No Time for Conservative Faculty

I’m totally baffled by the general looniness that seems to pop up when the liberal-left side talks about Republicans and the wealthy.  And it all “trickles down,” so that students parrot the same attitudes.  Today a student of mine from last year, who’s smart and nice, said in passing that the Tea Partiers are “racist.”  I said, “I don’t think so,” and he at once said, well, that’s what he’d learned in the press.  And he acknowledged that that was all he knew — the particular press he’s exposed to.

And of course it’s not just students.  Faculty are far more monolithic in their views, as we all know.  Even in settings that are supposedly not political this always come up.  So almost the only sorts of political comments I ever hear made in passing by colleagues are anti-conservative dismissals.  There’s no “other side.”  I’d have to go to specifically conservative events or groups, of which there are very few anyway, to be among people with different assumptions.  E.g., a faculty seminar I took part in last year, which was on the whole pleasant and at times interesting.  At our last meeting the organizer congratulated us all for having had such a good dialogue, and at one point he sort of praised us for not getting embroiled in political disagreements –actually, I seemed to be  the only one of a dozen professors who was clearly not on the same general leftist page as all the others.  And then in the same 10-minutes of comments he made an in-passing blast at the Tea Partiers.  Now, I don’t at all mind that someone is critical of them.  What I find irritating is not just the ideological uniformity but even more so the presumption that everyone thinks the same way.  It seems never to dawn on most academics that someone in their midst might actually disagree with them about politics.  I have semi-friendships with a few colleagues who don’t share my politics and twice in the last year I’ve said to them that I did not agree with what they had just said in passing, and pointed out their annoying assumption to the contrary.  In one case the colleague apologized, and recognized my point.  Usually I don’t bother even addressing this since it happens all the time with colleagues, in the oddest settings where our politics need not be mentioned at all.  E.g., I remember the swim coach in a master’s class I took maybe  8 or so years ago saying in-passing one day, before we got started, that someone should bomb the White House.  Perhaps when I was on their side, years ago, I too used to talk this way and notice it now only because I’m such a minority in academe?  But no, thinking back, I don’t believe the atmosphere was so one-sided, so uniform, a few decades ago.  Yes, there was general disdain for non-leftists, but not such publicly revealed assumptions that all our colleagues shared our views.  They didn’t (which led to some arrogant pride that “we” were on the left, and others were too stupid to be), and we knew it in many cases, and though we gossiped about it privately, there wasn’t, as I recall, the same prevailing and unquestioning view that people felt comfortable airing at any moment, without ever attempting to find out what their colleagues actually thought about anything.


  • Daphne Patai

    Daphne Patai is professor emeritus in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of, "What Price Utopia? Essays on Ideological Policing, Feminism, and Academic Affairs," among other books,

20 thoughts on “No Time for Conservative Faculty

  1. As with many other critiques of the alleged homogeniety of academia this author “proves” her cause by citing anecdotes that fit into a pre-concieved binary typology of liberal vs. conservative. This is a dubious methodology and leads to strange conclusions.
    For example, the author seems to suggest that anyone who speaks ill of Republicans or “the wealthy” is a left-liberal. There are, of course, many Republicans who criticize other Republicans and, as primary season always reveals, there is a great deal of intra-party variety. I don’t think, for example, that the Ron Paul fans who are generally anti-war are “left liberals” but this is they type of conclusion that we get when we force binaries onto complex processes.
    The problem, as with so many other critiques found on this website, is the employment of a binary typology of political-ideological orientations instead of recognizing the great diversity of political life in a country such as the US.

