In March 2008 I reluctantly made the decision to leave academia. After six years in graduate school and three years as a professor, it was clear to me that the discrimination I faced was so pervasive that there would be no escaping it in the years ahead. Don’t misunderstand what I write in the paragraphs that follow. I am not bitter, vengeful, enraged, or anything of the sort. My experience as a professor was disappointing and saddening, but not for me. I feel sad for the students and taxpayers. My leaving was the latest in a long string of departures that stem from the discrimination I describe below.
I was a good professor, well liked by students (third highest student evaluations in my department of 18), productive scholar (2 books, 6 articles, and 10 book reviews in two years while teaching a 4/4), member of a university committee, and the advisor to a campus organization.
The proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” occurred a week after I approached the university lawyer to notify him that I would be running for a seat on the county commission. As a political scientist, it seemed appropriate for me to have some experience in the subject I taught and loved. I also discussed my plan to challenge the incumbent US Senator in 2010. It may seem an ambitious endeavor, but ambition is something of which I have an abundance.
Within a week of this conversation I received a letter from the dean informing me that my tenure track contract would not be renewed after my third year. In my state, no reason for termination is required. Needless to say, none was given and the administration refused to give any reason(s) despite my request for one. I had violated no university policies, nor had I engaged in sexual activity with any students, joined a fringe group, or embarrassed the university in any way.
I later discovered that the university president belongs to the other political party and is an associate, some would say a friend, of the Senator I was determined to defeat. My initial shock turned to laughter when I realized the state of affairs my university is in. I felt bad for my remaining colleagues who are unable to leave.
I, on the other hand, decided to leave academia. After a long string on incidents in which I and other intellectual minorities (conservatives) had been discriminated against solely because of our ideology, enough was enough. Within two months, I doubled my salary, quintupled my research and travel budget, and accepted a more prestigious position outside academia. Now, my work matters because it is actually read by policy makers and practitioners. I could not have said this six months ago. For me, life is good, but this letter needed to be written because it is apparent that my liberal colleagues do not realize how pervasive ideological discrimination is in academia and just how much hate most of them have in their hearts for those 1.8% of political scientists who are conservative.
For those of you reading this, it may be easy for you to quickly dismiss what I have to say, but I would ask you to give me the opportunity to make my case. You will have plenty of time to dismiss me after that. What I would ask of you is this: Please do not reflexively reject what I say because it offends you on an emotional level. That is not my intent. I really did and do love everything the university is ideally designed to stand for. I do, however, know, with certainty, the ideal is far from the norm.
Let me start from the beginning.
When I entered graduate school in 2000 I quickly came to realize that my views were not welcome. As a social conservative and economic libertarian I defended the ideas of limited government and personal responsibility when they came under attack in my graduate seminars. This made me a target in a program that specialized in World Systems Theory and Postmodernism. Some will say it was my fault for choosing a Marxist graduate program. Let me respond with two points. First, my sole reason for choosing my graduate program was its proximity. As the product of a sixteen-year-old high school dropout mother and a teenage father, my only source of funds for school was the money I earned in the military and my part-time job. Ambition and hard work were the two things I had an abundance of. Second, why must Marxists be inherently intolerant? I thought academia was about the open discussion of ideas, not forced doctrines.
The obvious ill-treatment began when the three conservative graduate students in the department were given the most remote office to share. Soon after we decorated our office and began our normal work, we were called in by the department chair to explain why we had racist paraphernalia in our office. We asked the chair to accompany us to our office and point out the offending items. It turned out that our portraits of Edmund Burke, President Reagan, Lady Thatcher, and a former speaker of the British Parliament were inherently racist since they were all white. To his credit, the chair dismissed the complaint of our fellow graduate students, although we were frequently called racists during seminar discussions.
On a separate occasion, I approached one of my professors during her office hours to discuss her comments during class about white oppression, she being an oppressor herself, and to give her an article disputing her claims. I knew I was in the wrong place when she looked at the author and said, “I can’t read this. It’s written by Thomas Sowell. He’s a conservative.”
I realized I needed to find a new graduate program. As a somewhat naive graduate student, I assumed that schools in the South would inherently be more accepting of conservatives since the South is largely conservative. I wrongly assumed Southern universities reflected their populace. Was I ever wrong. I did, however, find that SEC football is far superior to PAC 10 football.
Before I continue, let me dispel a common myth. Contrary to what most of you believe, your students know whether you are liberal or conservative. They are not as fooled by your “unbiased,” “apolitical,” “even-handed” approach as you think. Most are just afraid to call you out.
