There has been a bit of internet discussion on this question the last week or so, and a good question it is. It was prompted by a paper by Ethan Fosse of Harvard and Neil Goss of the University of British Columbia entitled “Why Are Professors Liberal?” Their answers are typically self serving in their ignorance and blindness, but what does one expect from leftist academics. Since the beginning of the progressive era in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, such statist liberals have always been convinced of their moral and intellectual superiority, even though there is very little evidence it is deserved.
The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, an excellent organization fighting to improve higher education in North Carolina put together brief responses to this question from a handful of conservative and libertarian academics. Everything they say would be familiar to anyone who has attended a college or university in the United States or knows about them. Before I state my frustration at the right for this situation, let me quote from one respondent who tells of a situation I can relate to.
Here is Mark Bauerlein of Emory University commenting on the left wing hegemony in Academia that affected me way back when:
Although one is tempted to quibble with this or that contention in “Why Are Professors Liberal?” the ultimate conclusion to the study rings altogether true to me. It is: “the professoriate, along with a number of other knowledge work fields, has been ‘politically typed’ as appropriate for and welcoming of people with broadly liberal political sensibilities, and as inappropriate for conservatives.” Whether that reputation is deserved or not, it has an impact upon students with any ideological radar and they respond accordingly. If they sense at age 19 that an occupation is uncongenial to their dispositions, they’ll drift elsewhere. Thus a self-selection process reinforces the reputation over time.
The pattern is acute in academia, more so than in other professions. This is because students have sustained exposure to academic workplaces all through college; they see them up close, and they have direct dealings with the professionals. They don’t spend years learning in hospitals, courtrooms, labs, software firms, TV stations, etc., and so they can’t derive judgments of the “occupational politics” of medicine, law, and so on. But in class they soon sense the values of their teachers (teachers are a lot more transparent than they think), and they learn what counts as good work and bad. As liberal and leftist values circulate freely from one class to the next, the impression hardens and conservatives steer clear. After all, for even the successful ones, job security in humanities fields takes around six years of graduate school, a few years of post-doc and adjunct work, then six years as an assistant professor before that halo of tenure descends. Would bright conservative students want to throw their 20s and 30s away on such a career gamble?
In my mid-20s I aspired to go into higher education. I was getting a masters and had planned on getting a Ph.D. and then teaching at a university. Yet the more I learned about higher education in America the more discouraged I got about working there. I knew of the rank left wing, secular bias as an undergraduate at Arizona State University, but when I decided that I wanted to go into academia it is because I wanted to fight it. But looking at all the work and time it would take to get a Ph.D. and then what I would have to deal with when I got there was too much to ask.
And where was the conservative “movement” I had become part of several years before? The right was absorbed in Ronald Reagan’s administration; politics and public policy all the time. That we in the “movement” should actually challenge the leftist hegemony in academia never seemed to occur to anyone on the right in the mid-1980s, and nothing much has changed. I’ve come to see the right’s strategy toward the cultural influence professions (CIPs) as “the three C’s,” comment, criticize and complain. That this never actually changes anything doesn’t seem to faze any of the politically obsessed.
It started with William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale in 1951, an erudite compilation of the growing secularization and hostility of the American academy toward Western Civilization and America’s Founding values. It was of course seminal in making conservatism a viable public philosophy of American governance, but it did nothing to encourage the right to put “boots on the ground” to challenge the cultural hegemony of the left. With the heady days of getting Goldwater nominated, and then Reagan elected, I guess the conservative “movement” figured American culture would take care of itself. Well, it didn’t, and all the professions that have the most influence on the worldview of the American people (i.e. Hollywood and entertainment, academia and education, and media and journalism) are only now more entrenched than ever with the left-liberal mindset. And strangely enough, that is because most of the people working in these professions are of the left!
So we can talk all we want about why professors are liberal, or why there are so few conservatives in academia, but unless we do something it’s all just talk (little did King Crimson know how right they were when they recorded the song “Elephant Talk.”). I’ll give the primary reason there are so few conservatives in academia and the rest of the CIPs: conservative apathy. Yep, it’s our fault. The right has no problem thinking strategically every which way but Sunday about politics, but when it comes to culture all they can do is talk.
If as a young aspiring academic I could have tied into a larger narrative of Truth, Justice and The American Way, along with support groups and networks of like minded CIPs, and had the encouragement of mentors I could learn and seek direction from who were fighting the good fight before me, maybe I would have stuck it out and been part of the growing ranks of right minded individuals working in the CIPs. I’m tired of talking, so that’s why I founded The Culture Alliance (http://theculturealliance.org/). Come join us if you are too.