Kristof on the Authoritarian Leftism of universities: Part deux

On May 8 I wrote about one of Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times columns, “A confession of liberal intolerance.” There he promoted the idea of increased diversity in universities: not just diversity of ethnic minorities, but diversity of ideas. In particular, he called for hiring more conservative professors, since, by and large, academia comprises Leftists. Kristof didn’t favor direct affirmative action for Republican professors, not did he ask for hiring of creationists or other conservative loonies. Rather, citing studies of academic biases against conservatives (e.g., academics say they’re less likely to hire someone if he/she was an evangelical Christian, regardless of the field), Kristof asked us to consider hiring those with a record of scholarship running against the grain of the usual left-wing humanities courses. (Political leaning is, of course, irrelevant in science.)

In the hundred-odd comments on my post, many agreed, but some did not. Academia, they said, is self-selecting against conservatives, who don’t want to teach at universities—they’d rather earn big bucks. I don’t buy that one. While Kristof does admit that conservatives tend to stay away from social sciences for fear of ostracism, why not deliberately seek some out for the sake of diversity, just as we seek out qualified blacks, women, and other minorities? I’m not saying that the discrimination conservatives face is equivalent to that experienced by other minorities, but surely we should make efforts to expose students to a diversity of opinions. Remember, that’s one reason why many of us favor free speech—so that out of conflicting viewpoints one can winnow either the truth or one’s own beliefs. If that diversity of viewpoints isn’t available in the faculty, how are students supposed to adjudicate those conflicts?

Other readers argued that in many areas political viewpoints are irrelevant. And that’s true, as in science. But in many areas they are: the humanities, gender studies, economics, political science, and even divinity school—should a university be so benighted as to have one. Others said that the liberal point of view happens to be true, so what’s the point of dragging in conservative falsehoods? I don’t buy that, either. While it was said that conservatism itself “denies empirical reality,” there are many issues—abortion and affirmative action law, for instance—where there are arguments on both sides, and while facts can be adduced, judgments (like all ethical judgments) must be made on subjective preference. (I general, I agree that liberalism leads to greater well being of society, but that’s a consequentialist argument that not everybody buys.)

Finally, others noted that some brands of conservatism are simply bull-goose looney, such as that of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and many other Republicans. But what Kristof was calling for was not party diversity, but diversity of viewpoints: a remedy for the liberal sameness that is pervasive on campus. As an example of a quasi-conservative, or at least someone who doesn’t fit the Leftist mold, I offer up my own colleague, Judge Richard Posner, a professor at our law school with some conservative views, and who happens to be the most-cited legal scholar in the 20th century. There is no doubt about his immense value to my University.

Over the past month Kristof has been pondering his column and the reactions to it, and today published a sequel to his op-ed, “The liberal blind spot,” which comes with a nice gif:

29kristof-master768He first notes that he got a tremendous negative reaction to the column—from liberals. He then dispels some misconceptions (“I wasn’t arguing that we should deliberately hire creationists or racists”), and offers up three arguments for increasing “viewpoint diversity”. Here they are, with Kristof’s words in quotes.

  • It’s a form of bigotry. 

    “First, stereotyping and discrimination are wrong, whether against gays or Muslims, or against conservatives or evangelicals. We shouldn’t define one as bigotry and the other as enlightenment.

    When a survey finds that more than half of academics in some fields would discriminate against a job seeker who they learned was an evangelical, that feels to me like bigotry.”


  • Diversity has benefits. 

“Second, there’s abundant evidence of the benefits of diversity. Bringing in members of minorities is not an act of charity but a way of strengthening an organization. Yet universities suffer a sickly sameness: Four studies have found that at most only about one professor in 10 in the humanities or social sciences is a Republican.

I’ve often denounced conservative fearmongering about Muslims and refugees, and the liberal hostility toward evangelicals seems rooted in a similar insularity. Surveys show that Americans have negative views of Muslims when they don’t know any; I suspect many liberals disdain evangelicals in part because they don’t have any evangelical friends.

Sure, achieving diversity is a frustrating process, but it enriches organizations and improves decision-making. So let’s aim for ideological as well as ethnic diversity.”

I agree again, though I’m less concerned with dispelling negative stereotypes against conservatives than with exposing students (and other academics) to arguments they’d otherwise miss.

  • A surfeit of Leftists scholars leads to their marginalization. 

“Third, when scholars cluster on the left end of the spectrum, they marginalize themselves. We desperately need academics like sociologists and anthropologists influencing American public policy on issues like poverty, yet when they are in an outer-left orbit, their wisdom often goes untapped.

In contrast, economists remain influential. I wonder if that isn’t partly because there is a critical mass of Republican economists who battle the Democratic economists and thus tether the discipline to the American mainstream.”

Well, I’m not so sure that leftist professors really are marginalized in society. In liberal Presidential administrations, liberal academics are often called upon to fill government jobs. Rahm Emanuel and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. are examples from the Obama and Kennedy administrations, respectively.