After completing my MA, I left for the Southern school. I quickly found that there was not a single conservative or even a moderate Republican in the department. Such a thing is easy to discover. How? Since 92% of political scientists are left of center (the center nationally, not the center among political scientists), they believe their overt liberalism is “unbiased.” Thus, the 1.8% of conservatives that are in academia already know of each other or are quick to discover one another.
I specifically chose my new graduate program because of the reputation of one professor. I was shocked to learn that he began each three-hour graduate seminar with a 15-30 minute tirade against George W. Bush. I quietly tolerated these “informational sessions” until he entered class two days after the 9/11 attacks and said, “I wish the plane that hit the Pentagon would have hit Don Rumsfeld’s office and killed that son of a bitch.” To my disappointment, I lost my temper and informed my professor that he was a draft-dodging coward who had never served a day in his life in the US military and that he had no place to make such a comment.
The class took a break at that point and I followed my professor to his office to apologize for the outburst. He responded by saying, “I am the gatekeeper in this program and unless you become more liberal, I’ll see to it that you never get a PhD.” Long story short, I never became more liberal, in fact, my time in academia made me more conservative. He also served as my dissertation advisor and helped me write a dissertation that became my first book.
My fellow graduate students, who were largely liberal, were the more outspoken critics of mine. This I had no problem with. Every American has a right to be wrong. This included my fellow graduate students. I had learned to accept that I would be called a racist, bigot, sexist, homophobe, uncompassionate, capitalist, etc… for advocating free markets, personal responsibility, and limited government. What I had not expected were the lengths a small number of my fellow graduate students would go to in order to see to it that my fellowship was terminated. They argued that I was an —ist of the worst kind, although there was no proof of the accusation. One person even went so far as to explain to the Department Chair how people with “his views” could not be tolerated in academia.
Despite their best efforts I completed my PhD while many of the same folks did not. Once again, you may be ready to dismiss my story by claiming that it was simply overzealous graduate students that have been the main problem. Let me continue.
I found a faculty position and proceeded to do what new faculty do. I taught a 4/4 load and spent the rest of my days and nights working on research. As you might expect, I attended conferences in order to present research. One particular APSA meeting is memorable. At the end of my panel, the discussant came over to me and asked, “Are you a conservative?” My paper made the case for economic liberalization as an alternative to greater government intervention. I responded, “Yes.” He then said, “Conservatives have no place in academia.” After my previous experiences, I just laughed. What more could I expect from political scientists?
In the two years that followed, I spent all my available time writing. By the middle of my second year, I had a book published, one under contract, and three articles in smaller journals. A friend of mine at a Carnegie II university suggested I apply for a position at his university, although in a different department. After looking over the faculty list, I saw that there was a conservative in the department. I contacted her to ask about the department. She gave me an idea of what they were looking for and, when I was invited for an on campus interview, gave me advice about the proper way to approach the visit. In the end, I came in second, but it was the reason that is relevant. After a month had passed and I had not heard from the chair, I contacted my new friend. I explained that it was pretty clear they were going with the other candidate. She confirmed my suspicion and explained that during my job talk, I used terms that gave me away as a conservative. Thus, when the hiring committee met, two members specifically stated that they did not want another conservative in the department.
The simple fact is that academia, and political science, specifically, is not very tolerant of conservatives. In order to survive, conservatives in academia stay in the closet until they earn tenure. Only then do they even begin to consider coming out. Many conservatives are dissuaded from ever going to graduate school in the first place. For the average conservative, it is easy to see the level of liberalism in the discipline. My moderate and conservative students frequently came to me frustrated with the words and actions of other professors, me being the only conservative faculty member and the only faculty member to which they felt they could register their complaints.
Thus, conservatives self-select out of the discipline because of the bias and intolerance they experience as undergraduates. If you think I am exaggerating, ask your conservative undergraduates if they can tell what your leanings are? Ask them if they believe there is a liberal bias in your department? Ask them if it discourages them from going to graduate school?
I must admit that there is a second self-selection variable that leads conservatives away from political science. It is the core conservative belief that government is not the solution to an individual’s problems. Thus, government should remain small while individual liberty remains widespread. To the contrary, political science is the divinity school of the state and, as a disciple, consistently argues for more government and less individual liberty. It is no wonder many of my economist friends call me, the one political scientist, a high priest of the state. Polls consistently show that the percentage of Republicans in political science is less than 10% and the number of conservatives remains around 2%.
