Tag Archives: intellectual diversity

Jane Mayer Peddles Her “Sky is Falling!” Story

Jane Mayer is a writer for The New Yorker who knows her audience. It consists mostly of elitist progressives who like reading that their enlightened transformation of America is imperiled by greedy conservative villains. She has written many articles and most recently, a book entitled Dark Money on that theme.

The February 26, 2016 issue of Chronicle Review (the companion publication to The Chronicle of Higher Education, but much more overtly political) contains an essay drawn from that book, “How Right-Wing Billionaires Infiltrated Higher Education.”

To leftist readers, that’s certain to sound frightful. Higher education, after all, is supposed to be the domain of highly intelligent, far-sighted, compassionate scholars—the sort of people they admire. How awful to hear that it has been infiltrated by malevolent billionaires, who have (as the cover of the issue puts it) “tugged academe to the right.”

In the essay, Mayer recounts the tale of how this dastardly deed was done, beginning with the John M. Olin Foundation’s “offensive to reorient the political slant of higher education to the right.” That so-called offensive meant funding a few scholars at major universities who dissented from the prevailing leftist notions about the impact of government. Those scholars were all of a classical liberal bent, their thinking informed by the likes of John Locke, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman.

That intellectual tradition has always been present in American universities, but following the New Deal, progressives who could see nothing but good in the expansion of the state came to dominate most faculties. For many students, contrary ideas could only be found if they ventured into the dusty shelves of the library. Was there a case against socialism, for instance? Students would probably never hear that there was unless somehow they chanced upon a reference to Ludwig von Mises’ great 1922 book.

What Olin and other foundations wanted was to revive an intellectual tradition that was out of favor with the elites who thrive on government control. They weren’t “tugging” higher education in any direction, but merely trying to add to a voice that was mostly going unheard. If a philanthropist put money into sponsoring a series of string quartet performances, we wouldn’t object that he was tugging the music world toward the classics.

But Mayer knows that she needs to keep her readers edgy, so she throws in lines like this, a quotation from a “progressive political strategist,” who says of Olin and other conspirators, “What they started is the most potent machinery ever assembled in a democracy to promote a set of beliefs to control the reins of government.”

That isn’t within light years of the truth. The objective of Olin (which spent itself out of existence ten years ago in keeping with the benefactor’s wishes), the Koch Foundation, and many smaller foundations is not to take control of the reins of government but instead to suggest to people that we’d be better off if the reins of government were loosened.

Mayer wants readers to think that some sort of coup is in the making, but all that’s happening is that a rather small number of students will get to hear one or two professors who think critically about the impact of government.

Critical thinking is supposed to be something colleges encourage. Mayer is opposed to letting “right-wing billionaires” encourage it with regard to the effects of government policy. She can’t resist name-calling and wails about “a tiny constellation of private foundations filled with tax-deductible gifts from a handful of wealthy reactionaries.”

That’s both nasty and false – the people behind this movement are only “reactionaries” if that word now means anyone who thinks government has grown too big.

If Mayer wanted an accurate title, she might have written “How a Handful of Classical Liberals Added Some Intellectual Diversity for Students to Consider.” But that wouldn’t scare her readers.

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.”

More About what Candidates Can Do…

By Roger Clegg

Kudos to Peter Wood for encouraging the presidential candidates to opine – and opine wisely – on higher education issues in his article, “What Candidates Can Do for Higher Education Now.” With regard to his Item #3 (“End higher education’s destructive focus on race”), I’d like to point out two specific proposals that have been made, along the lines of the legislation that Peter discusses.

First, Professor Gail Heriot, who moonlights as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, had an excellent Wall Street Journal op-ed last year that made two important points. The first is that the “mismatch” that results from racial preferences in university admissions is an important factor in the relative dearth of African American graduates in the STEM disciplines.

But the second is that, while some of the pressure to use these preferences is self-imposed, a lot of it is not — and, in particular, much of it comes from accrediting agencies. She calls on Congress to step up to the plate and “prohibit accreditors from wading into student-body diversity issues.” Those interested in more information about what Congress should do on this can read Professor Heriot’s additional words of wisdom here and here.

