Is Princeton's Faculty too Liberal?


Mr. Wiener teaches history at the University of California, Irvine; his latest book is Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud and Politics in the Ivory Tower (The New Press, 2005).

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This week Mr. Wiener is visiting Princeton, his alma mater, to discuss his latest book. He took the opportunity to address the question of bias in academia.

Is the Princeton faculty too liberal? Oped columnist (and Princeton Ph.D.) George F. Will complains that faculties like Princeton's are "intellectual versions of one-party nations;" David Horowitz of FrontPageMag.com has complained about what he calls "the atmosphere of intolerance and hate towards conservatives" at Princeton.

How liberal is the Princeton faculty? The Center for Democratic Politics has collected and published the 2004 campaign contribution data on its website www.opensecrets.org. Now we know: Princeton employees gave $252,000 to the Democrats in 2004 and only $22,000 to the Republicans. That's 92 percent Democratic. The figure is for "employees," which of course includes staff as well as faculty. It's not perfect, but it's the best we have.

Princeton is not very different from other elite colleges and universities — Yale contributions were 93 percent Democratic, Columbia was 90 percent and Harvard was on top at 96 percent Democratic.

The absence of Republicans on the faculty is nothing new. Back in 1951, a student at Yale wrote a book complaining that, while the school derived its "moral and financial support from Christian individualists," the faculty worked on "persuading the sons of those supporters to be atheistic socialists." The student was William F. Buckley Jr., and his book was God and Man at Yale. His solution was straightforward: fire the leftists and replace them with God-fearing Republicans.

Today things have changed. In the fifties, the complaint was that Ivy League faculties were full of communists and socialists; today the complaint is that they are full of Democrats. The definition of the unacceptable has shifted to the right.

The Republicans' proposed solution, as Russell Jacoby argues in the Nation magazine (April 4), involves their embrace of doctrines they have denounced for decades: academic freedom and affirmative action. "Academic freedom" until now has meant protecting professors with politically unpopular ideas from those who would get rid of them — mostly those on the right, like Buckley. Now conservative activists are arguing that "academic freedom" requires protection of conservative students from liberal professors. They also propose something like affirmative action to increase the representation of Republicans on the faculty at schools like Princeton.

This campaign is being led by David Horowitz, the guy who placed an ad in the Daily Princetonian in 2001 attacking reparations for slavery — and then refused to pay for it because the paper ran an editorial criticizing him. As the result of his current efforts, an "Academic Bill of Rights" has been introduced by Republicans in more than a dozen state legislatures. It has many provisions that sound benign: The declared goal is a faculty that should "welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions." But does this "diversity" of faculty voices on "unsettled questions" require giving creationism equal time with evolution in the biology department? Two-thirds of Americans want creationism taught along with evolution. Should Princeton hire more professors who oppose abortion? Forty percent of Americans say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

The idea that faculty opinion should mirror "unsettled questions" should also require affirmative action for fundamentalist Christians — who make up 30 to 40 percent of the American population, but are barely represented among Princeton professors. And what about the 40 percent of Americans who say they attend church regularly? Until the 1960s, Princeton had a "chapel rule" requiring church attendance of all students. Maybe now we need a new chapel rule — this time, for the faculty — requiring that 40 percent show up for mandatory prayer every Sunday morning: But no Muslims, please!

Conservative activists want affirmative action to increase the number of Republican professors at places like Princeton, but for some reason they are not advocating affirmative action to bring more women or minorities to the faculty, or to bring more Democrats to the faculties at West Point, Pepperdine or the University of Chicago Economics Department. Maybe "balance" isn't their highest goal.

It's true that the faculty at Princeton, like most schools, is strongly Democratic. Why is that? Maybe it's because liberals are more interested in careers in academia, while conservatives are more interested in careers in business. Is that bad? There's no good evidence that Republican students are graded down or otherwise punished or discriminated against by professors who are Democrats. Faculty hiring at Princeton — and everywhere else — should be based on academic qualifications rather than on political criteria.


This article was first published by the Daily Princetonian and is reprinted with permission.

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Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

That is an astonishingly lame response that--despite its length--doesn't manage to address a single assertion I made, and doesn't meet any of the challenges I made, either.

If there is a form of evidence stronger than first-hand perceptual observation, I'm wondering: could you name it? Is there a form of evidence that isn't, ultimately, derivative on the observational? Instead of dancing all around that issue, why not try tackling it?

Testimonial evidence is not, of course, conclusive all by itself; I never said it was. But how does one avoid relying on it? What sort of evidence does one have if one dismisses it? These are primer issues in the theory of evidence, and a person with nothing to say about them--that would be you--has little business lecturing anyone on the subject.

