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:
He 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.