  2. Welcome to Wiemar ‘n’ Amherst….
    All sheep and no shepherd, everyone is the same, everyone wants to be the same —
    anyone who is different will be dragged to the Madhouse by the UMass Police — thus spake the UMass Assessment Care Team. Diversity of thought simply is not tolerated at UMass, anyone to the political right of Vladimir Lenin is presumed to be the next Seung-Hui Cho.
    Facts don’t matter — political views define reality.
    Advocating the bombing of the White House technically is a Federal Offense (18 USC 871) but is perfectly acceptable (if not laudable) faculty conduct here. If the perp is Black, it is perfectly acceptable to threaten race riots and otherwise intimidate the authorities into not prosecuting someone for brutally stabbing two unarmed men.
    Laws be damned, if your cause is just, you can do whatever you please – with impunity and often with UMass money in your slush fund.
    On the other hand, I had my life essentially destroyed for nothing more than paraphrasing the King James Bible (Acts 22.2) and the Massachusetts General Laws relating to self defense. For saying that if a contractor who had already physically assaulted me (with impunity) were to attempt to kill me with a deadly weapon, in a place where I had no means of retreating from, I would be forced to defend myself.
    When conservative columnist Mike Adams first spoke here, A UMass Police Sergeant bluntly told me that Adams “deserved” to have his speech disrupted by masked hooligans and didn’t understand what right I had to ask the police to intervene. Their eventual response — send someone to shut down the event although Adams gave up and walked out of the room first.
    UMass is a place where conservatives are not even entitled to protection when in the immediate presence of the police — something I learned one evening when I was twice physically assaulted with two UMPD officers looking on approvingly. Forget merely throwing condoms at people whom you don’t like, here at UMass you can swing at them with total impunity…
    Yesterday, a university administrator told me that it was a threat of violence to state that I intended to file a public meeting/record complaint with the Attorney General of the Commonwealth. I am not making this up.
    A while back, I received a threatening email from different university administrator reprimanding me for having “implied” (not even stating) that he was “a fascist” in an email that I had sent *to other persons*. The man apparent was both unaware of the definition of the word, and the ultimate irony of using the power of the state (university) to prevent me from calling him a “fascist.”
    This is Planet UMass — where never a dissenting view is permitted to be expressed, where wise people believe what they are told to believe and life is really not pleasurable for the few dissidents who dare think for themselves. Professor Patai is right, over the past few years, this campus has shifted from merely being a bastion of leftist (not liberal) thought to becoming a truly fascist island of repression.

  3. I so agree, it’s the assumption that we all think the same that kills me. I would get “funny” emails attacking Bush, Palin, etc. with the sender blindly assuming we would all think it’s funny.
    I heard two faculty at a small meeting once openly mocking an absent colleague who was an out and proud Republican, and they barely knew the rest of us in the room. Of course we would think it funny! They were shocked at our silence actually.

  4. I’m amazed at the incivility that injects ones political opinions, usually accompanied by the sneer that symbolizes the character of our times, into every social situation without regard for relevance, a habit I find most overt among leftists. Surely these educated sophisticates are aware that such uncalled for sallies may offend half the people they encounter. The persistence of the habit defines a bully.
    And no, I don’t want to be governed by bullies, no matter how many degrees their cohorts have awarded them.

  5. Your former student from last year may be nice, but if he uncritically accepts what the media feed him he is not very smart.
    If he impresses you as smart, I assume that’s implicitly comparing him to his peers, and all I can say is we’ve dumbed down 2 generations and are working on a third, and the reutls are all over the news these days (OWS).

  6. Prof. Patai, your work is awesome, and you are a first-class intellectual. However, you did have blinders on back in the day…I was an undergraduate in the 1980s and was regularly subjected to verbal abuse from professors for my conservative views. I also recall hearing many politicized statements from professors which assumed everyone in the class agreed. When I became a grad student in the same university, there was even more pressure on me to toe the ideological line. I refused, and my punishment was that no faculty member would agree to be my thesis advisor. I saw the writing on the wall and left. My experience was not unique.

  7. “students parrot the same attitudes”
    I’m sure students parrot the same attitudes, but is this because they hold those attitudes, or to suck up to professors? If you look at GSS data, it’s pretty clear that as a rule, going to college shifts your politics to the right, not the left. That’s less true with graduate degrees, probably because people with graduate degrees are disproportionately likely to work in the public sector(the most common graduate degree is education).

  8. Emotionally I understand the response. Academia is in the public sector, represents the public sector’s interests, adapts itself to statist attitudes. Sure, there are words about academic freedom and the lot, after so genuflecting, settles into the mode of comfortably expressing the interests and attitudes of their own cultural group. I get all of that.
    What I don’t get is how in the political sphere academia intends to survive. In essence its the NPR model; keep their liberal nitch, build up a set of donors, ride out the decline in public support. The NPR model relies on a steady stream of donors, or, in academia’s case, students. But it will allow academia to continue to do what’s its doing.