With respect to the right-wing/left wing issue, which you haven't bothered to address, what you should be 'stunned' by is your own mathematical incompetence. But I'm not going to repeat myself, because if a person won't bother to address an argument the first time around, there is no point in hoping he will do so at round 2. You can call my argument "bizarre" or anything you please, but if you go back and read it, you will see that what is quite bizarre is your inability to deal with the facts I've identified.

Your discussion of the "presupposition of innocence" is based on a transparent fallacy. The cases of proselytization I am talking about are cases to which *I* was privy--not you, unless you're claiming omniscience, which wouldn't surprise me at this point. There is no way for you to know how far the inquiry went in those cases. And the fact that you're willing to help yourself to "presumptions" about cases you've never seen tells the reader all he needs to know about how you deal with evidence. You are "presuming" innocence about cases where the burden of proof has already been met--and assuming, solipsistically, that because you weren't there to see the burden of proof being met, it never was. Remarkably enough, if an inquiry takes place in the woods, and Derek Catsam is not there to witness it, the inquiry takes place nonetheless.

I am not even coming close to saying that my accusation is a proof. I am saying that I have seen and heard cases where the SEEING was the proof. You have managed to work yourself into the absurd epistemological predicament of claiming that SEEING something is a weaker proof than some other, completely unspecified form of proof. Again, let me ask: what form? What sort of proof are you demanding, i.e., whose credentials would be superior to seeing something with your own eyes or hearing it with your own ears? If you can't answer that question, you have absolutely no case. And so far you haven't even made an attempt to address it.

Incidentally, I have no idea how you presume that because we are roughly the same age, we have had the same experiences. But presumption seems to be one methodological precept you hold dear.

Also incidentally: you were the one who said that "the majority" of "us" do not proselytize, and I await your evidence for that cosmic-sized claim. So far, you've offered the evidential equivalent of the null set. And contrary to your claim, the burden of proof principle does not merely apply to "accusations"; it applies to ALL positive assertions, of which that is conspicuously one. I would have thought a person with your experiential background and love of "quaint" methodological precepts would have known that. But whether you do or you don't, it happens to be true, and since it is, the ball is in your court.

Toward the end of your piece, you begin demanding specifics of the anecdotal evidence I have. One post ago you were saying you DIDN'T want anecdotes, because anecdotes aren't real evidence. Now you want specific anecdotes because anecdotal evidence is only acceptable when it's REALLY anecdotal. Why don't you try making up your mind before you start issuing demands?

Finally, recall that Wiener's piece was about Princeton. It wasn't about "history professors." I wasn't merely talking about history professors; I was talking about academics in the humanities and social sciences, quite generally.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

I am a 1991 graduate of Princeton, former editor in chief of The Princeton Tory (a conservative publication), an occasional lecturer in the Princeton politics department, and an adjunct professor of philosophy at a nearby college. I've been watching Princeton politics from close-up now since 1987.

I hate to burst Professor Wiener's bubble, but there is a problematic fact he seems to have missed in his cozy visit back to Old Nassau: the faculty may lean to the left, but the student body has shifted to the right on both economic and national security issues.

I spent my teaching days at Princeton writing letters of recommendation for centrist or right-leaning undergraduates pursuing careers in diplomacy and national security. (I still get requests for letters of recommendation, and just the other day a student stopped me on campus to talk about the pros and cons of...privatization.) I was happy to write those letters, and often enough, they worked. In any case, of the several hundred students I taught at Princeton, I would say that only the tiniest fraction--less than 10%--were genuinely on "the left."

But to mirror Professor Wiener's fustian prose, let me conclude by saying that student matriculation at Princeton should be based on academic qualifications, not political criteria. I for one have never favored affirmative action on racial grounds, much less ideological ones. I wonder if Professor Wiener can boast a similar consistency.

Speaking of boasting, I vividly remember Professor Wiener boasting to The Nation about 15 years ago that the right had been "marginalized" (his word) on campus by "the energies" of the left. (This was in an exchange with Alan Kors, a libertarian history professor at Penn. I can dig up the citation if anyone doubts the accuracy of my account.) Wiener's formulation suggests, of course, that the left was explicitly USING college campuses for the express purpose of effecting the desired marginalization. To hear such a person lecture us now about the dangers of politicizing academia is a bit much. But in academia, such sanctimoniousness and hypocrisy are par for the course.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Mr Green--

Is it your contention that left-wing propagandizing does NOT take place in the classroom? That it is NOT a problem? At a certain point, doesn't this ostrich-in-the-sand attitude have to come to grips with reality?

