November 19, 2004

Have Liberals Corrupted the Academy?

I really want to get outraged over the fact that Republicans are outnumbered in universities, but I'm not. Or I want to be careful about being outraged. There are plenty of cases where this stuff simply doesn't matter. The first step is to realize that not everyone is quite so "into" politics as, um, political bloggers. A Democrat teaching an English class, say, is perfectly capable of lecturing and thinking about a novel or poem in a way that leads him or her to very conservative ideas. I've seen it happen! It's cognitive dissonance at its finest, and the best professors embrace it without letting politics intrude.

Of course, the bad thing about using English as an example is that most of the scholarship here relies heavily on certain strands of literary theory, which is not really a mode of academic inquiry so much as a covert political agenda. But while this state of affairs is no doubt perpetuated by the number of liberals in English departments, its real, root cause is laziness and a recalcitrant orthodoxy. Adding more Republicans could probably shake things up here—but so could more Democrats of a certain kind.

In law school, or in economics, or in political science, then party affiliation might make a difference. But how much? A lot of academic scholarship is so specialized, and so rigorous, that it's just plain difficult for one's political views to skew one's work. If I'm writing a breezy op-ed about U.S. policy towards Iran, then sure, the thing's inevitably going to reflect my politics. On the other hand, if I'm sitting down to research and write a journal article about Iran's influence over Ismail Herat, then there might be less room for my views to shine through. And if I'm spending night and day working on this sort of thing, well, chances are I won't even remember who I voted for in the last election when I'm done.

When all else fails, another way of thinking about this problem is that if you consider the political inclinations of the "Western World" in aggregate, college professors are pretty representative—since American conservatives are a far-right and rather marginal group on this larger stage.
-- Brad Plumer 2:56 AM || ||