Jonathan Chait: Why Academia Shuns Republicans

Roundup: Talking About History

Jonathan Chait, in the LAT (12-10-04):

A few weeks ago, a pair of studies found that Democrats vastly outnumbered Republicans among professors at leading universities. Conservatives gleefully seized upon this to once again flagellate academia for its liberal bias.

Am I the only person who fails to understand why conservatives see this finding as vindication? After all, these studies show that some of the best-educated, most-informed people in the country overwhelmingly reject the GOP. Why is this seen as an indictment of academia, rather than as an indictment of the Republican Party?

Conservatives have a ready answer. The only reason faculties lean so far to the left is that deans, administrators and entire university cultures systematically discriminate against conservatives.

They don't, however, have much evidence to back this up. Mostly, they assume that the leftward tilt is prima facie evidence of anti-conservative discrimination. (Yet, when liberals hold up minority underrepresentation at some institutions as proof of discrimination, conservatives are justifiably skeptical.)

Conservative pundit George Will recently tied the dearth of conservative professors to the quasi-Marxist outlook in African American studies, women's studies and cultural studies. And at many campuses, those departments certainly don't amount to much more than left-wing propaganda factories. It's also true that radical multiculturalist theory — which sees white male oppression as the key to everything — has taken root in plenty of more mainstream disciplines.

This no doubt makes things hard on prospective conservative academics, not to mention mainstream liberal ones. A historian I know (a liberal) used to complain that history departments showed little interest in the traditional research he did, only caring about subjects like "buggery in the British navy."

But the rise of fashionable left-wing scholarship can be blamed for only a tiny part of the GOP's problem. The studies showing that academics prefer Democrats to Republicans also show that this preference holds in hard sciences as well as social sciences. Are we to believe that higher education has fallen prey to trendy multiculturalist engineering, or that physics departments everywhere suppress conservative quantum theorists?...

Last summer, my colleague Frank Foer wrote a cover story in the New Republic detailing the way the Bush administration had disdained the advice of experts. And not liberal experts, either. These were Republican-appointed wonks whose know-how on topics such as global warming, the national debt and occupying Iraq were systematically ignored. Bush prefers to follow his gut.

In the world of academia, that's about the nastiest thing you can say about somebody. Bush's supporters consider it a compliment. "Republicans, from Reagan to Bush, admire leaders who are straight-talking men of faith. The Republican leader doesn't have to be book smart," wrote conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks a week before the election. "Democrats, on the other hand, are more apt to emphasize … being knowledgeable and thoughtful. They value leaders who see complexities, who possess the virtues of the well-educated."

It so happens that, in other columns, Brooks has blamed the dearth of conservative professors on ideological discrimination. In fact, the GOP is just being rejected by those who not only prefer their leaders to think complexly but are complex thinkers themselves. There's a problem with this picture, all right, but it doesn't lie with academia.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Michael Schack - 5/24/2010

This type of emotional posting tends to lead to opinions stated as facts and lots of defensiveness. Reminds me of the Yalta conference with Churchill and Stalin negotiating over spheres of Influence in Europe. I have wondered how academia became a sphere of influence of more left leaning professors. Just as I wonder why talk radio is in the sphere of the more conservative talk show host? Is anyone old enough to remember Jean Sheppard the first radio shock host of the late 1950’s? I Could not categorize him politically. H had a great following. When he asked listeners to send $1 to John Cassavettes t help fund his movie over $29 thousand dollars in singles were sent in. This is a complex multi-causal problem that does not have one answer . Yet that tends to be what people present.
What might be some elements of (If true) why is academia in the sphere of influence of more liberal professors?
1 element might be the time period, or the additional classes and departments that tended to attract a more leftist leaning person.

Tim Matthewson - 1/28/2006

Why not try speaking for yourself rather than trying to speak for other people? Putting your words in the mouths of liberals is not only not credible, it is dishonest!

John Edward Philips - 1/18/2006

I don't know, maybe for the same reason that most career military people vote Republican. Money.

When Governor Jerry Brown held up scheduled pay raises for professors, most of them voted Republican, without the Republicans even offering more money for education than Democrats.

Horowitz's proposal would open the door to "affirmative action" schemes to force departments to prove they weren't discriminating by hiring Republicans at the same rate they appear in the population at large.

In other words it would result in college professors too stupid to know what side of the aisle their bread was buttered on. Can you say "intellectual standards"? Neither can Horowitz. He would preside over the slaughter of a goose that is laying golden eggs for the United States. Think "research," think about all the foreign students who come to the United States to study not just science but liberal arts.

Maybe his supporters should think about the fact that so many smart people vote for Democrats. Maybe those people know some things that Horowitz and his supporters don't.

Joe G. Brosius - 7/7/2005

Even a working class stiff like myself can see that republicans are not interested in anything but the party line. Republicans are very smart - they hold the White House and Congress.
If kids from the midwest are scoring so high on ACT/SAT could it be that they are being taught to take test?
I am not a member of any academy but test scores do not impress me. When it comes to pulling people out of burning buildings or from rough seas when their boat is sinking I need people who can think on their feet.

Seth Cable Tubman - 3/4/2005

Arrogance! Arrogance! The Republicans only need to look in the mirror if they want to see the face of arrogance. To survive in academia, you need to be complex. Democrats are. Republicans are not. Simple as that, people.

Lance Michael Gritters - 2/6/2005

So according to Jonathan, the problem is not that academia has taken on a dogmatic aspect that threatens the very root of scientific thought, it's that Republicans are just not very smart. Supposedly this comes from a "pair of studies". I am sure that it is merely coincidence that Jon-Jon does not tell us what studies this valuable information comes from. So tell me Jonathan, when blacks or women are unrepresented at a college or university, does your explanation entail that women or blacks must be dumb because they are not sufficiently represented. Of course not. You got out and protest because, damnit, we need diversity. I have no idea how politically prejudiced you actually are, but your argument is the standard justification for the lack of intellectual diversity on many campuses. The old circular "well maybe it is because we liberals are all smarter than your average bear" does nothing to justify the schism or the arrogance. You just appear scared. Scared to put your theories to an honest intellectual test, and scared to have your theories put to the popular test. You may think that the coasts of the United States dictate the truth, but check out the ACT/SAT scores of the nation. Kids from the midwest have consistently scored better than either coasts, while spending half of the money per pupil as the east coast. But I forgot, only Bush is the idealogue.