As for all those "right wing" classes, if Wiener is to be believed, there are far fewer right wing professors than left wing ones in the academy. So even if all the right wingers were propagandizing, they wouldn't be able to approximate the harm being done by the fraction of left wing ones who are.

Incidentally, your first rhetorical question represents an embarrassing confession of ignorance. No prominent "right winger" is suggesting that slavery be depicted as a benign or justified institution. To ask a question of this sort is to betray one's complete ignorance of the spectrum of political thought. Ah, diversity....

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

The accuser has the burden of proof--and has met it. There is no stronger evidence than first-hand observation. I have 15 years in the academy at multiple institutions and have seen the phenomenon I'm describing over and over again.

A next-best form of evidence is testimonial evidence, and I have discussed the issue with dozens of academics, left, right, and otherwise at dozens of institutions, who confirm and have fine-tuned my observations. In fact, I've met academics who straightforwardly admit that they proselytize in the classroom and that they have the right to.

Incidentally, before lecturing me on evidential methods, you may want to go back and read what I wrote with a little more care. The only proposition to which I'm committed is that left-wing proselytization takes place in the classroom and that it is a problem. I made no quantitative claims about "majorities" or "minorities." I'm merely committed to saying that proselytization takes place--to such a degree as to constitute a problem.

If you read your own passage a little more closely, you will discover that YOU are the one making unfounded quantitative claims about "the overwhelming majority of us" who "don't proselytize", who are "healthy skeptics" and who are agnostic between left and right. That claim goes WAY beyond anything I said. Evidence, please?

Nor did I say that "more left-wing professors proselytize than right-wing ones". If right-wingers are a tiny percentage of the aggregate, and ALL of them are (ex hypothesi) proselytizing, it would take a SMALL number of left-wing proselytizers to constitute a BIGGER problem than the right-wing ones. I honestly don't know how you've managed to get from that claim of mine to the proposition that "more left-wing professors proselytize than right wing ones." I didn't say that, and nothing I said implies it.

Actually, I was only assuming "ex hypothesi" that 100% of right-wingers proselytize (a simplifying assumption that seems to have gone under your otherwise rather touchy radar screen). But since NOT all right wingers DO proselytize, my point can be made stronger: if not all right wingers proselytize and there are a tiny number of them in sum, then given their larger numbers, proselytization by a relatively SMALL number of left wingers will constitute a bigger problem than proselytization by right wingers. It's a little problematic to be lectured so loftily about 'evidence' by a person incapable of grasping such elementary facts.

You say provide something "outside of anecdotal evidence." You'll have to explain to me what form of evidence is BETTER than anecdotal evidence for the events that I'm alleging to exist. ALL evidence of human events reduces to observational evidence, and anecdotes are simply testimonial claims about observations made. Since you are the one making the positive assertion here, you'll have to meet your burden of proof: that we can somehow dismiss evidence simply because it is "anecdotal." (Incidentally, in consistency, shouldn't you be applying your own standard to yourself? What is the non-anecdotal evidence that "the overwhelming majority of us work very hard not to proselytize and work hard enough to..." If that isn't an anecdotal claim, I'd be curious how you operationalized the variable "working hard enough.")

Speaking of evidence, could you show me exactly where I've made "blanket accusations"? More precisely: WHAT is the blanket accusation you claim I've made?

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Sorry, the above was meant to respond to Derek Catsam.

Seth Cable Tubman - 3/23/2005

You are completely right. The Republicans have politiczed everything within their grasp: security, health care, fiscal concerns, religion. Now they're going after education. Big news to Republicans: Life ain't fair. If it was, you'd be relegated to the nuthouse, and the average worker would earn $500,000 AND send their seven kids to Princeton tution-free. But life ain't fair, my roiling Republican friends. You messed up, bucked up, now it's time to shut up and let those who have a brain in their head run the show.