Second, as long as university officials take race and ethnicity into account in admissions decisions, a bill requiring publication of the use of such preferences is necessary. Such a bill would require universities that receive federal funding to report annually and in detail on whether and how race, color, and national origin factor into the student admissions process. The Supreme Court has, alas, upheld such discrimination as constitutionally permissible, at least for now, but this is supposedly subject to numerous restrictions.

So even if some insist that taxpayer-funded universities should continue to practice racial discrimination in admissions, there’s no justification for it being done secretly and illegally – that is, without public disclosure and without taking pains to satisfy the Supreme Court’s requirements.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the relevant Senate committee and is an outspoken critic of racial preferences, ought to be supportive; so should his House counterpart, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC); the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights endorsed this approach, including “sunshine” legislation, as a recommendation to the President and Congress in a 2006 report. And Rep. Steve King (R–IA) has on more than one occasion introduced legislation like this. You can find a draft of the bill (the “Racial and Ethnic Preferences Disclosure Act of 2014″) and more discussion here.

Roger Clegg is the President and General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

The Leftist Intellectuals Hovering over the Campuses

Political correctness – the academic aping of the class struggle — has increasingly generated campus hijinks unintentionally redolent of the cartoonist Al Capp’s 1960s depiction of S.W.I.N.E. (Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything). Recently, referring to the plague of campus hoaxes regarding rape and race, capped off by the ruckus at Oberlin College because of the cultural “disrespect” shown by serving General Tso’s Chicken with steamed instead of fried rice, I was asked by a well-educated friend, “how did academia come to this sorry pass?”

Obscure but Powerful

It was, I replied, a long story but suggested that she read the British philosopher Roger Scruton’s Fools Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left.” It’s an engaging update of Scruton’s 1985 politically incorrect book that got Scruton ejected from English academia. The figures Scruton discusses, such as George Lukacs, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault and Slavo Zizek, “may seem like obscure intellectuals to the man in the street but they are still dominant on the humanities curriculum,” he explains. Humanities students have to swallow a whole load of what Scruton describes as their “nonsense machine.”

“The postmodern campus aggrievement industry,” notes Arthur Milikh, writing in City Journal, aims to introduce a new standard of wisdom: judging the highest achievements of human knowledge by the unreasoned, spontaneous feelings of uncultivated minds.

Intellectuals as Saviors

In order to chart the growth of “the aggrievement industry,” Scruton twines together two strands of twaddle: Western– that is cultural– Marxism, and the intellectual and psychological derangements of its practitioners. Western Marxism can be best understood as the class struggle without the proletariat. It retains the passionate hatred of the bourgeoisie but like Lenin puts forth intellectuals as the saviors of mankind.

Capitalism Deforms the Psyche

Lukacs claimed, “The entire human psyche is so deformed by capitalism” that “it is not possible to be human in bourgeois society…. The “bourgeoisie possesses only the semblance of a human existence.”  Anticipating the black nationalists who insisted whites couldn’t understand black culture and the apologist for Palestinian terrorism Edward Said, who claimed Arab and Islamic culture was beyond the ken of Westerners, Lukacs instructed that Soviet culture was entirely opaque to the bourgeois intellect.

The challenge was never met.

A Lone Persecuted Voice

Scruton first encountered the writing of Louis Althusser on “aleatory Marxism” when he was visiting France during the ectopic revolution of the May 1968 events.  Althusser, a professor at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in Paris depicted himself “as a lone persecuted voice.”  It was but one of his bizarre impostures.  Althusser, who was in and out of mental institutions for his entire life, depicted his time in a German P.O.W camp as one of the few times he experienced freedom.  Althusser, a Communist Party member who invited his many students to join him in the supposed solitude of his persecution, found the site of totalitarianism in neither Stalin’s Russia nor Mao’s China, but rather in “that most frightful, appalling and horrifying of all the ideological state apparatuses . . . namely, the family.”

Few readers other than those looking to be initiates into this occult version of academic Gnosticism can escape from the “dense fog of” Althusser’s “portentous verbiage.” But in 1980 at age 62, Althusser ceased spreading smog directly when he strangled his wife and largely got away with it by pleading professorial incapacitation.  But his work was carried on by his students, who produced Slavo Zizek, the current reigning champion of academic incantation who predictably fabricates one or two books a year.

