Liberal Academia

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I'm finally getting around to saying something about this Duke fiasco about the much higher percentage of faculty who were politically liberal compared with the number who were conservative.

Kieran's post at Crooked Timber has a significant amount of discussion on this, only a small fraction of which is very balanced, though lots of good points come up scattered throughout the straw man reconstructions of conservative positions. Slightly more balance (with a much smaller volume to wade through) appears in the discussion of Donald Sensing's post at One Hand Clapping, but it might tilt in the other direction more than I'd like.

Volokh makes the obvious point that the Conservative Party Mill was talking about (read the first link -- I'm not going to explain everything!) was pretty far from conservatism today, which is probably more like the liberalism of Mill's day. It certainly wasn't about conservatism in general as a time-spanning tendency. All this ignores the point that even if stupid people tend to be conservative, that says nothing about whether smart people tend to be liberal, which is the implication Brandon seems to be drawing from Mill's quote. In fact, Instapundit lists some date from 1994-2002 voters that shows that Republican voters tend to have slightly more education than Democrats and tended to score better on vocabulary and analogy testing. He quotes Jim Lindgren:

"If one breaks down the data by party affiliation and political orientation, the most highly educated group is conservative Republicans, who also score highest on the vocabulary and analogical reasoning tests. Liberal Democrats score only insignificantly lower than conservative Republicans. The least educated subgroups are moderate and conservative Democrats, who also score at the bottom (or very near the bottom) on vocabulary and analogy tests."

Other worthwhile thoughts I've seen include that many people in this discussion confuse correlation with causation (the data may reflect more on what type of people would be interested in academic jobs vs. those that prefer other fields, regardless of how intelligent they are). There's also the possibility of liberal in-breeding in academia (one of the Duke professors interviewed thought the function of Duke University was to "rid conservative students of their hypocrisies".

I do have a couple things to say to Kieran's post at Crooked Timber. He says:

"conservatives, by and large, tend to believe that people get what they deserve in life and that labor markets � whether for food service workers, corporate consultants, assistant professors or any other occupation � shake out fairly"

Maybe the old-style conservative believes that, but I think many conservatives nowadays would say just that people don't have a right to more than they get and that the government has no responsibility to provide more for most people than already is provided (and even that is often far more than the government is morally required to do).

He continues:

"When confronted with evidence of systematic racial or gender inequality, for example, they�ll go to considerable effort to argue that it�s differences in natural talent, acquired skills or personal preferences that are driving the outcome."

That's also just not true anymore. Arguments against affirmative action are increasingly about whether the practice harms minorities who are supposed to be helped by it. Conservative explanations of racial disparity rely partly on institutionalized attitudes of victimology, anti-intellectualism, and separatism rather than laziness or lack of ability.

Kieran argues that conservatives are inconsistent if they demand that there's an unconscious, systemic injustice in Duke's hiring practices while denying that such a thing happens with women, minorities, and other less represented groups. That's just not fair to conservative views. It's not that there aren't unconscious practices that are partly to blame for the disparity (e.g. hiring people you know, who will most likely be white if you're white). It's that those aren't the only issues or even always the main ones in terms of why black students do worse on their test scores than white students or why there aren't as many black law school graduates at the top of their class. There are complex social factors behind those numbers, and some of them are unconscious systemic problems within the black community, even if some are within mainstream culture.

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