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/23/2005

Dr. Khajawa --
Your "first-hand observation" comment is, to be frank, nonsense. We are roughly the same age, so I would imagine that in a comparable time span, my observations as a student and professor are as legitimate as yours. There are actually lots and lots of things substantially strionger than the anecdotal evidence that you are claiming as being so vital, especially when it comes to matters of fact. For one thing, that someone claims to have been prosletyzed to does not mean that they were actually being prosletyzed to. Sorry for the passive construction, but with the absence of any actual cases [beyond that welalth of experience of yours, that is] any other construction would create a false subject. A student once accused me of "hating white people," apparently unaware that some of my best Moms and Dads are white. the accusation is not evidence. It also is not true. Let's not confuse evidence with argument.
And I did both read and grasp what you wrote the first time around -- your bizarre argument that in essence asserted that right-wing prosletyzers cannot be doing as much harm as left wing ones was particularly stunning.
As for my supposed generalization, again you miss the point of accusations. My generalization is based on a presupposition that most of us do not commit the sin to which you ascribe so many of us. In other words, my presumption is the same as yours -- that prosletyzing is a bad thing. It is also based on the same experiences as yours (I am assuming we both have PhD's and are both professors, and thus that we have effectively the same experiences; you are two years my elder, so if so you have that over me) that were once so crucial tyo your argument. The difference is that my generalization presupposes innocence. Since in this society we always presume innocence, my assertion that the overwhelming majority of professors do not do X (in this case prosletyze) is far more legitimate than your assertions about the insidious many who do. It is also my contention that most professors are not guilty of bestiality. It is not my burden to prove that generalization -- it would be the responsibility of someone who made an accusation that most or even many professors do engage in such acts to prove it. And not just by saying that you 'know of" such cases or that you have heard from others who know of such cases.
And of course your clever little reversal that somehow there is a burden on me to prove that something does not exist is neither here nor there. I am not making an accusation. Even as for your vaunted anecdotal evidence, you have not actually shown any cases, you have actually hidden this evidence that you claim is so darned powerful -- that you "know of cases," not one of which you actually cited, does not actually show that you do know of such cases. Of the thousands upon thousands of professors teaching history, you have not shown even anecdotal evidence of a single one being ideologically biased, and you have maintained that the very accusation constitutes proof. The accusation is merely the first step. An accusation is not evidence. A 1991 Princeton graduate with all of that experiential background that you claim ought to know as much.


E Leon - 3/23/2005

Please provide evidence of Conservatives advocating affirmative action in academia in favor of conservatives. This statement is hard to believe and really should be backed up.

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/22/2005

Professor Khawaja--
Doesn't the accuser have the burden of proof? It is a quaint belief, but one to which I adhere. And so in response to your "ostrich-in-the-sand" comment, it seems that the burden is on you to prove that a substantial number of professors on the left do propagandize. It is not the professoriate's responsibility to prove that we do not. I resent your implication, as should the overwhelming majority of us who work very hard not to prosletyze and who have worked hard enough at what we do to have developed a healthy skepticism of both the left and the right. Further, do you have the evidence for the fact that more left-wing professors prosletuyze than right wing ones, even given the disparities between their representation? I would guess not. So please provide something outside of anecdotal evidence. Show the systematic abuse of the classrooms if it is out there. Once you cannot do so (and you cannot) please refrain from blanket accusations that do not hold. If you actually want to improve things (and I wish there were more ideological diversity as well, I'm just not convinced this is a demand and not a supply issue) rather than engage in fingerpointing, there are better arguments as to why we need more diverse classrooms than vacuous generalized accusations that do not reflect what most of us historians, left or right, like to call "facts."


Ralph E. Luker - 3/21/2005

Bush and Cheney are both United Methodists, as I am. I cannot see that it makes one iota of difference in public policy. As a UM, I sure don't feel any affinity with their programmatic directions.

John H. Lederer - 3/21/2005

I don't mean literally that Bush is either a Congregationalist (now UCC) or a Baptist, but rather those traditions.

Although, while at Andover, Bush was required to attend church 6 days a week -- though supposedly ecumenical, it was Congregational in all but name-- so I suppose that could be cliamed as a Congregational background.

Another interesting question, as long as I am thinking of religion and politics, are Roman Catholics' shifting political persuasion. This is another church that I think may have low barriers between mixing the theological and the political.

John H. Lederer - 3/21/2005

Yes, I think it has. Of course that depends on the definition of left and right. Those political tests currently popular on the Internet that have two dimensions are perhaps more revealing.

The switch of the South is an important factor.

The switch of the South from democrat to republican had two effects. For democrats that meant the loss of the the conservative wing of their party and a consequent switch to the left of the center. It also left democrats with, as their religious influence, the liberal strain of American religion -- a mixture of pacifism and insttitutional social welfare.

For republicans the effect was of gaining the south was more mixed than just a leftward swing. It added a tendency towards populism and a religious tradition much more willing to force social mores by government (the so-called "Religious Right" which had been largely democratic). Both, of course, are anathema to the Goldwater republican --"out of my pockets and out of my bedroom" "deliver the mail, defend our shores and stay out of our livess' --which we might see today as a bit towards libertarianism.

