As noted in previous essays, there is a diversity issue in higher education: liberals (or at least Democrats) significantly outnumber conservatives (or at least Republicans). Since the subject of diversity has long been addressed by conservatives, it makes sense to use their approach when inquiring into the lack of ideological diversity in the ivory towers.
When faced with claims about a lack of diversity in an area (such as a dearth of minorities or women), conservatives tend to have two replies. The first is one that I addressed in an earlier essay: the seemingly excluded group freely chooses not to go into that area. For example, one might try to explain the low relative numbers of minority tabletop gamers (D&D players, for example) by claiming that minorities are generally not interested in these games. The second explanation is that the seemingly excluded group is not as capable as the dominant group(s). For example, the shortage of women in top business, military and academic positions might be explained in terms of women being less capable than men in these areas. The more charitable might soften this claim by asserting that the excluded group is capable in other areas—areas in which they are more proportionally represented or dominant. For example, it might be claimed that while women are less capable than men when it comes to science or business, they are quite capable as nurses and grade school teachers. In some cases, these assertions are obviously true. For example, men dominate American football because the strongest men are far stronger than the strongest women. As another example, women are obviously vastly more capable than men as wet nurses or surrogate mothers. Since conservatives tend to find this explanation appealing, it is reasonable to advance it to explain the dearth of conservatives in the academy.
Put bluntly, it could be claimed that conservatives generally lack the ability to succeed in higher education. While there are some exceptions, the ideological distribution is fair because of the disparity in ability. This is analogous to how a conservative might claim that the lack of women in the upper levels of business, academics and the military is in accord with the distribution of ability: most women are not as capable in those roles as men, hence men justly dominate. Likewise, most conservatives are not as capable in higher education as liberals, hence liberals justly dominate.
One obvious reply is that ideology is different from sex or ethnicity. Conservatives can be of any sex or ethnicity (though they are overwhelmingly white and tend to be male) because ideology is a matter of the values a person accepts and not what they are. As such, it could be claimed, the idea that conservatives are less capable than liberals would make no sense. It would be like saying that deontologists are less capable than utilitarians, that impressionists are less capable than surrealists, or that Yankees fans are less capable than Red Sox fans. This does have some appeal, but I am reluctant to abandon the conservative explanation so quickly.
This reply can be countered by arguing that while ideology does not change a person’s capabilities, a person’s capabilities can determine their ideology. That is, people with certain non-ideological qualities would tend to be conservative while people with other qualities would tend to be liberal. While psychology is not even an inexact science, it does show some interesting claims about the differences between conservatives and liberals. For example, conservatives tend to be more afraid than liberals and hence have a greater desire for safety and security. Given these differences, it makes sense that people who tend to be conservative would be less capable than people who tend to be liberal in areas in which these differences would have a meaningful impact. Higher education, it can be argued, is just such an area: the qualities that would make a person more likely to succeed as a professor would also tend to make them liberal. In contrast, the qualities that would make a person more conservative would tend to make it less likely that they would be successful at becoming a professor.
While some liberals would be tempted to say that conservatives are stupider than liberals, this need not be the case. After all, becoming a professor is obviously not just a matter of being smart—most smart people are not professors and not all professors are smart. Conservatives can be just as intellectually capable as liberals, yet some of the other qualities that make them conservative could impair their ability to become professors. One factor is that the process of becoming a professor typically involves having one’s most cherished ideas questioned, challenged and even attacked over the course of years—something that those inclined towards being liberal might handle better. As charitable conservatives might say that women and minorities are well-suited for some areas, a charitable liberal might say that conservatives are well-suited for areas outside the academy.
If it is true that what makes people conservatives or liberals is relevant to their ability to become professors, then there are various solutions to the problem of diversity. One is to engage in a process of affirmative action for conservatives: preferential hiring and lower standard to balance out the numbers. The conservatives who oppose affirmative action would not be able to accept this approach—unless their stance on the matter is purely a matter of self-interest rather than a matter of principle.
A second approach is to see if the academy can be modified to be more inviting to conservatives without such affirmative action. For example, it might be that the way grad school classes are taught that tends to weed out conservatives from the ranks of professors. While conservatives are generally not fans of efforts of inclusion, they would presumably welcome such efforts when they are to their advantage.
At this point, some readers are no doubt thinking that the real reason conservatives are lacking in the academy is that liberals are to blame. It is to this that I will turn in my next essay.