  9. Having gone to UW-Madison in the late 80’s, I can say it was going on then too. But despite the constant suggestion that politics have never been so polarized as now, I am constantly annoyed by how often people foray into highly contentious discussions in a way that seems to suggest anyone they would feel comfortable discussing the issue with must certainly share their perspective. The assumption is far more annoying than the actual difference of opinion. The embedded assumption is essentially an insult. Ironically, it seems to be popular amongst those who give lip service to sensitivity, diversity etc: “Celebrate Difference”, “Co-exist”

  10. I have had almost identical experiences as a historian. One of the best examples occurred a year or two ago. The American Historical Association’s annual meeting always occurs in early January at rotating locations. Several years ahead of time they planned to hold the Jan. 2010 meeting in San Diego. About a year before the meeting, someone found out that the owner of the primary conference hotel had donated money to Proposition 8. At the 2009 annual meeting some proposed a boycott, but others brought up the (rational!) argument that the AHA would lose over $1 million in cancellation fees. They decided to hold a series of panel sessions at the 2010 meeting on “Historical Perspectives on Same-Sex Marriage.” I looked over the paper titles on those panels and could see no papers that defended marriage as traditionally understood (between a man and a woman). The whole process was carried out with no acknowledgement that rational people might disagree on the issue, only that the AHA had to respond to this “bigotry”. Sadly, that seems to be the pattern on a variety of issues.

  11. Since most professors believe it is their mission to re-form their students into godless, relativistic leftists, I believe they feel that every opportunity to spout anti-religious, anti-capitalist, anti-military dogma is a teaching moment. And since status is the principal currency in the Academy (not talent or practical application thereof) it is incumbent to fathom the prevailing opinions and conform to those to which status is attached. To hold low status ideas requires more personal strength (and adherence to facts) than most of them can muster.

  12. I originally got a BS degree from a Cal-State University in the late 80’s, and went back about 3 years ago for graduate classes. Both degrees in engineering. The change was amazingly stark.
    The professors today spent nearly every class mentioning political topics, why Republicans are evil liars, and so on. Even for a engineering project management class, a third of the class was spent on global warming and how to calculate this into the plan. In one case, the professor spoke about how Republicans were lying about the existence of terrorism. I spoke up and mentioned that my hotels in Istanbul and Jerusalem were both bombed shortly after my visits in 2001, and the professor spoke to the rest of the class to say after pointing at me, “See, these are the kinds of lies these people keep making to cover their racism.” I walked out of the room, and wrote a letter to the dean, and got no reply at all.
    I honestly think that our educational system has eroded dramatically in the past two decades, and I don’t think it’s reversible any longer.
    I think we need to consider splitting the country into a couple parts: one where the left could feel comfortable, and one where the right could do the same. Let’s then compare the results.

  13. The triumph of the vicious sheep. It has been thus for decades at lesser institutions and now dominates the better one as well. When I taught at UC Berkeley in the 1990s there was much less of this nonsense and much more openness and true diversity despite the UCB reputation.

  14. I have experienced the same thing in various settings outside of the university setting. Many leftists have an attitude of moral superiority that is quite offensive to me. Fortunately, I have situated my life so that most leftists are aware of my politics and avoid talking about politics in front of me.

  15. Huh..
    I think we need to bring back the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ and apply it to the educational system, from bottom to top. Wouldn’t that even out the ‘disparate impact’ of all the leftists’ in our, largely, gov’t supported educational system?

  16. “It seems never to dawn on most academics that someone in their midst might actually disagree with them about politics.”
    This is true, and it drives me batty. I also find that people who expect total conformity are extremely intolerant of other views, and very disdainful of freedom of speech.

  17. I have seen this and worse. I work at a university and am surrounded by leftists. And elitists. And hypocrites. I was shocked to hear a department head brag that he once blocked a faculty member from getting tenure because the instructor wasn’t liberal enough.
    The element I find most disturbing is people who don’t agree with them are treated. I’ve seen two angry conservatives disagree and they can say some rough things. But I’ve heard liberals say things like “I hope he dies” and “His wife should get cancer – that will teach him.” Not once, but repeatedly – from a notable number for staff and faculty at the schools I’ve worked for. It is disturbing.

  18. Ignorance and prejudice reign in the academy as in any self-perpetuating power structure.
    The difference is, its subjects in many cases deny that this is the case (in the academy).

  19. I’m a bit confused myself, Professor Patai. I have been a water safety instructor and it never would have occurred to me to mention politics when I was giving swimming lessons.
    There is a term for the idea that politics should permeate everything and, therefore, everything is susceptible to politics. It’s called “totalitarianism.”

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