Disregard Majorities

Zizek, speaking for the line of argument from Lukacs to Althusser that has infested our campuses, explained, “Revolutionary politics is not a matter of opinions but of the truth on behalf of which one often is compelled to disregard the opinion of the majority and to impose the revolutionary will against it.”  Revolutionary will has no need for evidence and argumentation. Nor, Zizek explains, is there any need for ordinary bourgeois logic. You can simultaneously argue, through what he calls paraconsistent logic born of the dialectic, for X and not X.

Speaking at the 2012 Occupy Wall Street protests Zizek, in defiance of conventional evidence, insisted that the United State was more repressive than the government of mainland China, which jails dissenters and their lawyers. “[In] 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV and films and in novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel,” Zizek noted. “This is a good sign for China; it means that people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dream. Here, we don’t think of prohibition, because the ruling system has even oppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It’s easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism.”  In another words, the absence of prohibitions proves the presence of repression.

Neglect of Palpable Facts

At the turn of the twentieth century, the democratic socialist Eduard Bernstein explained presciently, once you go in for an “almost incredible neglect of the most palpable facts,” you end up soon enough at “a truly miraculous belief in the creative power of force.” Zizek, one of the most popular speakers on American campuses, is the fulfillment of Bernstein’s prediction.

“We seem,” says Zizek, “to need Lenin’s insights more than ever…because it is only by throwing off our attachment to liberal democracy that we can become effectively anti-capitalist.” “The ultimate and defining experience of the twentieth century,” he explains, “was the direct experience of the Real as distinct from everyday social reality – the Real, in its extreme violence, is the price to be paid for peeling off the deceiving layers of reality.”  Hence Lenin’s greatness.

In The Leninist Freedom, he cheerfully noted Lenin’s response to Menshevik defenders of democracy in 1920: ‘Of course, gentlemen, you have the right to publish this critique – but, then, gentlemen, be so kind as to allow us to line you up against the wall and shoot you!’ Now that’s direct action for you.  Direct action as in the numerous campus protests of the past year allows for the authenticity of action impossible when ordinary procedures are invoked.

The Sokol Hoax

What’s puzzling is why such a wide variety of protests has recently broken out across American campuses.  Postmodernism seemed to have been beaten back in the early 21st century. The embarrassment of the Sokal hoax (the pomo magazine Social Text printed as genuine a spoof claiming to deconstruct gravity); the revelations that two of the key influences on postmodernism, the philosopher Martin Heidegger and the literary critic Paul de Man, were deeply implicated in European fascism; and the defection of literary critics suggested that postmodernism was on the rocks or at the very least had become old hat.

But while pomo might have become old hat, the selective process whereby the radicals of the 60s had become the college administrators of recent years was part of a development whereby a narrowing number of novitiates were looking to take their vows for the priesthood of the humanities. For many years, students of moderate or conservative views and those perhaps looking for a more promising path to the future chose other careers. But the radicalized rump was energized by the Ferguson protests and motivated by the sense that the dwindling days of the Obama years impelled the need for immediate action.  The upshot has been the return of S.W.I.N.E’s hijinks as academia or at least an increasingly cartoonish section of the humanities seems determined to discredit itself.

Fred Siegel is a Scholar in Residence at St Francis College, Brooklyn, and a contributing editor to Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

Social Psychology, a Field with Only 8 Conservatives

Just how much viewpoint diversity do we have in social psychology? In 2011, nobody knew, so I asked 30 of my friends in the field to name a conservative. They came up with several names, but only one suspect admitted, under gentle interrogation, to being right of center.

A few months later I gave a talk at the annual convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in which I pointed out the field’s political imbalance and why this was a threat to the quality of our research.

I asked the thousand-or-so people in the audience to declare their politics with a show of hands, and I estimated that roughly 80% self-identified as “liberal or left of center,” 2% (I counted exactly 20 hands) identified as “centrist or moderate,” 1% (12 hands) identified as libertarian, and, rounding to the nearest integer, zero percent (3 hands) identified as “conservative or right of center.” That gives us a left-right ratio of 266 to one. I didn’t think the real ratio was that high; I knew that some conservatives in the audience were probably afraid to raise their hands.