Regardless, despite my own liberalism, I do think the dearth of conservatives on American campuses is a bug, not a feature. Many of us deliberately seek out conservative viewpoints to challenge and hone our own views. Those who don’t do that risk leading the dreaded unexamined life. Students don’t read newspapers, by and large, and a lot of their views are formed when they’re in college. Given that (except in schools like Liberty University), and that they’re marinated in liberal academia, what is the argument against exposing them to conservative views?

Who would I like to see teaching in colleges? George Will, for one. And although Christina Hoff Sommers is demonized by many feminists, she’s an equity feminist and could teach in a gender studies department—if she’d survive! Add your own candidates below.


  1. colnago80
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    George Will? Will is a climate change denier, which is an area in which he has not noticeable expertise. If we are to put him on a college faculty to increase diversity, then what’s our argument for denying a faculty position to a YEC or a flat earther?

    • Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      He wouldn’t be teaching climatology. This is what I object to: there are purity tests for things a person would be teaching. Would you ban an evangelical Christian from teaching anything because they have superstitious beliefs just as bad as climate-warming denialism? Would you have denied creationist Eric Hedin tenure at Ball State even though he teaches physics, and now doesn’t let his creationism intrude into his courses? Yep, that’s intolerance. I had no problem with Hedin getting tenure after reviewing his c.v. and teaching.

      I guess we’re having purity tests here now; if someone has one bad or uninformed opinion, they have nothing worthwhile to say.

      Yep, let’s just hire all liberals from now on.

      • chris mofatt
        Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        George Will isn’t as wrong on climate change as colnago claims – notwithstanding the ad hominem attacks on him by Joe Romm, desmogblog and other propaganda artists. Go with the evidence rather than simple assertion. Check it out for yourself colnago.

      • Scott Draper
        Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        Even Kristof admits that a creationist or racist shouldn’t be hired:

        I don’t think that a university should hire a nincompoop who disputes evolution, or a racist who preaches inequality.

        So he’s not advocating tolerance for all ideas, just ideas that don’t bother him so much.

        It is bigotry to think poorly of people for ideas that they actually hold? I don’t think so.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        Even in the sphere of politics (which I presume is what you’d have him teach), Will seems to be willfully fact-challenged.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      George Will was marvelous in PBS’s recent 7 part documentary on the Roosevelts (Ted, Franklin, and Eleanor) frequently making wise and astute observations.

      Will’s denial of climate change is disturbing but weirdly one of more literate ones re the history of humanity dealing with catastrophic climate changes in earlier eras of history.

      Will is however being very historically literate, though not very scientifically literate. And he hauls out the old conservative trope of we shouldn’t curtail liberty to curb climate change.

  2. colnago80
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Here’s a link to an evaluation of Will’s “expertise” on climate change.

  3. jay
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I read that article the other day but I found Kristoll (he still can’t get over his white privilege guilt) tries, but can’t quite get the sense that conservatives actually do have some valid points in some areas (economics, for example where many liberals are way into la-la land.)

    It’s not just for diversity (which has become a obsession with the left) but more importantly as a balance to areas where liberal thought has way off the rails. Currently in academia liberal positions are thought of as ‘settled’, not really open to question.

    • Geoffrey Howe
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      It does annoy me, but liberals constantly talk about the wonders of diversity, by which they mean race, gender, sexuality, and every other way in which humans can be different THAT DOESN’T ACTUALLY MEAN ANYTHING.

      What’s in a persons pants is completely irrelevant in the face of what is in a persons head.

      And in this respect, I don’t see the left as being any more diverse than the right. I listen to Focus on the Family radio from time to time for laughs, and they’ve got plenty of irrelevant diversity on their shows as well. They don’t care what color someone is as long as they believe in Jesus.

      Intellectual diversity seems to be no more common among liberals than it is among conservatives. But at least conservatives don’t go on about how diverse they are because they have both white and brown people in their groups.

      *sigh* I just hate this notion of diversity existing in skin color or other relevant factors. This kind of diversity isn’t a virtue, it’s merely a lack of a flaw (racism). And once people see themselves as virtuous for their diversity, they are less likely to feel the need to expand that sense of diversity to things that actually matter.

    • jay
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      If anyone doubts liberalism needs a counterbalancing force, simply read this idiocy:

      Just read these straight faced claim, straight out of the Ministry of Truth:

      Quote: “It’s not impinging on other people’s freedom of speech,” O’Bryan said. “It is just making sure that you don’t offend somebody with your freedom of speech.”

      Quote: I think I would disagree with the people who say it limits our free speech,” Jurasas said. “I think it forces us to reevaluate what we consider to be acceptable speech, and that’s a good conversation to have. I don’t see it as something that’s limiting, I see it as something that is actually liberating because it can allow you to see things in a new light.

    • Achrachno
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      “economics, for example where many liberals are way into la-la land”

      But far more conservatives are off in their version of “la-la land” — their economic ideas are based on long-falsified 19th/early 20th century dogma. The economic “truth” is clearly somewhere in the liberal ballpark — and the discussion will have to be among liberals to figure out exactly where. Conservatives really don’t have much they can bring to the discussion.

      This is the problem conservatives have all across the board — they are defending a traditional position, and they’ll stick with their received “truths” regardless of the facts. They’re just not into new ideas, better explanations, or greater justice for those suffering under present social arrangements.

