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Conservatives for Affirmative Action

February 28th, 2005 · 7 Comments

Y’know, I’ll fully acknowledge that left-leaning groupthink is a perfectly real phenomenon in academe, but this parody sums up pretty well how a lot of the whining on the right—from libertarians as well as conservatives—has always struck me. That the large majority of highly educated people paid to think about philosophy and economics every day think my political beliefs are nuts always struck me as a decent reason to maintain a certain modicum of humility about them, not to harumph at how benighted university faculty must be.

Tags: Academia



7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Alec Mouhibian // Mar 1, 2005 at 6:14 am

    Julian, your attitude here reeks of POMOism. By similar reasoning, people living under the tyranny of highly powerful men who forbid them from doing most of what they want to do, should view their situation primarily as an opportunity to maintain humility about their abilities and self-efficacy.

    That parody is just another snooty attempt to equate non-leftist ideas with telepathy and such. (This is confirmed by the similar snootiness of the author’s non-parodic work.)

    The vast majority of the “whining” (I assume you use that in a pejorative way; you wouldn’t say libertarians whine about big government) is directed toward the viciously groupthink methods of faculty alone. It is not some sort of evasive replacement for having to deal with some surely-provoked self-questioning — which you are implying as the primary motive.

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Mar 1, 2005 at 4:02 pm

    “POMO,” as Orwell once said of “fascism”, seems to have lost all meaning beyond “something not desirable”–though I suppose lacking a determinate meaning would be a rather POMO thing to happen to “POMO”. Care to explain what you mean?

    Anyway, I certianly don’t mean to defend teachers who grade ideologically or anything like that (though I suspect more than a few people complain about ideological grading when their work just ain’t that good), but I also didn’t encounter much of that in classes with my mostly left-leaning professors. And I have no patience whatever with people who think that, in addition to being treated fairly, they’re entitled to have some “critical mass” of profs share their politics. Hey, Ben Shapiro, you don’t like the mix? Get a degree and do work so good they have to hire you; otherwise grow a pair and shut the fuck up.

  • 3 Alec Mouhibian // Mar 1, 2005 at 6:41 pm

    By POMO, I was referring to the nihilistic relativism of minimizing a real and nasty problem in light of some irrelevant side-effect found in a few of those who are actually trying to fight the problem.

    I’m glad your experience was decent, but since when has one’s personal experience been a basis for ignoring massive amounts of widely-documented evidence — which certainly exists concerning many levels of academic bias in teaching and hiring?

    And I don’t know how much your patience has been tried, Julian, but in my experience, none of the many students at my school who’ve reported incidents to me have ever believed that they are entitled to have professors who share their politics. Their problem is always with the unprofessional and inappropriate way that certain professors CONDUCT their politics. In fact, usually conservative students are ecstatic to have a self-acknowledged left-leaning professor who is nonetheless fair about his ideas. I know because they express that ecstasy to me.

    How about some more personal experience? Every right-leaning professor or staff-member at my school (UCSB), and a few centrist ones, whom I know, testifies to serious one-sidedness and silencing problems within their departments. Every single one, including a few who are tenured, fearfully refused to attached their names to their quotations when I interviewed them for a column recently. Most are totally silent about their politics. And I know one junior polisci prof who SYSTEMATICALLY DISTORTS his own views in his academic work!

    And your suggestion is that they “do work so good they have to hire you.” Ben Shapiro’s geekiness and lack of balls aside, a similar analogy would be to say: “Hey, libertarians, you don’t like the government’s policies? Do policy-work so good and convincing that they have to accept it; or shut the fuck up.”

  • 4 Julian Sanchez // Mar 1, 2005 at 6:55 pm

    Ah yes, “nihilistic” and “relativism”, two other terms that seem to have become totally meaningless beyond indicating vague disapproval. The term you’re looking for here is the much simpler “incorrect”, which maybe I am. Doubtless some departments are worse than others; maybe my impression isn’t representative.
    The final advice is actually not bad; I don’t know any libertarian groups doing empirical work on anything like the level of, say, the Urban Institute. But the analogy really only holds if doing good work is genuinely insufficient to get one hired. If that were the case, we’d expect the few conservative profs out their to be significantly better than their liberal counterparts (since, presumably, only the VERY talented would’ve managed to overcome groupthink). And, again anecdotally, my own sense is that the academics on the right tend to be about as qualified, but not *strikingly* better than, the median.