Some of my colleagues questioned the validity of such a simple and public method, but Yoel Inbar and Yoris Lammers conducted a more thorough and anonymous survey of the SPSP email list later that year, and they too found a very lopsided political ratio: 85% of the 291 respondents self-identified as liberal overall, and only 6% identified as conservative.

That gives us our first good estimate of the left-right ratio in social psychology: fourteen to one. It’s a much more valid method than my “show of hands” (which was intended as a rhetorical device, not a real study). But still, we need more data, and we need to try more ways of asking the questions.

A new data set has come in. Bill von Hippel and David Buss surveyed the membership of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology. That’s a professional society composed of the most active researchers in the field who are at least five years post-PhD. It’s very selective – you must be nominated by a current member and approved by a committee before you can join. Von Hippel and Buss sent a web survey to the 900 members of SESP and got a response rate of 37% (335 responses). So this is a good sample of the mid-level and senior people (average age 51) who produce most of the research in social psychology.

Von Hippel and Buss were surveying the members’ views about evolution to try to understand the reasons why many social psychologists distrust or dislike evolutionary psychology. At the end of the survey, they happened to include a very good set of measures of political identity. Not just self-descriptions, but also whom the person voted for in the 2012 US Presidential election. And they asked nine questions about politically valenced policy questions, such as “Do you support gun control?” “Do you support gay marriage?” and “Do you support a woman’s right to get an abortion?”

In a demonstration of the new openness and transparency that is spreading in social psychology, Von Hippel and Buss sent their raw data file and a summary report to all the members of SESP, to thank us for our participation in the survey. They noted that their preliminary analysis showed a massive leftward tilt in the field – only four had voted for Romney. I then emailed them and asked if I could write up further analyses of the political questions and post them at HeterodoxAcademy. They generously said yes, and then went ahead and made all the relevant files available to the world at the Open Science Framework (you can download them all here).

So here are the results, on the political distribution only. (Von Hippel and Buss will publish a very interesting paper on their main findings about evolution and morality in a few months). There are three ways we can graph the data, based on three ways that participants revealed their political orientation.

1) Self descriptions of political identity: 36 to one.

2) Presidential voting: 76 to one.

3) Views on political issues: 314 to one.

This excerpt from Heterodox Academy, “New Study Indicates Existence of Eight Conservative Social Psychologists” is printed with permission.


Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist at NYU’s Stern School of Business and author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Misunderstanding Intellectual Diversity


critics of higher education complain about a lack of “intellectual diversity,”
mostly what they deplore is the shortage of conservative professors. But there
is much more at stake than that.

climate change:  As I write this, parts
of the nation have endured sweltering heat, serious drought, and treacherous
storms, at one point leaving millions of people without electricity for
days.  The invocation of “climate change”
as the “cause” of more violent and extreme weather, worse forest fires and
flooding, indeed, of a host of calamities, has been used to assign culpability
to the whole human race, mimicking what irritates defenders of evolution about
the claimants of creation science, that debunking evolutionary theory is an
underhanded way of insinuating religious belief and its claims about the fallen
state of humanity.

turns out the wholesale secular embrace of science insinuates its own range of
pious beliefs.  Climate theory pretends
both to the throne of reason and to public policies dictated as if they were
royal decrees.  To question a royal
decree in this case is construed as treason again reason.  But how did reason come to rely more on a
consensus of belief than skepticism about such grand causal claims?  Unlike creation science, the advocates of
social engineering who believe that science is equivalent to policy intimidate
all doubters.  The absence of intellectual
diversity is detrimental to public policy debate, not to mention how the
stranglehold of environmentalism in colleges and universities also steers any
debate toward predetermined conclusions. 
Here the challenge becomes disentangling the science of climate change
from the policies that should follow from that science.

Continue reading Misunderstanding Intellectual Diversity

A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

Weissberg essay.jpegAs one who has spent
nearly four decades in the academy, let me confirm what outsiders often
suspect: the left has almost a complete headlock on the publication of serious
(peer reviewed) research in journals and scholarly books. It is not that
heretical ideas are forever buried. They can be expressed in popular magazines,
op-eds and, think tank publications and especially, on blogs. Nevertheless, and
this is critical, these off-campus writings do not count for tenure or
promotion. A successful academic career at a top school requires publishing in
disciplinary outlets and with scant exception these outlets filter out those
who reject the PC orthodoxies.