Mike, have you attempted to square your hypothesis with the fact that conservatives are far more prevalent in engineering and hard sciences?
Sadly, however, identity politics has now infected the hard sciences as well, so things do not bode well for America’s scientific enterprise.
Michael LaBossiere says
True, the ratio of Republican to Democrat is closer in the hard sciences, but these are still dominated by Democrats.
I would certainly agree that the social sciences tend to be dominated by political ideologies. For example, they used to be dominated by theories of white supremacy but are now largely dominated by left leaning theories. This could shift again in the future. Social sciences, by nature, will be politically infected. The hard sciences that do not deal with humans tend towards neutrality, since politics does not enter into the field. So, physics and engineering tend to be politically neutral since atoms and structural material are not political. Biology, however, tends to be quite political because it is hard science that includes humans. So, we see the race theories of the past and the new theories of human nature-all of which are fundamentally ideological.
Well, you are clearly correct. As a conservative, I find myself entirely incapable of dealing with this attitude, which is based on misinformation, a twisting of evidence, a severely limited world-view and a reluctance or inability to vary from preconceived notions, bigotry, and downright hatred.
I have presented you with alternate points of view, some nuance as to how you might try to understand the position of a conservative professor in a somewhat expanded way – I have offered you a pretty plausible differentiation between “Higher Education” and “Intellectualism” versus the bureaucracy of the institutions and how they have varied from the ideals – but for some reason you have chosen to ignore these points and cling to your prejudices.
I have been very critical of you in the past – for your penchant for abandoning all vestiges of critical thinking when it comes to the analysis of political or social issues; I think you are entirely unaware of how quickly you eschew logic and an open-minded search for truth in favor of just parroting liberal talking points; this issue is no different except that it is personal.
You are telling me how I think, and refusing to listen to what I have to say. You must know better than me – after all, you and the authors of the drivel that you call news have things all neatly packaged into your little slots, and you just carry on with your notions of what people think and how they are.
Contributions to this blog, when it comes to politics and issues like this, are pointless. This is not philosophy, it is not about thinking or analysis – that disguise has worn so thin as to be a mere irrelevant title. This blog has become just another misinformed Left Wing rant, a compilation of re-packaged talking points, spoken with fingers planted deeply into your ears.
Michael LaBossiere says
And yet I never delete your comments or respond with insults or personal attacks. You have a free and open platform to refute my claims and express your own views.
Gimme a break. The premise of nearly every post is insulting to people with views to the right of yours. You regularly insult Trump and other republicans, conservative or otherwise, on a regular basis and quite often on unfounded grounds. In abstract terms you regularly insult those who comment here through strawman arguments that when called on them you then haughtily dismiss as not so under your own definition of a strawman. You hide behind the skirts of propriety, a specific form of propriety that you yourself define as you see fit.
DH has patiently, respectfully, and politely refuted many of your arguments, taking much time in long detailed analysis, while accepting your arguments in the best possible light. As is your MO, you addressed some of his comments early on but as his criticisms closed in and repeatedly refuted and undermined the premises of so many of your posts, you either ignored him, interpreted things he had to say in the least favorable or unintended light, or pulled out the clown nose. Again, your MO. And now, as this decent man has finally begun to run out of patience (and I warned him this would happen…funny how I knew) you respond in this passive-aggressive manner. You remind me of the nastier women in Jane Austen novels. Yes, it’s a personal insult. But you’ve earned it and at least it’s honest.
We can see now that this series is simply a boilerplate replacement of stock arguments for why women (or some other allegedly disadvanted people) are under-represented in some high-status, pleasant, high-paying field. (Oddly, nobody seems to worry about women being under-represented in unhealthy, unpleasant or hazardous fields, even if well paid. Someone should get on that.)
As such, I wouldn’t take it too seriously.
The value of stock arguments about groups of people ranges from zero to a considerable negative. A detailed analysis of observations may provide ideas for possible avenues of investigation, but no more than that. And a link to a magazine or blog site does not constitute detailed analysis of observations: the unexamined URL is not worth linking.
I do find it interesting to see our reactions to this series, though. If Mike took essentially the same text, replacing “conservatives” with “women” and “academia” with “academic math”, would our reactions be as strong?
As a long-time observer of Internet trolls, I have to say to Mike: gg wp!