  • 5 Alec Mouhibian // Mar 1, 2005 at 11:19 pm

    I don’t want to divert this to a vocabulary-fight, but I was very clear in the context of my usage of “nihilistic relativism.” These words have not lost their meaning, as far as I know. Nihilism is an extreme skepticism that rejects all distinctions; relativism is its judgmental off-shoot.

    You were minimizing what you yourself had acknowledged as a ââ?¬Å?very real phenomenonââ?¬Â in light of maximizing some petty characteristic. You implied that that pettiness should disqualify anyone from opposing the phenomenon; you yourself voiced a much stronger opposition to the pettiness than the serious problem, about which you seem not to really care. That implies equivalency.

    It is extensively documented that doing good work IS often insufficient to getting hired. But it doesn�t follow from that that all conservative professors who do get hired must be extraordinary. There are all kinds of factors that you are ignoring. The sheer knowledge of knowing one is going to be discriminated against is enough to discourage applicants from the get-go, and divert them to other fields. (Conservative professors usually recommend such diversion to their conservative students.) Other means of getting hired include: getting lucky to have the rare fair superior, and more commonly, keeping silent about one�s views. Plus, from an anecdotal standpoint, it seems that a large number of right-leaning academics are actually former leftists.

  • 6 J. Goard // Mar 3, 2005 at 12:45 am

    Well, I sympathize with both of you guys. I’d like to draw attention to two points of discrepancy between the subject satire’s apparent intent and Julian’s response.

    First, you initially restricted your judgment (with admirable honesty, if not full awareness of the implications) to faculty in philosophy and economics. My primary fields of study have been philosophy and linguistics, and I can say that on home turf, my largely Hayekian libertarianism has usually been received with mutually beneficial argument, especially when I make a point of connecting it to my views on linguistic pragmatics. However, I’ve had generally libertarian friends in English, German, and psychology departments who have given me a very different impression of the climate. What’s more, an old roommate in “ecology” (verified by a very leftist but open-minded classmate whose husband was in the program) left no doubt in my mind that many questions of great significance to environmental health are completely taboo there. You and I may just have chosen well.

    Second, we all know that the climate of academia reaches far beyond research and debate by experts in their respective fields. I can quantify only in the vaguest way (e.g., “a shitload”) the parties, coffeehouse meetings, and pre-colloquium introductions where socialist horseshit was used as a source of comraderie, while expressing a conservative or libertarian viewpoint in that situation would have seemed at best ingracious and at worst bellicose. The frightening atmosphere, I think, is generally maintained by those who excel at responsible and thorough argumentation, in those frequent occasions when they don’t feel that the game is on.

  • 7 William Newman // Mar 4, 2005 at 11:25 pm

    Humility is good, and the universe has a number of effective ways of reminding me that I should practice it, but the wall-o’-liberalism I saw in academe wasn’t one of them. I saw too many cases either where internal evidence showed it was groupthink instead of a reasoned conclusion, or where the passage of time showed that it had been dead wrong. As an example of the first, I nominate simultaneously holding that SDI was so manifestly impractical that any advocate was incompetent or dishonest, and that SDI was a bad idea because the Soviets would rationally react with a preemptive strike (and about 50% of the arguments about sex differences might work as well). For the second, I nominate anything related to Limits to Growth (and about 50% of the arguments about sex differences might work as well:-). Would the passage of 2+ decades have caused any Limits-to-Growth-level embarrassment for someone who had rejected the academic consensus and instead mindlessly assimilated and believed all the conclusions in _Free to Choose_ on its publication date? (I honestly don’t know, since it’s been decades since I read it, and really I think I just skimmed it, but I remember it as a decent representative of consensus intelligent libertarian ideas.)