Continue reading A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

Bowdoin’s History

The NAS has announced that it is undertaking an intriguing case study examining “the curriculum, student activities, and campus values of Bowdoin College as a case study to learn what a contemporary liberal arts college education consists of,” with the hopes of creating “a template for how such a rigorous study could be undertaken at other liberal arts colleges and universities.”

The project’s announcement prompted me to take a look at Bowdoin’s history department. Admittedly, I do so from a biased perspective–I’m a resident of Maine, and very much recognize and admire Bowdoin’s contribution to the development of my state. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the college’s graduates dominated Maine politics, economics, and culture; the state’s two most recent towering political figures (former senators George Mitchell and Bill Cohen) are Bowdoin alums. Until fairly recently, at least, Bowdoin saw as one of its central goals not merely providing a high-quality liberal arts education but also training the next generation of Maine leaders. That commitment appears to have diminished, or vanished entirely.

Continue reading Bowdoin’s History

Reading Kant and Debating White Nationalists

cpac-2009.jpgThe many surveys backing up what those of us in the academy know only too well—that liberals vastly outnumber conservatives—are used to bolster the idealistic argument for “intellectual diversity.”
But a viewing of an incident at the recent CPAC conference and a video of a philosophy professor further confirmed my beliefs that it is not intellectual diversity that is needed as much as intellectual anything, and that that need is much more urgent than often recognized. The New Left began its onslaught on Western civilization through violent demands in the 1960s for the inherently anti-intellectual “studies” that replaced the traditional disciplines, like philosophy. The New Leftists and their intellectual descendents in the academy have just about succeeded in their mission of destroying the foundation of Western civilization: and that is reasoned inquiry. We see the outcome every day, in the nonsensical pontifications of tenured professors and inchoate expressions of our young people—even those involved in conservative politics.
Take for example an incident at CPAC with a group of young adults denouncing white nationalist Jamie Kelso captured on tape. They remind me so much of the college students I teach. Their reactions of disgust as Kelso’s aim becomes apparent indicate that their hearts are in the right place.

Continue reading Reading Kant and Debating White Nationalists

Hire a Conservative Professor?

Chancellor G. P. Peterson of the University of Colorado, Boulder, plans to raise $9 million to endow a visiting chair in conservative thought and policy, on grounds that intellectual diversity is a good thing. Like all radical ideas, having an unorthodox professor on campus sounds a bit risky, maybe even startling, but after some reflection, there might be a few benefits to go with the shock. First, students will learn that conservative professors look very much like the 800 conventional liberal ones that the university has been collecting since the 1950’s. This in itself is a plus. Soon many students will realize that the average conservative professor has only one head, and shares a remarkable 98 percent of the conventional liberal professor’s genes. In addition most have opposable thumbs and are perfectly able to shake hands and smile readily at strangers.
Still, the idea of hiring a conservative teacher should give us pause, for several reasons.

1) Conservatives are prone to mysterious outbursts of unaccountable mirth. This can occur at any time, for instance immediately after someone suggests attending a convention of the Modern Language Association, or when a professor points out that studying Madonna is just as good as studying Shakespeare.

2) Conservatives often go months without using the word “marginalized,” which clearly puts a damper on faculty conversation.

3)Though they speak fairly well, conservatives are notoriously weak in diversity-speak and postmodern expression, as if these crucial campus tongues were some sort of impenetrable jargon. As Judith Butler once quipped, inducing a burst of appreciative laughter from her audience, “right-wingers lack libidinal multiplicity and melancholic structure, very likely because they are so sadly saddled by the binary frame and univocal signification.” Indeed, who among us can disagree?

4) How do we know that conservatives will rest content with just one professor on each campus? It’s true that Harvard has Harvey Mansfield, Yale has Donald Kagan and Princeton has Robby George. This arrangement has long seemed stable, but the generous allowance of a token member often feeds the appetite for more. Rumor has it that as many as two or three other conservatives have infiltrated Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Is this true, and if so, where does it end? What happens when an open-borders policy inundates the academy and changes our culture? They are not like us. Won’t they cause disagreement and dissent?

No, one conservative professor on campus is way too many. Let’s drop the idea.