Are you serious? Do you really think this is just a troll by Mike? The man teaches ethics, you know. Would such a thing be ethical? I understand you are up in Canada, but do you really think, as you have alluded in other posts, that the problems at US universities are just at the low level schools? That we do not have a very serious problem with political BS in our more elite institutions? I give you Georgia Tech, probably the preeminent engineering school in the South. This is just a recent piece of idiocy, I’ve seen this sort of thing coming from GT at an increasing pace…
From the esteemed David Thompson’s blog:
“Just a troll”. Um. Fair, considering I shouldn’t have packed that one. In my own little scheme of things, I consider trolling to have a range wider than joking or mischief. I would consider Socrates, as presented by Plato, a master troll – provoking, but with the intent to lead to cognitive dissonance and an insight born of contradiction rather than just for mischief. Oh, and try about about 3000 miles East, not North. 🙂
I don’t consider any of this a joke, either. You know those lists people make for Things That Might Be Very Bad in the upcoming century? I’d put the rise of what is being called identitarianism on mine. The Marxists wanted a conflict between capitalists and workers. This new ideology wants an unending conflict between everybody and everybody else, because sociologists can keep creating “oppressed classes” infinitely. Classes are abstractions: they can be created at will.
Anyway, back on point.
As I say, these vague and fluffy general arguments about why people with attribute X might be under- or over-represented in activity Y have zero or negative value, except to suggest some starting points. And those starting points may be misleading; at least some surely will be.
One thing I admire about Socrates is his (stated…or so we are told) admission that he knew nothing. That and the Socratic method. Neither of which do I see on display by our host.
Apologies for the Canadian thing. Though in my defense you do seem to be rather…. ummm…nice so maybe that’s it.
Columbia university this time. And a sophomore. Not entirely familiar with what this sophomore said, and according to his side of the story, much was taken out of context. Not that it matters. A college sophomore is going to say, and should be allowed to say, sophomoric things. Either way, to have major news outlets exposing this young man to publicity that he did not seek such that many “educated” people have distorted what he said and threaten him with violence, is absolutely disgraceful.
The top hit when googling his name…
You will also note in the “Five Things You Need To Know” about him…
None of this gets mentioned…click on the tweet that references his response to media criticism:
DH, your son should consider himself lucky. Definitely follow TJ’s advice. Keep your head down. Don’t say anything. Stay very still and accomplish nothing. Maybe they won’t notice you and instead eat someone else. Diversity (and violence and threats to one’s livelihood) trumps ability and the right to speak one’s mind if one harbors wrongthink. It must be done. To preserve humanity. Eggs, omelettes and such.
I have a very sad story about the state of Acacemia today, which illustrates why I have such anger and animosity towards an institution I used to hold in such high regard.
My son recently graduated with a graduate degree in music. He is very accomplished in music performance, music theory, and musicology. Throughout his undergraduate and graduate education, he was fortunate to study under a number of true masters – highly regarded composers, performers, theorists and historians.
Recently, the “elite” choir at his alma-mater performed a piece entitled “Goin Up to Glory”, a piece written in 1995 by Andre J. Thomas, based on a traditional field holler/work song.
This piece is described on musicology websites as being “a cross-cultural selection with deep African-American roots, and is an increasingly popular choice for contest and festival performances.”
Its history shows it to be a widely sung piece in choirs from Junior High through post-graduate music programs, and is highly regarded as a piece valuable not only within the history of vocal music, but the history of music as an expression of cultural history itself.
The factors regarding the choice of this piece extend beyond even that, however. The choir director in this graduate program, a full professor with a 30-year career at the college, chose this piece to honor the career of his own teacher, his own mentor – an African American composer named Andre J. Thomas – the very same man who wrote the piece in question.
This had all the makings of a “teaching moment” on a huge number of levels. However –
A member of the choir, a young African American girl who lacked the context, the insight, or the understanding of this piece to recognize its musical significance and important place in the cultural development of this country, took offense at the lyrics, and its inclusion in the concert.
“Sunup to sundown pickin’ that cotton
Sunup to sundown worked for the master
Sunup to sundown chains and shackles
No more auction block for me
No more auction block for me “
Remember, of course, that this piece was based on traditional field music (which, historically, is the root of American Blues and Jazz), and was written by an African American composer whose ancestors lived what was described in the lyrics. Remember also, that this African American composer was a major influence on the choral director of this contemporary composer, and that his message and legacy were being preserved by its very performance.