      • jay
        Posted May 30, 2016 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        They have an approach summarized in Robert Frost’ quote: Don’t tear down a fence until you understand why it was put up.

        Change is ONLY good if it actually improves things, very often it replaces something tried and true with something ideological and false. I’ve seen enough crappy new ideas

        Communism, socialism etc are basically flawed, they fail repeatedly, but there is always ‘next time it will be different’. Essentially no true Scotsman.

        Three years ago Salon (and the Guardian) praised Venezuela as the example of how socialism can succeed. But the great ‘success’ was primarily the government spending the confiscated wealth of the oil companies and setting prices by fiat (including pricing food below what it cost to produce… what could go wrong?). At the same time, socialism has its own problem with the ‘commons’. When all the industries are controlled by the state, and the labor is paid by the state, and wages are equalized, there is no benefit to any one or any group working harder. They don’t benefit from putting more into it, and so the system decays. This explains in part why Venezuela’s oil industry, once efficient has collapsed into total disrepair.

        If people don’t benefit from the outcome of their labor, they will do the least possible.

        Curently the left (and often the Republicans who are simply the ‘more conservative sometimes’ party) placate the electorate by spending money on handouts, bailouts and favoritism. If there is a move to cut this, the cry ‘balancing the budget on the backs of the [poor/old/disabled/unemployed etc} and they merrily proceed to balance the budget on the backs of people not even born yet. Mostly because they don’t vote.

        • Achrachno
          Posted May 30, 2016 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          Huh? You seem to be responding to someone else. Unless you think liberalism = communism — which would be a goofy/conservative thing to think.

          • Michael Waterhouse
            Posted May 30, 2016 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

            Liberalism = communism may not be true but there is a lot of Marxist and Marxist style thought in “the left”.

        • Posted May 31, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          + + 1

  4. Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Aside from some conservative economists, I’d welcome Kathleen Parker (though I don’t know her academic credentials) and Charles Krauthammer (MD, I think)

    • Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Oh yes, David Frum too.

      • Somite
        Posted May 30, 2016 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        Krauthammer is a climate change denier

        And although Frum eventually was convinced by facts, it took until 2011 for him to be “convinced”. The evidence has been overwhelming since the 1990s.

        Why consider conservatives when by definition they’ll be behind everyone else before accepting facts?

        • jay
          Posted May 30, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

          Climate opinions should not be the be all shibboleth, especially when we are discussing input on other issues.

          In climate change discussion there are a lot of ranges, very few deny that there is any effect, but quite a few feel that the apocalyptic horror stories don’t match up to the known facts. (some of the skeptics rightly or wrongly pay a lot of attention current climate data, which is why there is a lawsuit going on about NASA’s withholding information about how and why some historic temperature values have been re-corrected).

          I’m glad to see at least some knowledgeable skepticism, even if they turn out to be quite wrong.

        • Posted May 30, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          They are better at certain things (e. g. running a business).

          • Somite
            Posted May 30, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

            The most valuable companies in the S&P are run by liberals. Conservatives seem very good only at receiving governments handouts and avoiding necessary regulations.

        • Posted May 30, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

          Mate … you sound totalitarian scary, seemingly wanting all ‘deniers’ sent off to re-education camps in Siberia. Climate science is complex and many people agree with some of it but not all of it. They should not be demonised or categorised as irrelevant to society.

          • Posted May 31, 2016 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

            So far, climate change awareness inspires two main behaviors:
            1) forcing on ordinary Westerners idiotic policies such as the energy-sparing, mercury-rich bulbs producing horrible light that are pushed down the throats of EU voters;
            2) diverting attention from the problems with Islamism.
            In light of this, I do not wonder that so many people are climate change denialists. This reminds me of the young character of the movie Inside Out who, moving into San Francisco, comforts herself that earthquakes are a myth. Earthquakes are real, but they are just about the last thing she should care about.

    • Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      Good choices. I read their views regularly. But do we have good reason to believe that they, or others expressing intelligent conservative views like theirs, would be denied academic positions? In my experience, recruiting committees do not ask your political views. If you are really smart and doing good research you get in.

      I suppose I had a selective experience, but I was exposed to many conservative viewpoints in college. And it did me good.

      • Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        Don’t forget, too, that many famous people or senior scholars aren’t hired in a competitive search. They are approached to see if they’d like a job. In such cases conservatives may be approached less frequently than are liberals.

    • Geoffrey Howe
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      I’ve always loved Krauthammer in part just because of that name😀

      But then I saw an instance where he tore apart intelligent design, showing an understanding of why it was so wrong. I don’t remember the details, but he made the case as well as any atheist scientist could.

      On that note, Megyn Kelly has done the same, also attacking ID, though she took a more lawyer-ly approach.

      Both of them attacked a right-wing bit of bullshit, which demonstrates their willingness to call out crap on their own side, and did so with reasons that were as well thought out as people who are directly involved with the debate, even though they weren’t.

      This shows me that they are self-critical (or at least moderates who weren’t drawn in by ID in the first place) and that they are educated enough in their opinions that they can give a full takedown in a subject that is not their primary focus.

