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Feb 12, 2004 5:18 am


Alma Materdoxy ...



The Duke Conservative Union has raised the question of intellectual diversity at my alma mater. The young conservatives checked the voter registration records for eight of the university's humanities departments and found 142 Democrats, 28 unaffiliated, and only 8 Republicans. Duke's 36 member history department was the most extreme example, with 32 Democrats, 0 Republicans, and 4 citizens of other countries.

This is another instance of a rather thoroughly beaten horse, but it has drawn a good bit of attention on the net. Of course, David Horowitz's net-rag, FrontPage, was on it like white on rice.Andrew Sullivan caught the philosophy chairperson in a particularly stupid apologia. At Crooked Timber, Kieran Healey chastises Sullivan for rejecting the most economical explanation: that many conservatives are simply not as smart as many liberals and that humanities departments have simply hired the best and the brightest. That seems unlikely to me. A commentator over at Erin O'Connor's Critical Mass caught the philosophy department chairperson's flawed logic which turned a perfectly decent quotation from John Stuart Mill into intellectual mush. Do philosophy departments teach logic anymore? Or is it, as a philosopher at Antioch explained to me,"We don't teach it because students don't want to take it." That is one place where my libertarian friends are exactly wrong. Whatever happened to requiring students to take courses because we know they need to? Those who haven't benefitted from required courses apparently now chair departments at reputable institutions.

Do not misunderstand me. My alma mater is a much improved place because it has worked at becoming more diverse racially and genderly. I suspect that those battles have been largely won and that it suffers from a self-satisfaction that is no more justified than the one I challenged as an undergraduate at Duke. I suspect that Duke is no more diverse in terms of social class and perhaps even less diverse intellectually than it has ever been. Sure, registration with a political party is a poor measure of intellectual diversity, especially in the fairly narrow range of American political options. But you'd think there might be a lonesome Green or a stouthearted Libertarian somewhere in the humanities. 32 Democrats and 4 resident aliens? Give me a break. I don't advocate equal employment opportunities for Republicans, but intellectual liberals need to get honest with us and themselves about having hired only intellectual compatibles. That's the temptation of any unchallenged establishment, but we need some folk around with whom to have a decent intellectual debate.

Update: Kieran Healey of Crooked Timber sends this response which makes, I think, a fair point:

I think your summary mischaracterizes my post a bit. I'm arguing that Sullivan probably wouldn't buy his own argument about labor market discrimination in other contexts -- i.e., his views on how markets work would not make him sympathetic to discrimination arguments -- so he should either say, yes, this kind of institutionalized inequality is widespread (and there are much more serious cases), or he should stop complaining about the market outcomes in this case. The point is that Sullivan should *by his own lights* be inclined to think that the market is rewarding smarter liberals over duller conservatives. Of course, I don't think that's a plausible explanation. But my question is why, given conservative views about how labor markets work, Sullivan doesn't think it is.
Further Update: Jason Graham Gamble replies to Healey:
Mr. Healy is incorrect to expect that Sullivan's more-or-less market-friendly views should give him an inclination him to believe that"the market is rewarding smarter liberals over duller conservatives." This comment suggests that Mr. Healy misunderstands the nature of" conservative views about how labor markets work." (Perhaps unfairly, I am assuming that he is actually referring to neo-classical economic theory.)
Only if the labor market for university professors is truly market driven (that is, unconstrained by non-market forces) would neo-classical economics indicate that"the market is rewarding smarter liberals over duller conservatives." You and Sullivan and others are essentially saying that this market is highly"regulated," albeit not in the usual sense of governmental interference. A brief look at FIRE's Web site might offer insight into the nature of possible"regulations" at work in your industry.
(Of course, this discussion has uncritically accepted the notion that"smarts" ought to be and is currently the most relevant criterion used to hire university professors.)
Apparently the chairman of the philosophy department at Duke was also misquoting Mill. See: Eugene Volokh at The Volokh Conspiracy. See also: the comments of Jim Lindgren, who is doing a study of diversity in academic communities.
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Richard Henry Morgan - 2/14/2004

There's a response in the Duke Chronicle by Brandon, available through instapundit.com.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/12/2004

Mr. Hagedorn and David, I recommend that you both look at Jim Lindgren's comments at the Instapundit, which I cite in the followup to this post at Cliopatria.
Sure there would be town/gown issues in Durham, as there would be in Ann Arbor, but they may in part be created by, rather than a function of, the concentration of an intellectually homogeneous community within a community. Lindgren's commentary speaks to the issue.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/12/2004

If the philosophy chairman was speaking in such a tradition, as you suggest, it's fairly clear that he thought he was being asked a question that was not serious. Or that the question hit somewhere he did not care to go. Right? Either way, it seems to me that he deserves the pommeling for his answer that he's taken on the net.


