This op-ed in today’s Washington Post recycles all the unpersuasive anecdotal and statistical complaints usually raised by conservatives when moaning about the liberal bias in higher education. The piece is miserably composed, but it’s bound to assume its rightful place in the anthology of right-wing arguments on the subject of “intellectual diversity” in the nation’s universities.
After dispensing with the obligatory mention of Lawrence Summers — who is, objectively speaking, the greatest intellectual martyr since Socrates — Robert Maranto applies the usual paint-by-numbers methodology that characterizes this particular genre of lament:
Step 1. Describe the heart-rending case of an anonymous, conservative friend who — unable to withstand the daily teasing and groin-punching from his liberal fascist colleagues — finally decided to take his ball and go home:
A sociologist I know recalls that his decision to become a registered Republican caused “a sensation” at his university. “It was as if I had become a child molester,” he said. He eventually quit academia to join a think tank because “you don’t want to be in a department where everyone hates your guts.”
This is almost too silly for comment. Every university department on the planet includes someone whom the rest of the group loathes; in nearly every instance, this is because the people in question are insufferable monsters who badger their colleagues, drive students from the program, refuse to pull their service weight, and extend already pointless meetings with pedantic detours about things of interest only to them. Not to put too fine a point to it, but Maranto’s friend was probably that guy.
Step 2. Bitch about that department that refused to hire you at some point in your career, and insinuate a political motive to explain the unthinkable slight.:
Everything seemed to be going well until I mentioned, in a casual conversation with department members over dinner, that I planned to vote Republican in the upcoming presidential election. Conversation came to a halt, and someone quickly changed the subject. The next day, I thought my final interview went fairly well. But the department ended up hiring someone who had published far less, but apparently “fit” better than I did. At least that’s what I was told when I called a month later to learn the outcome of the job search, having never received any further communication from the school.
I, too, am stunned that nearly every school with whom I’ve ever interviewed refused to hire me. Indeed, many of them even chose to hire candidates who’d published and taught less than I had at the time. When I figure out the reason for this, you will surely read about it in the Washington Post or FrontPage Magazine.
Step 3. Invoke seemingly non-partisan data to buttress your anecdotes; downplay the fact that that the data have not come from peer-reviewed sources but instead from “scholarship” funded and/or published by the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and A-List wingnut foundations.
[A]cademic job markets seem to discriminate against socially conservative PhDs. Stanley Rothman of Smith College and S. Robert Lichter of George Mason University find strong statistical evidence that these academics must publish more books and articles to get the same jobs as their liberal peers. Among professors who have published a book, 73 percent of Democrats are in high-prestige colleges and universities, compared with only 56 percent of Republicans.
A few observations on the source here. For starters, Maranto chooses to identify Lichter and Rothman by their university affiliations rather than by the right-wing research group — the Center for Media and Public Affairs — which they founded in the 1980s and through which their “scholarship” is usually channeled. Lichter and Rothman are probably best known for their laughably skewed studies of “media bias” in (to cite one example) which they completely disregarded over 98 percent of the sample data to reach a prearranged conclusion about the liberal slant at PBS. I haven’t read the study to which Maranto refers, but if the similarly-themed past work of Lichter and Rothman is any guide, it will likely please their financial patrons at the Scaife, Coors and Smith Richardson Foundations, which have offered them hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. Maranto’s other sources of data are all connected to one another through the American Enterprise Institute, which recently hosted them at a conference and is, moreover, publishing their work as a collection of essays next year.
Step 4. Conclude with some bland observation about “intellectual diversity” while claiming to have no interest in ideological quotas; publish your work with an institution that exists for no other reason than to shape public policy along conservative lines.
Ultimately, universities will have to clean their own houses. Professors need to re-embrace a culture of reasoned inquiry and debate. And since debate requires disagreement, higher education needs to encourage intellectual diversity in its hiring and promotion decisions with something like the fervor it shows for ethnic and racial diversity. It’s the only way universities will earn back society’s respect and reclaim their role at the center of public life.
I won’t even bother with Maranto’s implication that “ethnic and racial diversity” has nothing to do with “intellectual diversity.” But if anyone believes this op-ed — and the “research” it touts — won’t prove useful to the Academic Bill of Rights community, they’re simply too credulous for this world.