  5. Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I’m particularly interested in the argument that diversity has benefits for everyone in the diverse community, and that it is a specifically EDUCATIONAL benefit for all concerned, but particularly for students. (It’s also, in my opinion, a good argument, and very likely true.)

    This used to be a key argument on the left for creating a diverse student body (I seem to remember it figuring in the UMichigan arguments during the whole affirmative action lawsuit thing there). Now it seems that many on the left are actively against this line of argumentation?

    I find this as strange as the segregated dorms issue. Are university students no longer learning history? Are university faculty no longer teaching it? These things weren’t that long ago, within living memory, yet much of the left seems to have conveniently forgotten them.

  6. David Duncan
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    “Other readers argued that in many areas political viewpoints are irrelevant. And that’s true, as in science.”

    I think Michael Ruse wouldn’t agree with that.

    He’s written of one of Dick Lewontin books that “In respect’s, Lewontin’s discussion is one-sided – the author’s political opinions lead inexorably towards the final chapter….”

    Also, a “very short time in the company of human evolutionists totally destroys any illusions one might have about the ethereal objectivity of science.”

    Ruse also mentions the socio-biology debates of the Seventies, when E. O. Wilson was attacked physically by opponents of that idea.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      Trofim Lysenko’s political views were certainly not irrelevant to his science.

      • David Duncan
        Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        Also, some very smart German physicists advanced the idea of “German Physics”, as opposed to the “Jewish Physics” of Einstein, et al. Relativity and Quantum Mechanics attracted their ire, and even Heisenberg got in to trouble, being labelled a “white Jew” by the SS. But Heisenberg’s mum saved the day – she knew Himler’s mum and had a chat to her. As a result Himler told the SS to lay off Heisenberg.

  7. Historian
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Granting that in the abstract diversity in the political views of college faculty is a good thing, I think there are some practical problems that need to be addressed. In particular, what is the criteria to distinguish a loon from someone whose viewpoints are outside the academic mainstream? I will illustrate from an area I am familiar with: Lincoln and the Civil War era. Most historians agree that Lincoln was one of the greatest presidents: he preserved the Union and ended slavery. But a distinct minority are very anti-Lincoln. They blame him for starting the war, acting as a tyrant, destroying civil liberties and creating a “leviathan” state. I am aware of at least one such person who is teaching at a college and has published a book on this theme. Is he a loon or just out of the mainstream? I think the latter and that some of his arguments have at least some merit. But where would his students get the opposite (traditional) view of Lincoln? The answer is probably nowhere in their academic career at a college. The point here is that a more diverse faculty may be a good thing, but it is not a sure bet that individual students would be exposed to diverse views.

    Let’s take the discussion one step further. Suppose a history professor is hired with what seems to be solid academic credentials in the Civil War era. But, it quickly becomes apparent that in his class he teaches slavery in the Old South wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it had many good aspects. The slaves were being civilized and Christianized and needed the good white folk to accomplish this. I should note that for the first half of the 20th century this viewpoint predominated in academic writing. So, would this professor be considered a loon or just out of the mainstream? In this case, I would say the former, but exactly what criteria should a history department use in hiring a person to teach the Civil War era? In other words, college departments would need to create litmus tests to separate the loon from a person with a minority viewpoint. And the content of such a litmus test would create a furor. Because, certainly, you would need to weed out the extreme leftist as well as the extreme rightist.

    In summary, here are the very practical problems in implementing diversity. One, a diverse faculty doesn’t mean that individual students will be exposed to diverse views. Two, where exactly should the line be drawn between a minority viewpoint and sheer nuttiness? And who would create the criteria? Wouldn’t it have to be assured that this committee is also diverse?

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Those are both good examples and most likely not what you would want in the history department. The first example could be considered in another field without too much concern, however the second looks very much like a racist and would not be hired regardless.

      The reality – it’s likely to depend on what part of the country you are talking about. I suspect you would see both of these in southern schools with little or no problem.

      The schools need more diversity but I just saw a news piece on how our k-12th grade are doing since Brown v Board of Ed way back when. We have nearly 7000 schools known as apartheid schools (those with 1% or less diversity – black/white). It seems we are going backward at a rapid rate.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      Interesting and detailed points.
      My answer, to be brief, is that hiring committees can do their best to include those from outside the mainstream or outside the political left, and let the tenure process do the rest.
      This will not be perfect, and we do have some cases where any liberal bias in hiring faculty has backfired as well. I recall a university faculty member described on this site who is from the regressive left–so far to the left that this person is pretty much anti-semitic.
      So these are cases where the effort may not have worked, but we just have to do our best.

    • kevin7alexander
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

      But a distinct minority are very anti-Lincoln.

      I just ended a conversation with a fellow who argued that Lincoln was a proto-communist because of his disrespect for the sacred concept of private property.

  8. Phil_Torres
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Serious question: what if increasing ideological diversity means including individuals with an ideological aversion to other sorts of diversity? By analogy, Muslim extremists in the UK are vociferously opposed to free speech, yet free speech gives them a platform to promulgate their anti-free speech views. So, what does it mean to include a conservative who holds racist views? Are there reasonable, thoughtful limits to diversity?