David Lion Salmanson - 2/12/2004

And yet people do all the time and courts have upheld it. The Sears case, in which Sears argued that their numbers were not evidence of discrimination because the types of jobs they offered and the way they were structured were unattractive to women. Significantly, feminist historians were called in as expert witnesses for both sides of the case. Voter registrations, quite frankly, are lousy indicators of what one's "thought" is. Without knowing local politics in Durham (where, I imagine, town-gown issues are exceedingly important)one can't know if this is valid. For example, in Ann Arbor the Republican party is very hostile towards U of M in town (undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty) and thus almost all faculty members are Democrats out of local self-intrest. A more accurate question might be: who voted for Reagan in 80, Bush the elder in 88, and Dole in 96? As an example of how poor voter registrations are as indicators of political philosophy I point to my mother (known among my friends as "your mother the Communist" which while an exagerration of her views indicates her decided left of centerness) was and still is a registered Republican. My father was a registered Democrat. Care to guess how they voted in the '84 election? Of course this type of survey would involve doing actual research as opposed to the half hour spent at city hall (or possibly on-line) it took to do this survey.


David Lion Salmanson - 2/12/2004

That's a start. Here are the Duke graduates I could name off the top of my head: Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, Elton Brand, Mike Dunleavy Jr. (I think I got that right). I do think some of this has to do with Duke having been primarily known as a regional University and thus producing tons of regionally significant people; a rough analogy might be St. Joe's Prep high school here in Philly, almost every male that matters in Philly is a St. Joe's grad, but many are anonymous heads of various agencies or boards that do thier work out of the limelight.


Thomas W Hagedorn - 2/12/2004

Discrimination against conservatives in the academy is obvious from the numbers from numerous studies. The debate should revolve around how much of it is intentional and how much an unintended consequence of liberal hegemony. The former is loathsome and demands justice. The latter needs to be fixed if scholars expect to seriously pursue knowledge. History, politial science and philosophy departments with few or no Republicans?

For sake of argument, let's replace conservatives with women in the argugment. Could you (or would you) try to justify these same numbers if we were trying to justify this for women (or blacks, or Hispanics)? I think not.


Richard Henry Morgan - 2/12/2004

There's something of an underground tradition of unfair humour in analytic circles. I once had a course from a bright analytic philosopher (he won the same travelling fellowship Quine won), who had the habit of responding to any mention of Heidegger or his thought with "Heidegger? He was a Nazi, wasn't he?". You would scarcely recognize Hegel from Russell's description of his thought in his History of Western Philosophy. There's a book to be written by somebody on the subject of humour in analytic philosophy. For a great example of how too high a seriousness quotient can lead one astray, you might try Wittgenstein's Poker.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/12/2004

Perhaps so, Richard, but see Eugene Volokh for Brandon's misquotation of Mill. Perhaps Brandon spoke in jest. I don't think Andrew Sullivan or Volokh saw the humor in it. Humor is, of course, a way of deflecting serious questions.


Richard Henry Morgan - 2/12/2004

Brandon is a bright and well-read guy. There is a tendency to read everything an analytic philosopher says as suitable for publication ina journal -- that is, devoid of humour. I think he was just pulling your chain.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/12/2004

Well, there is: Sandy Levinson, who holds an endowed chair in law at the University of Texas, and there is Elizabeth Dole, United States Senator from North Carolina. That other United States Senator from North Carolina is a Chapel Hill kinda guy.


David Lion Salmanson - 2/11/2004

Ralph,
I got some bad news for you...., Duke basically has become an excuse to have a basketball team. Which is not to say that there are not many fine departments there, or that many students are not recieving a good education. But beyond you and a guy I went to high school with (I'm assuming he graduated), I can't name any Duke B.A.s who did not play basketball. I can name lots of graduates of small liberal arts colleges and certain private and public universities for a wide variety of accomplishments. But as a believer in the liberal arts school ideal, I am biased in that direction and tend to remember those things. Did Edwards go to Duke? That would make three.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/11/2004

Yes, Kieran Healey does not agree with me that race/gender equity issues have been largely dealt with at a place like Duke. I think that he is wrong about that. Its retiring president is a woman and people of color now hold distinguished endowed chairs there. That would have been unthinkable several decades ago. If your argument is with Healey, rather than with me, I recommend that you go over to Crooked Timber, where there's a lively discussion of the issue going on, and take the issue up directly with him.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/11/2004

Ms. Seebach, You make very good points. There isn't much incentive for either conservative or liberal graduate students in the humanities to pursue the chase these days. The professoriate as it was once known is being downsized as administrators find increasing need of additional administrators. I hope that you tune in to discussions about these issues that take place regularly at Erin O'Connor's Critical Mass and at Invisible Adjunct. Both blogs are excellent.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/11/2004

