tension

Finally, Scalia’s opinions embodied a tension that is essential to the normative order of liberal democracy and to the thriving of higher education. A meaningful life and citizenship dictate that one must stand for what one believes, that an unprincipled life is less worth living. (Think “Live Free or Die”) But a democratic society beholden to the natural and experiential fact of human differences also requires citizens to harbor due respect for the rights of those with whom they disagree. Civic and constitutional virtue entail an ironic tension between self-assertion and restraint—a tension Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes captured in the most famous of all free speech dissents, Abrams v. U.S. (1919), which laid the foundation for what later became the Modern Doctrine of Free Speech. Holmes asserted that the strong commitment to “fighting faiths” must not be allowed to stifle disagreement. The Constitution is not only about doctrines and laws, but also about a type of character. As are universities.

Scalia’s judicial philosophy was a living example of Holmes’ logic. His strong and sometimes strident opinions stood out for their audacity and commitment to constitutional principle as he understood it, while his underlying theory of judicial restraint was based upon leaving most important normative questions to be decided by the democratic political process unless the Constitution clearly dictates otherwise. He railed against what he called an elitist “Nietzschean Superman” Court of nine unelected lawyers who too often, in his view, usurped the power to decide supra-constitutional normative disputes. At the same time, no Justice displayed the Nietzschean virtues of intellectual courage and aggression more fully.

But if Scalia’s jurisprudence were to prevail, “We the People” would have to fight among ourselves to resolve most, though not all, contentious normative questions. That’s what it is to be self-governing. And this is what we strove to do in class, where we came to think ourselves empowered, however temporarily, to consider constitutional meaning for ourselves.

The Systematic Eradication of Conservative Thought on Campus

Progressive faculty justify the absence of moderate and conservative voices on campus by saying that conservatives are stupid. As a result, moderate Republicans with Ivy League degrees and genius level IQs sometimes can’t find a job in academia.  My former boss had a degree from the highest-ranked law school (Yale) and had published scholarly articles, but could not find a law faculty job as a young lawyer due to his moderately-conservative leanings. (He later successfully argued a landmark Supreme Court case.

But ignorance certainly doesn’t keep progressives from being hired, especially in women’s studies departments. A classic example is Barbara LeSavoy, Director of Women and Gender Studies at The College at Brockport in New York, who thinks the President can rule by decree. Every schoolchild in her generation was taught that Congress enacts laws, not the President (the President can successfully veto a law only if it was passed with less than two-thirds of the votes). But LeSavoy is unaware of this basic constitutional requirement (typical of all Western democracies), and thinks the President can ban all guns just by issuing a decree. She penned an October 10 op-ed in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle urging President Obama to ban guns: “I urge President Obama to ban firearm possession in America. He is the President of the United States. He can change the country. He can do it today.”

Her op-ed was aptly summed up by a commentator as “Please, Dear Leader — Ban Firearms By Decree.”

Writing “with a bleeding heart,” LeSavoy declared: “I admire Obama. But he has let me down.” Her embattled but resilient faith in her collectivist savior could be fully restored if he would simply “ban firearm possession in America.” Doing this would be a matter of utmost simplicity, she insists, since Obama “is the president of the United States. He can change the country. He can do it today. I believe in him.”

In fact, the only thing about America LeSavoy apparently finds worthwhile is Barack Obama and what she thinks he represents.

“While politically minded, I am not overly patriotic,” she explains. Yet during the 2008 campaign, “my two daughters, partner, and I ate every meal in our house on Obama placemats [that were] plastic-coated, plate-sized paper rectangles with an image of his face framed by colors of the flag.”

By making such a bourgeois purchase, LeSavoy committed an act of capitalist apostasy, but it was in what she earnestly believed was a good cause. While “this mealtime ritual of American allegiance was odd for me,” she found strength in the act of looking “at the image of his face each day and [believing] that he really could be the change in America.”

To be sure, she continues, that faith has been sorely tested. She describes herself as “jaded” in 2012 as Obama stood for reelection, because some of his promises weren’t fulfilled. And yet, she proudly recalls, “I did not waver. I dug into our old dining room cupboards, and found our worn but resilient Obama placemats.”

Those sacred totems were restored to their proper place in the dining room, where LeSavoy, her daughters, and her partner could take strength from the visage of the Dear Leader . . . .

“Firearm possession should be banned in America; president Obama can orchestrate this directive,” insists LeSavoy – who somehow obtained a doctorate degree without learning even the rudiments of constitutional law…. Obama’s presidency “can be remembered as a remarkable turn in United States history where a progressive leader forever changed the landscape under which we live and work,” LeSavoy exults in giddy ignorance of the significance of her mixed metaphor.

Ironically, progressives justify the absence of conservatives from academia on the ground that conservatives are disqualified by their stupidity. “Robert Brandon, chair of the Duke University Philosophy Department, gives this explanation of why faculties at U.S. universities usually lean to the political left: ‘We try to hire the best, smartest people available. If … stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.’” But Republicans actually have a slightly higher average IQ than Democrats.

Progressive faculty also claim that conservatives would rather work in the business world or a conservative think-tank than in academia, ignoring the fact that plenty of conservatives would like a cushy academic job where they can teach only a few courses a year and get paid better than an employee of a low-paid conservative think-tank. Several years ago, Slate reported that the average think-tank senior fellow was paid about $160,000 per year. But while this may have been true for liberal think-tanks, which can count on lots of foundation and government money, it was certainly not true for conservative think-tanks: At the time, my employer, a free-market think-tank, paid most of its senior fellows less than $100,000 per year, despite being located in one of America’s highest-living-cost areas, Washington, D.C. (Some senior fellows were paid closer to $60,000, and non-senior fellows were paid as little as $40,000 per year).

Progressives also falsely claim that Republicans are scarce in academia because they are “anti-science.” Most jobs in academia have nothing to do with science, but this bogus rationale gets invoked even by liberal English instructors like Cornell’s Kenneth McClane.

Some progressives are themselves hostile to (and ignorant of) scientific advances. The agronomist Norman Borlaug, who pioneered the Green Revolution, saved perhaps a billion lives in the Third World by developing high-yield, disease-resistant crops through biotechnology. For this, he received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Medal of Honor. For this, he was smeared in the liberal magazine The Nation, which has an irrational phobia of biotechnology and genetic engineering, as being “the biggest killer of all.”