The Not-Very-Honest AAUP Letter on Colorado

A few weeks ago, the Regents of the University of Colorado voted to commission a “political climate” survey of the Boulder campus to determine whether ideological discrimination exists there. Not long after, the AAUP issued a letter in response, warning against the threat to academic freedom that the survey poses. The letter is a prime example of the difficulty conservatives, libertarians, and other dissenters have in opening discussions of bias.

Consider the following statement in the letter:

“To be sure, in some disciplines in the humanities, for instance, most faculty may consider themselves moderate to liberal.  But in other disciplines, for instance, business, economics, or engineering, faculty views tend to be much more conservative.”

Let’s correct those assertions.  It is not accurate to say that in the humanities “most faculty may consider themselves moderate to liberal.”  In fact, nearly all (not most) faculty in those fields do (not may) consider themselves moderately to extremely liberal (not moderate to liberal).  And the phrase about other disciplines being “much more conservative” is misleading.  Several studies prove the point, though they often have to substitute party affiliation for ideological categories.  For instance, one study from back in 2004 by Christopher F. Cardiff and Daniel B. Klein looked at 11 California universities including small, private, religious institutions and the flagship public universities of the state. Overall, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans was 5-to-1, and in the humanities fields, the ratio doubled to 10-to-1.  Some social sciences were even more imbalanced, such as sociology at 44-to-1, but others less so, such as management was 1.5-to-1. The AAUP softens these and other similar findings to the point of dismissal.

Here is another statement worth pondering:

“The Colorado board has a history of injecting political ideology into the academy.”

The letter cites the hiring of Stephen Hayward as the first “visiting professor of conservative thought and policy,” which is funded by conservative donors.  This definition of a faculty position the AAUP finds objectionable on astonishing grounds:

“Limiting occupants of an academic position to those holding favored political positions as troubling, at the least.”

What can we say about a statement that is so obtuse or disingenuous?  In all of the “softer” departments on campus, job candidates are expected to hold numerous “favored” positions on a variety of social and political issues including affirmative action and abortion.  The expectation is so ingrained that it never needs to be uttered, and the assumptions behind them have become so implanted into the fields that they look to practitioners like disciplinary knowledge, not ideological positions.

It isn’t the content of the assertions that frustrates people who wish to address ideological problems on campus.  It is the blithe and blind attitude that licenses them to be said.  Showing the assertions to be patently false barely slows them down, especially given the near-uniform ideological make-up of those to articulate them.  Conservatives should continue the evidence-based challenge to liberal orthodoxy, to be sure, but they must recognize the attitude as largely immune to argument.


  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

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One thought on “The Not-Very-Honest AAUP Letter on Colorado”

  1. The letter is deceptive as to the political leanings of professors in another way. While it may be true that faculty in economics, business, and engineering may hold “conservative” views, their views seldom have anything to do with the content of their courses. Business profs are not teaching (or worse, preaching) about hot-button issues — they’re trying to inform their students how to run an enterprise. Similarly, engineering professors aren’t attempting to shape the philosophy of their students; they simply want them to grasp engineering concepts. As for economists, a majority are still liberal-leaning, but teaching about economics is usually value-neutral. It isn’t propaganda for an econ professor to explain that leftist nostrums such as minimum wage laws have adverse unintended consequences.
    Many leftist professors are advocates for statist thinking. The relatively small number of non-leftists do very little to counteract them.

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