  9. harrync
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I am not sure you can write off the self-selection argument entirely. From one of the comments on Kristof’s article: “Undergraduates talented enough to gain acceptance to top grad schools are rare enough. Those brave enough to chance the high odds against ever obtaining tenure track positions are even rarer. But highly-talented conservatives who are willing to chance those odds, for a position that will never pay as much as a business career are rare as hens teeth. I’ve seen (and encouraged) a few conservative students who have aspired to the professoriate. But without exception, they have changed their mind before graduation, sometimes apologetically.” Maybe tax hedge-fund managers at 90% and raise professors pay to a million a year? Or you could go the Koch brothers plan – sort of funding professorships of conservatism.

  10. Scott Draper
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I’ve often defended in liberal forums the usefulness of the tension between conservatism and liberalism, but I don’t find much receptiveness for that point of view.

    Liberals, unchecked by conservatives, can get really crazy. The only reason that Democrats are seen as the sane party today is their need to counter-balance the insanity of the GOP.

    I suspect, though, that even the liberals who advocate greater ideological inclusiveness would find real world candidates less appealing than their imagined ones.

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    What should someone’s personal opinion matter? We are supposed to argue using facts and yes we all have biases but we should be aware of them and acknowledge that our biases could sway us. So, in other words it shouldn’t matter the personal opinions of faculty but instead how they teach and what they research. And should one not be open to new ideas? So if we hire someone with opinion x, must we fire him if his opinion changes to opinion y?

    I know many on this site want to believe the humanities is made up of people writing poetry, using words that mean nothing and giving opinions they all consider equally valid but that’s not how it works. I took an atheist course taught by a theist and you wouldn’t know it unless you knew his background. But I grow tired of this argument. People believe what they want to believe.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      “People believe what they want to believe.”

      Not necessarily. You do need to mount a counter-argument, but you didn’t here. The existence of an atheist course taught by a theist isn’t one.

      You say “that’s not how it works”, but sometimes, yes, that’s exactly how it works and I think you would acknowledge that. What might be disputed is what percent of the time it works that way, or what proportion of the student body experiences it working that way.

      Regardless, there are clearly some humanities courses that even a die-hard empiricist would find value in, so their existence doesn’t undermine the generalization.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        Well I have mounted many counter arguments here over the years. And my example of the theist teacher wasn’t meant as evidence of the imperacism of humanities but that people with strong opinions one way do not necessarily have to let those opinions pollute evidence.

        I spent 7 years in the Humanities and never encountered what people say here (and get away with saying). I’m somehow expected, according to you, to defend the Humanities as using evidence not opinions. Sorry, that’s not the null hypothesis. I find if there is one small incident in the Humanities, it’s taken as representing the whole and allows for finger pointing and hardy-har-hars of “look how stupid the humanities are” but science can have its kooks and that’s dismissed (as it should be) as “that guy’s a look and we all know it”.

        • Scott Draper
          Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

          We’ve all been steeped in the humanities, so your seven years isn’t very unusual. Regardless, postmodernism is primarily a US movement, so perhaps you don’t run into it.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted May 30, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

            Oh I will be quiet then.

    • Posted May 30, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      People do not necessarily believe what they want to believe, but in my experience it takes a heap of evidence to convince someone of a truth that is counter to what they want to believe. That is why changing people’s minds about anthropogenic climate change has been possible, but difficult.

  12. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    What is really needed is evidence based humanities. What social policies really benefit the most people? What social policies really promote their aims for which they were intended? That would tend to skew things to the liberal side of things, but not necessarily to the regressive/authoritarian left extremes which have been popping up in US and to a lesser degree UK and Canadian universities.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Sounds more like sociology or political science, not the humanities.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted May 30, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        Sounds more like sociology or political science, not the humanities.

        They’re not humanities? I’d have lumped them as such (in the milliseconds before the prospectus started it’s trajectory towards the trash can).
        Then again, the last time I tried broadening my brain by studying something in the “humanities” (IIRC it was an OU “Introduction to the Humanities” course or something like that), I threw the required reading into the bin less than half-way through it. Complete crap – not worth the effort of wasting time on. Did manage to get my course deposit back – I think I used it to pay for a course in Astronomy or something similar – because it was still before the official start date of the course.

        • Scott Draper
          Posted May 30, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          “They’re not humanities? ”

          Not usually included as such…they’re social sciences.

        • Posted May 31, 2016 at 2:05 am | Permalink

          Goodness me. You can say that and want to be taken seriously?

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted June 2, 2016 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

            They’re just totally outside my education. I dumped the non-sciences stuff (apart from languages) as soon as I could. No use for it.

  13. Scott Draper
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Kristof’s example of the prominence of conservative law professors is unfortunate. They’ve provided political cover to the GOP on supply side economics, the gold standard, and the imminence of hyperinflation.

    • Gordon
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

      and by the sound of it don’t do any law! However, assuming one did hire a conservative professor into a liberal law school can it be guaranteed that they won’t drift to the centre? And whose centre? The right-wing lawyers I know in New Zealand are probably left-wing democrats in the US

      • Scott Draper
        Posted May 31, 2016 at 12:40 am | Permalink

        Oops, I meant economists.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 12:41 am | Permalink

      Replace “law” with “economics”.

