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World Association of International Studies

Post Why Are Academics Generally Liberal?
Created by John Eipper on 11/22/16 4:50 AM

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Why Are Academics Generally Liberal? (Francisco Ramirez, USA, 11/22/16 4:50 am)

In a July post I made the case for Hillary Clinton on the basis of four policy domains and the character issue. Candidates Trump and Clinton agreed on one point: the outcome of the elections would have an impact on the Supreme Court. That was my first point. That lead to an exchange with both Cameron Sawyer and Bert Westbrook, an exchange based on differences in ideas and preferences. In that post I did not call Trump supporters a-holes. I do not think there is a correlation between political perspective and an incapacity for civility. Trump demonstrated an extraordinary incivility throughout his campaign. That was both consistent with his temperament, and though some of his supporters and apologists expressed concern, they concluded that he was the lesser of two evils. Time will tell.

It is indeed as difficult to be a pro-lifer in some liberal circles as it is to be pro-choice in some conservative circles. I do not think conservatives should be lumped with Hitler and Nazis any more than classifying liberals with Stalin and Mao. This is not a matter of taste; it is just wrongheaded to make this argument.

Francisco Wong-Díaz asks me to comment on the local censorship of sexual attacks reporting at Stanford among other things. There has been an increase in public awareness of sexual assaults on campuses. It is not clear whether this is due to an actual increase in assaults or in reporting of assaults. What is clear is that the problem is not related to the liberal political climate of this or that university. You have the same problem in the military academies. You worry about your grandchild and I worry about my grandchildren as well. But this has nothing to do with all the categories of people you despise.

Between 2001 and 2003 I served in the Stanford Judicial Panel. We dealt with violations of the Honor Code and the Fundamental Standard. Violations of the latter involved things such as property damage and threats to other students. The Panel was not designed to deal with felonies such as sexual assaults and in that period none came to our attention. There are certainly women who assert that they were assaulted or harassed by both fellows students and professors in earlier eras. So what should do the university do when a woman reports that she has been assaulted? My first reaction is to say that this should not be handled by the university but instead turned over to the office of the district attorney in the county of Santa Clara. I shared that reaction with the chief legal counsel of the university. I had a specific case in mind and that was a year or so before the Turner case that made national headlines. The latter you may recall involved the university reporting the assault to the legal authorities and expelling the student who was subsequently charged and found guilty.

The earlier case involved two students who during the Christmas holidays went to Alaska. Sometime in January she reported that she had been assaulted. The case went through the Judicial Panel that found him guilty and suspended him for two quarters. There was a public outcry. I brought up this case to the chief legal counsel and she raised three points: 1. Under Title Nine the university is obligated to investigate charges such as this one; 2. Students who report assaults often do not want their complaints to be made public. They want the cases deal with discreetly and internally; 3. Over 90 percent of the cases that do get forwarded to the legal authorities do not lead to prosecution. The law has a beyond reasonable doubt standard, while the university can hold a student accountable on the basis of preponderance of evidence. So, she retorted, what is the university supposed to do? The phrase local censorship is misleading. In the post-Turner era Stanford has created a different more legally oriented panel to deal with sexual assaults and harassment. The last time I examined the website of the National Association of College and University Attorneys I saw that upcoming programs will focus on sexual misconduct on campuses.

It is not clear what else Francisco wants me to comment on. It is indeed the case that elite university professors tend to be liberal. Here is an abstract of one book that seeks to answer the why question:

"Some observers see American academia as a bastion of leftist groupthink that indoctrinates students and silences conservative voices. Others see a protected enclave that naturally produces free-thinking, progressive intellectuals. Both views are self-serving, says Neil Gross, but neither is correct. Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care? explains how academic liberalism became a self-reproducing phenomenon, and why Americans on both the left and right should take notice.

"Academia employs a higher percentage of liberals than nearly any other profession. But the usual explanations--hiring bias against conservatives, correlations of liberal ideology with high intelligence--do not hold up to scrutiny. Drawing on a range of original research, statistics, and interviews, Gross argues that 'political typing' plays an overlooked role in shaping academic liberalism. For historical reasons, the professoriate developed a reputation for liberal politics early in the twentieth century. As this perception spread, it exerted a self-selecting influence on bright young liberals, while deterring equally promising conservatives. Most professors' political views formed well before they stepped behind the lectern for the first time.

"Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care? shows how studying the political sympathies of professors and their critics can shed light not only on academic life but on American politics, where the modern conservative movement was built in no small part around opposition to the 'liberal elite' in higher education. This divide between academic liberals and nonacademic conservatives makes accord on issues as diverse as climate change, immigration, and foreign policy more difficult.

"Gross contends that the same dynamics lead to more conservatives among the ministry and the military. His book emphasizes selection bias as the main dynamic."

On a more personal note, seven years ago I reviewed a book called Privilege and Diversity in the Academy. The book compared Rutgers (Newark), Michigan, and Stanford. Here is my concluding paragraph:

"The book is on firm ground as interpretive narrative. The positionality of the authors is clear. The main message is that excellence as code for White male privilege needs to be deconstructed, since it is a stumbling block to greater diversity. it may be useful to also deconstruct diversity. Not all differences become candidates for diversity classification in higher education. The perspectives, methodologies, and even epistemologies of evangelicals do not add up to a diversity positionality the authors would like to see included in the university. It is important to figure out why some differences matter more to universities than others. Although everyone acknowledges the importance of social class and higher educational attainment, as regards faculty recruitment, social class positionlaity does not get much play in universities or in this book. We shy away from essentializing social class differences but arguments that associate gender, ethnic, and race differences to differences in perspectives involve some essentializing. Still, the authors are to be commanded for advancing an explicit thesis and for using a comparative case study approach to illustrate its premises. It falls on other researchers to more explicitly assess the core ideas underlying Power and Diversity in the Academy."

I am clearly a poor recruiter of radicals and leftists. I do confess to residing in the Parish of Palo Alto, almost fifty years. Almost a native!

JE comments:  The self-selection factor for the different "castes" cannot be overemphasized.  Consider, as a clear example, the dominance of gay men in hair salons, fashion, and on Broadway. 

If I may pat ourselves on the back, one of the (many) strengths of WAIS is how it brings liberal academics into constructive dialogue with conservatives of diverse backgrounds, such as the military.  Unlike an academic journal devoted to Critical Theory, there is no preaching solely to the choir in the WAIS church.  This also makes my job so interesting (read:  challenging).

A question:  Will social class become an increasingly important part of the public debate under Trump?  Traditional academic discourse did not allow for the downtrodden and the subaltern to be white at the same time.  But they asserted themselves on November 8th.

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