If, once again, you are ready to dismiss what I say, let’s take a look at the American Political Science Association. You would think APSA takes every precaution to treat its dues-paying members equally and avoid overt bias and intolerance. But, as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend!”
I recently went to the APSA website and poked around. I came up with a number of overt political positions, none of which are conservative, taken by APSA and abhorred by conservatives. I could find no instance in which APSA took a conservative stance. Trust me, I made an honest effort to do so.
Here are the examples of liberal bias/activism I found:
1. The official APSA statement on “same-sex rights” makes it abundantly clear that APSA will choose future annual conference host cities based on whether or not they actively support the gay agenda with, for example, health care for same sex partners.
This is nothing less than overt political bias and blackmail that sends a clear signal to conservative members that they are not welcome. Whom a person has sex with is a private matter, not one APSA should be using as a selection criterion for the annual conference.
2. The Report of the Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy is an unequivocal example of liberal bias and an example of APSA engaging in liberal activism. Conservatives reject the Marxist notion, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”
3. The Report of the Task Force on Differences and Inequality in the Developing World is a similar example on a global scale. The report advocates democratic socialism.
4. The existence of race-based fellowships and scholarships are examples of racial discrimination. Political science departments have far more black faculty than they have conservatives. If you want minority scholarships, target conservatives. I was always under the impression academia is all about ideas, not about skin color.
5. The existence of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession is an example of gender discrimination. Where is the Committee on the Status of Conservatives in the Profession? There are certainly fewer conservatives than there are women.
6. APSA has a “Social Concern” built into its investment strategy. This money comes from my dues and promotes “social justice,” a concept conservatives reject. APSA’s lack of conservatives on the board explains this liberal activist policy.
There are more examples, but six should suffice. The point is simple. APSA and political science departments as a whole, discriminate against conservatives and the values they hold.
In the past, colleagues have looked at me as if I were speaking Klingon when I told them such things are examples of liberal bias. They have often asked, “You don’t believe in same-sex marriage?” (Pick another liberal social issue if you like.) What they fail to realize is that they are taking a clear political position that many Americans do not share, thus they are acting overtly political and demonstrating an intolerance for divergent views. They are not acting apolitically as they claim.
Among political scientists there is such a poor understanding of what conservatives believe and why most political scientists can’t even recognize their own overt bias.
Our discipline is an example of reinforcing groupthink. As the polls conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education, academic studies, etc., illustrate, there is a narrowness of political thought in political science. I am frequently told that conservatives are the intolerant ones and yet I find no conservatives in most political science departments. I am also told that my accusation of bias is unfounded, yet the experience of numerous conservatives confirms my point and is backed by a small number of studies.
The average liberal political scientist has no problem acknowledging discrimination against blacks, gays, and women. Yet, in the very next breath he/she will completely deny discrimination against conservatives. Why is that?
Over the past ten years the polls have been remarkably consistent. About 92% of political scientists consider themselves left of center. 8% consider themselves right of center, with 2% identifying themselves as conservatives. Most of my liberal colleagues think this has to be wrong, but what they fail to realize is that a fight between a Kucinich, Clinton, and Obama supporter is still a fight between three leftists. The Kucinich supporter is flat wrong when he calls the Clinton supporter a right-wing fascist.
What makes it so difficult for academic liberals to understand my position begins with a fundamental difference between us. Conservatives and liberals have different worldviews (Why am I here? What is wrong with mankind? How do we fix it?). Because of this foundational difference, conservatives and liberals look at political questions differently. They do not share the same a-priori assumptions even at the most basic level. Where liberals automatically turn to government as a solution and seek to place blame on society when individuals fail, conservatives turn to the individual, whom they also hold responsible for his/her own woes. Where government is God for the average secular political scientist, a conservative will look to God and the fallen state of man to explain the human condition. These basic differences matter. They drive the way we approach research and, consequently, what is published.
I have found it difficult to communicate this message. I am often dismissed because colleagues would have to reevaluate the way they act, treat conservatives, and their basic assumptions. Most are unwilling to do so. Add to this the common view held by many liberals/leftists who believe that conservatives are “fascists,” “racists,” and “homophobes,” etc. It is not simply a difference of opinion, but a fight on the part of liberals to defeat evil conservatives.
If I, as a conservative, am evil by definition, it is no wonder that there is so little tolerance for me and my fellow conservatives.
You may not find my story compelling. That’s fine. I am, however, not alone. Conservatives are an ingenious lot and will continue to find ways around academic intolerance. One way is to remain anonymous as I am here. You never know, I may end up your colleague one day.
The author is a former professor.