David, I agree that the website cited isn't relevant. It does remind me that I hope my alma mater is not a candidate for Auburn status. After visiting Auburn one year, I decided that the place was a football team to which classes were occasionally offered, but not required. I hope that Duke has not become a basketball team to which classes are occasionally offered, but not required.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/11/2004

Michael, I'm simply suggesting to my friends at Duke, its humanities departments and its history department, in particular, that rubbing only up against agreeable minds will inevitably lead to a very dull-edged sword.


linda seebach - 2/11/2004

I've seen the results about professors' political alignments (and they can't be all that smart or by now they'd all have reregistered as independents) but I don't recall ever seeing a similar project involving graduate students.

If there are no Republicans left in the pipeline, departments who hire only Democrats may not be discriminating, except in the sense that their courses and their political activism drive conservatives out of the field long before they get a Ph.D. and start looking for a job.

Given how long it takes to get a degree in the humanities, and then to get a tenure-track job, and then to get tenure, and furthermore how unlikely a genuine conservative is to make it to the end of that process unless he conceals his views, wouldn't a conservative smart enough to be a college professor decide to go do something else with two decades of his life?


William Peak - 2/11/2004

Isn't Kieran assuming that Academic hiring at Duke is an open labor market? It seems to me that this is implicit in the criticism of Sullivan, otherwise comparisons of Duke to Sullivan's positions on labor markets would be invalid. There are alternative explanations.

The skewed political representation, however imprecise, could be argued as evidence of discrimination or of 'merit'.

However, once one reviews the pedigree of American conservatism, the argument of its intellectual inferiority must fail. Likewise, a cursory summary of world intellectual accomplishment will find little symmetry among any group of commonly acknowledged superior intellects.

That Duke has within one department such unanimity of political alliances argues against it possessing the competitive intellectual environment one would expect from a collection of world class minds. When one additionally considers the track record of politically leftist theory or the specific efficacy of pet projects of the Democratic Party, the theory of their intellectual superiority should rendered obsolete.

However, it does conform to the repeated accusations of political chauvinism that academics of various political stripes have made. Absent competing theories, we must view discrimination at Duke as the most likely explanation for these circumstances.


William Peak - 2/11/2004

Isn't Kieran assuming that Academic hiring at Duke is an open labor market? It seems to me that this is implicit in the criticism of Sullivan, otherwise comparisons of Duke to Sullivan's positions on labor markets would be invalid. There are alternative explanations.

The skewed political representation, however imprecise, could be argued as evidence of discrimination or of 'merit'.

However, once one reviews the pedigree of American conservatism, the argument of its intellectual inferiority must fail. Likewise, a cursory summary of world intellectual accomplishment will find little symmetry among any group of commonly acknowledged superior intellects.

That Duke has within one department such unanimity of political alliances argues against it possessing the competitive intellectual environment one would expect from a collection of world class minds. When one additionally considers the track record of politically leftist theory or the specific efficacy of pet projects of the Democratic Party, the theory of their intellectual superiority should rendered obsolete.

However, it does conform to the repeated accusations of political chauvinism that academics of various political stripes have made. Absent competing theories, we must view discrimination at Duke as the most likely explanation for these circumstances.


William Peak - 2/11/2004

Isn't Kieran assuming that Academic hiring at Duke is an open labor market? It seems to me that this is implicit in the criticism of Sullivan, otherwise comparisons of Duke to Sullivan's positions on labor markets would be invalid. There are alternative explanations.

The skewed political representation, however imprecise, could be argued as evidence of discrimination or of 'merit'.

However, once one reviews the pedigree of American conservatism, the argument of its intellectual inferiority must fail. Likewise, a cursory summary of world intellectual accomplishment will find little symmetry among any group of commonly acknowledged superior intellects.

That Duke has within one department such unanimity of political alliances argues against it possessing the competitive intellectual environment one would expect from a collection of world class minds. When one additionally considers the track record of politically leftist theory or the specific efficacy of pet projects of the Democratic Party, the theory of their intellectual superiority should rendered obsolete.

However, it does conform to the repeated accusations of political chauvinism that academics of various political stripes have made. Absent competing theories, we must view discrimination at Duke as the most likely explanation for these circumstances.


David Lion Salmanson - 2/11/2004

I do not see how the website connects to the current discussion. Maybe you were trying to connect to Ralph's point that one of the problems with academia is too many market values entering the classroom?


ken burgess - 2/11/2004

www.truthaboutduke.com


Michael C Tinkler - 2/11/2004

You generously assume that academics want to have a decent intellectual debate outside their field of specialization -- how kind of you!

Me, I'm not holding my breath for the tag line in the EEOC statement about "valuing a faculty diverse in opinion."

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