  14. Somite
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I’d like some specificity here. What is a conservative viewpoint that is correct or not highly ideological?

    I’m sure some conservatives are able to compartmentalize and be competent in academia, like religious scientists. But what is a valid or empirically correct conservative viewpoint?

    George Will and David Frum have basically being wrong about everything they have ever written without any consequence simply because they are conservative. This model doesn’t work in academia.

    • Adam M.
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Some people believe affirmative action programs are harmful, even to the people they’re supposed to help. Some believe ethnic diversity doesn’t by itself benefit organizations, as is often claimed. Some believe illegal immigration is bad for the country and bad for the economic well-being of citizens. These are all considered conservative viewpoints, and good arguments can be had about them.

  15. Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I agree in principle that any principles that are defendable with a modicum of rationality should be fair game. But where the dividing line is bothers me.

    For example, a creationist biologist clearly doesn’t know his stuff. But what of one of the current excessive fans of epigenetics?

  16. Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I think Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Chait would be good picks.

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    It’s crucial that college students be exposed to conservative thought, especially to responsible conservative thought — the thinking of what we might call “Burkeans.” The University of Chicago has a long tradition of having such thinkers in its humanities departments, dating back to Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom and their progeny.

    • Somite
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Can you name a conservative effort or policy that has improved societal well-being?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

        You realize that you’re asking this question of a 99% ADA progressive, one who has frequently argued (including in this space) that the rightwing has been wrong about every major issue in American life since before the Revolutionary War, right? The point I wished to make above, and about which I should have been more explicit, is not that that conservative thought is correct, but that it is crucial for students to be exposed to it to enhance their critical-thinking faculties.

        But to accept your challenge, I regard among the major contributions of conservative thought a due regard for western traditions, free markets, and checks & balances on governmental power, as well as the contributions of thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and Thomas Carlyle to “Classical Liberalism.” I would also include the contributions of the “Austrian School” of economics, especially that of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. (N.B., again, that I include them not because I think they’re right — in many respects, I think they’re not — but because the value of their intellectual contributions cannot be denied.)

        • Somite
          Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

          Are modern conservatives for any of these things, including free markets?

          • Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

            Nobody is in fact in favour of free markets because no such things can exist:

            Either there is advertising or there isn’t. If there’s advertising allowed, then preferences are distorted by advertising (or it is useless, but that’s unrealistic).
            If there is a ban on advertising, then there is a distortion (via regulation) there.

            I suspect that many of the “big names” who claim to be in favour of free markets just mean that they want the rules *they* want. Ideological labeling.

        • Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

          Adam Smith reads like a Jean Chretien liberal, or a Red Tory (~”Blue Liberal”) in the traditional (pre Mulroney) Canadian sense, if that.

          For example, he’s not in favour of unlimited lifespan corporations (good luck finding anyone in the mainstream defending *that* today), he’s in favour of public education, he seemingly opposes financialization of the economy, etc. And the invisible hand stuff that many later economists appeal to – not in the text. It is *just one reference* in *all* of the WofN, and has to do with what we now call globalization. Namely, what guarantees there won’t be a race to the bottom on wages, etc.?

          I encourage more people to actually *read* WofN. I was very surprised at the content, and I was prepared for it (having heard lectures making much the same points as the above).

  18. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    simply bull-goose looney,

    Hmmm, not heard that one before. What happens when you have a bat shit on a gander?
    (If “gander” is what you mean by “bull-goose” – or is it Zeus out for the night on the trap and adopting a chimaeric form to increase his range of potential human female partners.)

  19. Posted May 30, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Encountering and dealing with diversity is truly important to all of us as we develop. We should be able to listen to, read about, think about and discuss all ideas in an open, polite forum. All sides of the political spectrum needs to be displayed. History of Lincoln and the Civil War (and all the rest of history) should not be whitewashed, as has happened throughout history.

    Depending on the era in which we’re taught, the curriculum loses certain topics thought unteachable. My kids who were in high school in the 80s were not taught about any of the wars after WWI. Is Civics taught any more? What happened to the notion of there being great value in receiving a well-rounded education (especially in liberal arts)? All knowledge has value: History, religion, mythology,literature, music, art, social sciences, etc. as well as sciences and maths.

    Not permitting an open forum, cancelling speaking engagements, and shouting down speakers is bigoted behavior and reprehensible.

  20. Posted May 30, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    As I wrote on the previous thread, I have no idea how this would work.

    Either politics have an influence on what people conclude in a field or they don’t. If they have (as in economics), then perhaps the whole field of work should be scrapped and rebuilt from scratch because it is not an objective, scholarly pursuit of knowledge.

    Alternatively, if the field is in principle legitimate but its conclusions so uncomfortable to one side of the spectrum that they try to distort them, then a hiring bias against at least the ideologically blinded extremists of that side is unavoidable because under those circumstances the political affiliation cannot be separated from competence. (How many geocentrist astronomers do we need? I’d say zero is just fine, and that number would remain fine even if geocentrism would become a core part of conservatism.)

    If politics don’t influence the conclusions in a field, then the topic should never come up in the selection process, and that’s that.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      +1 my thoughts as well.

    • Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      I think the normative vs. “positive”, or science/technology distinction applies, at least in principle.

      If your field is economics, one has to *explicitly* work in technology, applied science or pure science, just like psychologists and chemists and a few other fields where things are equivocal.

      Now as it happens a lot of “positive” (basic/applied) economics is biased because of the attempt to technology too soon. For example, it is assumed in many cases there will be corporations. Why?

  21. Canoe
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    This topic is made unnecessarily difficult because the label “conservative” was hijacked and has not, for decades, meant what it was originally intended to mean (see e.g. the definition below). It is a label heisted by Republican strategists under which they cobbled together disparate factions. Since when, e.g., was being anti-abortion a “conservative” value? And how do you fit denial of global warming under that label, especially recalling that it was the conservatives, in their time, who created e.g. the National Park system? The examples are legion, but my point is that some of what was cobbled together are points of view that we might welcome into academia, while others, e.g. climate science denial and denial of evolution,have no place in any institution I’d attend. It is the framing that creates the problem.

    “Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and opposes rapid change in society.”

  22. eric
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Agree on no purity tests. Agree on Hedin. I guess I agree on (ideologically) diverse hiring for subjects such as political science. But I really don’t see much basis for it in empirically-tethered subjects such as the hard sciences.

    You know what is better than a chemistry department with a diversity of libs and conservatives? A chemistry department where the students don’t know or care about the political ideology of their professors, because it never comes up, because it’s irrelevant.

    Diversity hiring is (IMO) a question of pros and cons: are the benefits to the students worth the institutional dollar cost, effort, and potential perceived unfairness of doing it. I can see the pro side winning for a lot of instances. I just can’t see it winning for the case of political ideology and empirical sciences. Are there conservative students desperately in need of an inspirational conservative geologist role model? Do the students benefit from having different professors introduce them to the Conservative and Liberal views on quantum mechanics? No, and no.

  23. Zado
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure universities need more conservatives, per se. What they really need is an antidote to what I think of as the “Marx complex.” Marxist theory lies at the core of modern, radical leftism. It’s behind cultural relativism, which discounts Enlightenment values–namely, a reliance on reason and an emphasis on individual rights–as mere Western/bourgeois quirks of culture. Postmodern obscurantism and identity politics naturally follow from this mindset.

    It also focuses people’s understanding of geopolitics through the lens of power inequality. To them, the US’s military superiority subsumes all other facts concerning our conflicts of interest with other cultures, and our violent enemies are routinely excused as victims of that inequality. This goes along nicely with the Marxist dogma that people’s consciousness is a product of the power relationship they find themselves in, and that ideological beliefs don’t actually matter. Hence, leftists will claim until the end of time that radical Islamism is an expression of desperation, no matter how many college educated jihadists appear.

    No, what we need are more liberals–real liberals, who value the Enlightenment (some of whom might have a “conservative” take on the role of government)–and less leftists.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s authoritarianism that’s to blame. The liberals who like to get all upset about every single thing one could offended about really enjoy telling others how wrong they are. I don’t see this as a part of Marxism but a part of feeling superior and controlling others with one’s superiority. Ugh, I had a close friend like this. I use the past tense for a reason and she loved bossing people around so telling them how racist, sexist and homophobic regular non racist non sexist, non homophobic came naturally. Oh the cringe worthy moments I witnessed.

      • Zado
        Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

        I was talking more about the intellectual/theoretical milieu of academia.

        But yes, no doubt, good ol’ self-righteous authoritarianism accounts for much of the behavior we see “liberals” resorting to nowadays.

    • Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      In equal opportunity: I encouraged people above to read Smith. I also encourage people to read Marx (and Keynes, and every other “big name”, but that’s a harder slog).

      And I think that would be a partial antidote. Reading a wide spectrum of thinkers of all kinds seems to do some trick or other. Or something: philosophy students are much less pomo-friendly than, say, English, and as an undergraduate I wanted to figure out why.

  24. Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    In college, I had Frank Luntz as one of my professors. I was lucky to have had a few “brand name” professors, but Frank was probably the most personally accessible, open and engaging professors I had. He was a very popular professor, and despite his obvious conservative leanings made Jesse Jackson and few other left wing sources. He encouraged students to be politically active for whichever candidates (this was in 1992–he had zero issues with students supporting candidates like Ralph Nader or Bill Clinton). And despite holding a course that demanded taking political positions for debates, his bias came through only when students would ask him directly for goes position. I think Penn is worse for not granting him tenure, even though the case could be forcefully made that the controversy wouldn’t have been worth it.

    That said, I loved having Frank as a teacher, and even though I disagree with many (most?) of his positions I still think I am far better off as a person for having known him and learned from him.

  25. LFP
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    On the one hand, what are modern American “conservatives”? To be blunt, they are:

    – science deniers
    – racists
    – homophobes
    – war mongers
    – anti-rationalists
    – hypocrites
    – religious fundamentalists
    – corporate shills

    Do we really need more of that kind of “diversity”? There’s enough of that outside of the Academy, don’t you think?

    On the other hand, as you note, some university departments have devolved into science-free echo chambers (ahem, Gender Studies) that desperately cry out for more diversity of thought.

