Report: Why Universities Lack Needed Intellectual Diversity

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By William Murchison

So why, if you must ask — and you probably need to, given the gravity of the matter – does the left dominate the American professoriate? Is it because liberals are smarter than anyone else?

It’s – um – a bit more complicated than that and a whole lot less obvious on the surface.

Jon A. Shields, an assistant government professor at Claremont McKenna College, makes a run at the question in the Fall issue of National Affairs quarterly.  His “A Conservative Professor Shortage?” notes, among other horrors, that conservatives in the social sciences “have practically disappeared from many areas of inquiry.” A mere 2 percent of literature profs, by one count, are conservative. And you wonder where Milton and Hawthorne and Cooper have gone?

A major cause is the quest for diversity, a cause on which conservatives sometimes hang their hats, failing to recognize the new ideas that come with new and diverse academic populations. “When women entered the academy in large numbers,” Shields writes, they “brought more leftism and more intellectual diversity.” One study has shown that “female professors [express] more anti-conservative bias than men.” Sociologist Neil Gross says female sociologists are 20 percent likelier than their male colleagues to identify with the left. Black professors lean left as a group, but they do, as with Stephen Carter and Randall Kennedy, bring a different social perspective: not unfriendly to traditionalist values.

Liberals, nonetheless, don’t like political diversity as idea or practice. They particularly dislike evangelicals, not to mention Republicans and members of the NRA.

“Perhaps the greatest obstacle [to intellectual diversity],” says Shields, “is the way in which leftist interests and interpretations have been baked into many humanistic disciplines” – sociology, psychology literature, and history in particular. This ideological overload tends to reduce the appeal of these disciplines to conservative students, “who avoid majors that would allow them to study the world.” “Structural causes” – more than personal animus — thus reinforce a situation already unfavorable to conservatives. Who wants to get shot at – intellectually, to be sure – in these already strained and fractious times?

That conservative students, seeing themselves as an oppressed minority, disdain very frequently to cry “quarter,” shows the persistence of the human spirit in the face of adversity. Which doesn’t quite solve the problem of one-sided bias in the search for Truth (assuming Truth remains a recognized quest over on the diversity-minded left).

It helps anyway to know of the unrest that Shields describes in academia among the friends of true diversity – members, for instance, of the Heterodox Academy, “an organization that is expressly concerned with the absence of center-right thinkers in many of the social sciences and humanities.” Nearly half its 2000 members – academics and graduate students – see themselves as progressive or centrist. Sounds subversive enough maybe to get somewhere.

Vive la revolution!

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