Tuesday, October 11, 2005

That Old College Tripe

It must be part of John Tierney’s right-wing certification renewal to trot out the annual attack on “left-wing” professors.

Journalists and legal scholars have been decrying “cronyism” and calling for “mainstream” values when picking a Supreme Court justice. But how do they go about picking the professors to train the next generation of journalists and lawyers?

David Horowitz, the conservative who is president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, analyzed the political affiliations of the faculty at 18 elite journalism and law schools. By checking all the party registrations he could find, he concluded that Democrats outnumber Republicans by 8 to 1 at the law schools, with the ratio ranging from 3 to 1 at Penn to 28 to 1 at Stanford.

Only one journalism school, the University of Kansas, had a preponderance of Republicans (by 10 to 8). At the rest of the schools, there was a 6-to-1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans. The ratio was 4 to 1 at Northwestern and New York University, 13 to 1 at the University of Southern California, 15 to 1 at Columbia. Horowitz didn’t find any Republicans at Berkeley.

Some academics argue that their political ideologies don’t affect the way they teach, which to me is proof of how detached they’ve become from reality in their monocultures. This claim is especially dubious if you’re training lawyers and journalists to deal with controversial public policies.

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I’m not suggesting that journalism or law schools should be forced to have ideological balance on their faculties – this is one of those many problems that doesn’t require a solution by government. But it’s curious how little the schools seem to care about it.

They keep meticulous tabs on the race and gender and ethnic background of their students and faculty. But the lack of political diversity is taken as a matter of course. As long as the professors look different, why worry if they think the same?

In the first place, citing David Horowitz as a source for objective data is like asking Larry Flynt to be a judge at the Miss America pagaent. Second, Mr. Tierney — and Mr. Horowitz — seem to conclude that college students, who are adults by nearly every standard society has established, are too stupid or too gullible not to challenge a professor or call him out when they make statements that they disagree with. They are admitting that their precious children are not well enough prepared to enter the world of discourse and discovery and that their conservative values cannot withstand the test of open debate and discussion.

Mr. Tierney, by focusing on journalism or law, is forgetting that most colleges and universities offer other courses as well. Where, for example, is the survey of the political leanings of professors in business schools? My guess would be that the majority of the faculty in an MBA graduate school would be overwhelmingly pro-business (duh) and probably registered as Republicans. You can be pretty sure that any college or university that offers ROTC is going to have conservatives on that faculty, too. And when the graduates of those majors go out into the real world and get a real job in their chosen field, chances are that Wall Street and the Pentagon will have far more an impact on the daily lives of the citizens of this country and the world than will some drama major who’s investing in a production of “The Cradle Will Rock.” And it is probably fair to say that while you can inject politics into nearly any course of study, to see leftists under every bed in every college department like architecture and stellar cartography is a little too paranoid for logical discussion.

In the seventeen years between my freshman year (1971) and my doctorate graduation (1988), I spent eleven of those years on the campuses of three of the largest and most-respected univeristies in the country. I met a lot of professors in a lot of disciplines, some who became lifelong friends. For the most part I never knew the political leanings of those men and women, and even if I did, I can’t recall a time in any class, seminar or one-on-one study session where I felt that they allowed the irrelevancy of how they were registerd to vote to influence their presentation of their topic, and none of them would shut off debate or discussion because they didn’t like the opinions of their students.

If there seems to be a preponderance of liberals in the teaching profession, perhaps that’s because by and large liberals aren’t in it for the money; trust me, you don’t get rich teaching college theatre. They do it because they believe in opening minds and sharing knowledge as opposed to owning a yacht and a McMansion in Coral Gables. That’s not to say that all liberals are well-intentioned altruists and all conservatives are money-grubbing capitalists, but as long as Mr. Tierney feels entitled to make sweeping generalizations about college professors, I feel entitled to make a generalization of my own.