"Left" and "right" might not catch the flavor of what is going on. I think by most traditional measures, though, I would say that Republicans have moved left -- certainly by the economic measure they have.

Now that I think of it...it is interesting that Bush combines two religious traditions -- the New England Congregational and the Southern Baptist. Have to think about that one.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/21/2005

At his most exotic, McCarthy never claimed that any academic department was made up exclusively of Communists. Did you get that? Jon Wiener is responding to the observation of critics far more responsible than David Horowitz that some academic departments are made up of solid phalanxes of Democrats. Why would that be? Is it that academic people like to hire people who are like themselves? That's a normal, but not necessarily healthy, instinct.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/21/2005

Mr. Lederer, Let me get this straight: you _think_ the Republicans have shifted to the Left. Is that what you _meant_ to say? Have you thought carefully about that? If you mean that Bush magnifies the state in a way that Goldwater would not have, I can understand that. But the Republicans have shifted to the Left? That's a mind-boogling claim to _this_ Republican.

John H. Lederer - 3/21/2005

That's not the question. I agree that there has always been a difference --- but the question is whether it has been growing smaller or larger.

I think Kerry, as an example, is to the left of Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, JFK, or Scoop Jackson. Hubert Humphrey, you will recall had his early political career adorned with kicking the communists and extremists out of the party in the late 40's.

It is difficult to imagine Kerry kicking the Michael Moores, and others of that ilk out of the Party, or forcing Dean to run as a third party candidate ala' Henry Wallace.

Of course, I think the republicans have shifted a bit to the left as well. Bush is certainly no Goldwater.

John H. Lederer - 3/21/2005

Michael Godwin, the lawyer for the ETF coined the law named after him:

"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."

Perhaps I could gain a small meaure of fame by a codicil, Lederer's Law:

"As an online discussion of liberalism in academia grows longer, the probablity of a mention of Sen. Joseph McCarthy approaches one."

McCarthyism is of great utility in discussion -- far greater in some respects than Hitler. Hitler symbolizes totalitarianism extended to an extreme and savage degree, but its direction is ambiguous -- it may be totaliarinism arrived at from the left (it was after all the "Nationalsozialistische deutsche Arbeiter Partei", or "National Socialist German Workers' Party" that gave rise to the acronym) or from the right.

On the other hand, McCarthyism is unidimensional. A faculty member with politically incorrect beliefs beliefs may be cast out (or better eliminated in the hiring decision) or may be forced to apologize for his thoughts and beliefs, and forced to attend retraining on what he should think, but that is not McCarthyism. It is only McCarthyism if done to one of leftist beliefs. This is very convenient, and explains why a relatively minor blip in history is continually referred to and its meaning developed and expanded.

Van L. Hayhow - 3/21/2005

No, not so much. There has always been a difference between a liberal democrat (think John Kerry) and a socialist or a communist. The point is so obvious, it should hardly be worth mentioning.

John H. Lederer - 3/21/2005

"Today things have changed. In the fifties, the complaint was that Ivy League faculties were full of communists and socialists; today the complaint is that they are full of Democrats. The definition of the unacceptable has shifted to the right."

Of course an alternative explanation is that Democrats have shifted to the left.....

Michael William Giese - 3/21/2005

Everyone should realize that McCarthyism meant to do much more than "sniff out one or two hidden Commies." Its purpose and larger effect were to damn all those associated with left-wing ideas (who were largely Democrats), by innuendo and out-right lies associating certain vulnerable individuals with the Communist Party. It is in fact very parallel to the efforts now being made by right-wingers to tar anyone and everyone (again largely Democrats) willing to speak up in defense of free speech by those like Ward Churchill, who dare to voice topics that wound the hyper-patriotic sensibilities of the right.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/21/2005

When Professor Wiener suggests, as he does here, that the focus of attack has shifted rightward over the last 50 years, he draws a parallel between McCarthyite attacks on suspected Communists then and Horowitzian attacks on suspected Democrats now. It's a way of looking at things that is peculiarly comfortable with the status quo -- something that is usually the conservatives' strength and flaw. In fact, McCarthyism aimed to sniff out one or two hidden Commies; Horowitz points to Democrat monoliths. Not very parallel, at all, are they?

Michael Green - 3/21/2005

Bravo to Jon Wiener. And let me add another point to this. Right-wingers claim that those of us who fancy ourselves on the left are trying to brainwash our students. First, when I teach the history of slavery in America, for example, does that mean I am a leftist because I suggest to students that it was a horrific institution? Second, does it occur to the right wing that the real indoctrination courses are the ones they teach, and therefore they presume that we are doing the same?