Why the Times Article Hit Home

At first glance, John Tierney’s report in the New York Times on the liberal-conservative imbalance of faculty looks like just another account of a very familiar subject. But read it twice and you can see why it became one of the most talked-about articles on higher education in months. How did this happen? First, it appeared in the Times, an unusual outlet for reports on liberal domination of campuses and the third-class status of the few conservatives. Comments about this are generally breaking news to Times readers. Then too, in asking for a show of hands among a thousand social psychologists at an academic convention, Jonathan Haidt, a non-conservative professor, had the academics demonstrate their political imbalance themselves (three hands went up when he asked how many were conservatives). Writing on the Atlantic website, Megan McCardle offered the most likely reason why the Tierney article had such resonance: Haidt couched his comments on faculty imbalance in classic victim language of the left. He compared conservatives to closeted gays in the 1980s, afraid to talk about their unacceptable status and ever fearful of exposure. One academic, writing anonymously about a faculty conversation, told Instapundit that he had once carelessly mentioned the architecture in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, and dreaded the possible cost of that revealing remark. McCardle added that an imbalance in numbers, usually taken as a sure sign of bias when women, gays and minorities are being discussed, means nothing to the left when the minority is conservatives. When liberals begin explaining the scarcity of conservative professors, she wrote, they “sound suspiciously like some old reactionary explaining that blacks don’t really want to go into management because they’re much happier without all the responsibility…. In other words, it’s not our fault that they’re not worthy.” Ouch.

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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