But this young, innocent girl – who had so much to learn, who could have been taught so much, was offended.
This choral director, this tenured, 30-year veteran of music education, composition, and performance, sent this student an e-mail attempting to lend some context to the choice – but his words were misconstrued and misunderstood. Was he angry? Probably. Frustrated? No doubt. Restrained? Of course.
But, because Academia is what it is today, the teaching moment passed. The misplaced perception of “offence” reigned supreme. This young African American student missed an incredible opportunity to understand the context of a piece she may have sung, with a direct connection to the composer who had a direct connection to the experience of the song.
And now the choir director is on administrative leave – disallowed from having any contact with students, and being “encouraged” to consider an early retirement.
Why did the university not stand up for him? Why was his expertise, his history, his experience not considered? I would speculate that had he been African American himself, this entire situation would not have occurred. That, of course, is mere speculation – but it’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?
But the saddest part of this is the advice I have to give to my son – as one teacher to another. It’s not about philosophy or pedagogy, it’s not about the ideals of education or setting challenges for students.
I told my son,
“Avoid e-mail at all cost. Whatever you mean in an email is irrelevant, the results will be based on how they can be interpreted by someone who wants to bring you down”.
“Never have a private meeting with a student behind closed doors, especially a female student. If they don’t like what you have to say, any false, specious, or ridiculous charges they may level against you in the spirit of retaliation will be believed over and above your version of events, regardless of their veracity or your reputation or experience”.
“If possible, never have a private meeting with a student period. Always have a colleague (read: “witness”) present.
“Watch everything you say. Choose “political correctness” over education at every nexus. If you think you can challenge a student’s way of thinking, think again. If a student is offended by what you say, you will end up like your mentor, above. ”
Quite different from the career advice my own father gave me – “Stand up for your ideals”; “Make yourself indispensable”, “Question authority, and be the impetus for positive change”. In today’s world, and in the world of higher education today, that’s a recipe for being fired – or at least for being publicly shamed or excoriated.
I will say this again, because it is unbelievably relevant. When an institute of higher learning is influenced and/or controlled by the HR department, learning comes to a screeching halt. When pedagogy and the free expression of ideas, no matter how distasteful, are suppressed in favor of “political correctness”, when we must be careful of the issues we bring up for discussion for fear of offending those whom we desire to instruct, whose offense would be mitigated by the very instruction we seek to impart, then we cease to become what we set out to be, and end up as mere arms of a political agenda.
My son’s mentor is actually in a pretty good place – he is only a year or two from retirement, and it’s likely he’ll be offered an incentive to just “go away” quietly – wealthier and happier. What would you do? Sacrifice your happiness and security in your lifetime of education and expertise in your field to fight against a closed-minded political force? Or just sigh and realize that the world is a different place, one that has no niche for your venerable wisdom, and take your retirement offer with a sigh of resignation?
The college will preserve its reputation – at least that reputation that is defined in today’s terms, not unlike Harvard or Stanford – but the real losers will be the students and the idea of “higher education” overall.
More to the point – that of “anti-intellectualism” and the “eschewing of expertise” –
Who are the intellectuals here? Who are the experts?
I would surmise that this musician, this choral director, this man who, in his 30 year career had direct knowledge of the composer of the piece, was the one with the greatest degree of intellectual, musicological, and sociological understanding of the multidisciplinary impact of the piece in question.
And yet, the offense taken by a “tabula rasa” with so much to gain, led to the complete denial of that opportunity to learn because of the crippling fear of the “PC Police” on the part of the Institute of Higher Learning, abandoning its own ideals to protect their own asses in the face of uninformed and hypersensitive public scrutiny.
The question is not why “Conservatives” are not more involved in higher education. It’s not why “conservatives” cannot deal with this undermining of intellectual ideology at our institutes of higher learning.
The question is why anyone is able to stomach it?
Seems like that majority of Conservatives who stay away are the ones with the right idea.
Very depressing story, DH. I think the advice you gave to your son was spot on for the times we live in. He needs to keep his head down and survive so that he will still be around when things get better. He should avoid politics at all cost and lose himself in his music. Stay away from social media. Keep his office door open. Don’t challenge the students too much. He should keep in mind that diversity trumps ability in today’s university.
Great…and another of my comments gets eaten by the spam filter. One too many links, I suppose.
Michael LaBossiere says
Released into the wild.