    So, diversity of thought — yes. More American-style Republicans — no.

    • Posted May 31, 2016 at 5:01 am | Permalink

      Seriously? You’re just dead wrong if you think that ALL American conservatives are like that. Is Richard Posner a science denialist? The argument is to hire conservatives who are not loons. And don’t make the dumb argument that there are no such people.

      I presume you want every professor to have an ideology identical to yours.

  26. LFP2016
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    On the one hand, what are modern American “conservatives”? To be blunt, they are:

    – science deniers
    – racists
    – homophobes
    – war mongers
    – anti-rationalists
    – hypocrites
    – religious fundamentalists
    – corporate shills

    Do we really need more of that kind of “diversity”? There’s enough of that outside of the Academy, don’t you think?

    On the other hand, as you note, some university departments have devolved into science-free echo chambers (ahem, Gender Studies) that desperately cry out for more diversity of thought.

    So, more diversity of thought — yes. More American-style Republicans — no.

    • Posted June 1, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      From my perspective (as a Canadian), and I think that of much of Europe: American conservatives are *Democrats*, at least in its federal party incarnation. (Federal) Republicans are just off the scale. So one needs diversity, but not necessarily in the “conservative” end! Where it is needed is actually in the social democratic, anarchist, the legacy of Marxism, and other *actual* leftist traditions. (And include all the more rational almost pomo, if wanted.) One can add, finally, the “rational religious conservative” stuff, but that doesn’t describe Republicans at all, as far as I can tell, as mentioned above. *Are* there any actual Burkeans around? My former colleague at CMU, Clark Glymour might count, dunno.

  27. Jeremy Tarone
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I agree that a person’s political viewpoint shouldn’t deny him a job at a college or university. The problem, as others have pointed out, is that conservatives in the US don’t hold just one or two bad ideas, they often hold a full deck of bad ideas.

    I question their very ability to discern reality from fiction, if they still support the Republican party. I think most people outside the USA look at the Republicans and wonder how anyone could become so crazy with so many lunatic ideas. More importantly, they support a party that is full of people that make lunatics look bad. By staying in the party and by continuing to vote for Republicans they show a shocking lack of judgment.

    Perhaps it’s harder to see from the inside of United States? Or perhaps it’s harder to see if you don’t consider the whole. The last two decades have shown ample evidence that the right in the USA is badly damaged. Certainly the occasional Republican or conservative sticks his head up and complains about the latest lunacy, but they are usually few and far apart. What’s worse, it shows they see the problem with the right but continue to support it. One or two complains about the lunatic idea that Texas is being invaded by the US armed forces so Obama can take over. The problem is such an idea is held by a not insignificant number of people in conservative circles. Yes, it’s a minority view, but lots still hold it. Many more believe he’s not an American. Even more think Obama is a secret Muslim. Many think Obama has created secret FEMA concentration camps in America. And lets not forget the ACA death panels. Which brings us to Obamacare itself, and the 60 votes by congress to repeal it. A congress that decided they would block everything Obama did before he even got sworn in. Regardless of what the effect is on the American people.

    Where is the conservative backlash at a party that has become insane? A political movement that cares more about power than the people they are supposed to represent?

    If they still support the Republican party or vote for Republicans they don’t have the critical thinking skills necessary to be a university or college teacher.

    I know many see just the Republican they are voting for, but Republicans are acting like a parliamentary system these days, supporting each other and demanding support. The party doesn’t deal with their crazies. Voting or supporting one Republican is supporting all of them, and the party. A party that has long ago gone off the rails.

    On a different subject (sort of) I listened to The Rubin Report recently, he interviewed Yaron Brook (Ayn Rand video). I thought it was a terrible interview, with Brook saying a lot of things that are not true, generalizations and hyperbole without challenge. The usual Republican economic spiel. The one example that sticks out and is germane was Brook stated liberals only care about money, unlike conservatives. He used himself as an example. He said he’s a teacher and this was his proof that conservatives don’t care about money but Liberals do. Completely neglecting the fact that there are liberal teachers too. Much of the rest of the interview was similar. At least I thought so.

    • Adam M.
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s very possible that a lot of Republicans are voting for what they see as the lesser evil just like many Democrats are. I suspect many of them wish for the old Republican party, which was interested in solving the nation’s problems, in serving their constituents, and in governing. I.e., they don’t like the modern Republican party, but they can’t bring themselves to vote Democrat. I know that’s the case for some of them, anyway.

    • Posted June 1, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Now that I read this I think of it as very parallel to the “why are there still Catholics” thread we have had elsewhere.


      (In my view, the Democrats wrt foreign policy especially are a danger to the world and to the US as well, but …)

  28. Joseph Lapsley
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    In my experience with my field, history, overtly conservative scholars have largely held, at their core, fantastical views of history that do a disservice to the search for truth. Are there people on the left, or liberals who do likewise? Sure. But I haven’t seen it as a pervasive syndrome in the same way. I don’t see any reason a department should go out of their way to hire such a person. Regarding Posner: he’s a judge, and the law has an inherent conservative bias (precedent and all that), so he is hardly an appropriate example concerning the academy.

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