I think we’re all agreed here at the Bookworm Room that Leftism in higher education is a very serious problem. To help illuminate the problem, PRI hosted what’s being billed as a traveling road show: a panel made up of that most rare of rare birds . . . the conservative college professor in the humanities.
The panel was a heavy-hitting crowd. The touch point for the discussion was a book that Jon Shields, PhD, wrote: Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University. Prof. Shields was there in person to discuss his book, the most pertinent point of which, I thought, was that the professors he interviewed were so concerned about repercussions that they insisted on anonymity.
Joining Professor Shields were (1) the moderator, Dean Pete Peterson of the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, Senior Fellow at the Davenport Institute, one rare “more conservative” schools in America; (2) Professor Michael W. McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor and Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution; (3) Professor Russell Berman, Walter A Haas Professor in the Humanities Professor of Comparative Literature and German Studies at Stanford University, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution; (4) Dean Henry Brady, Goldman School of Public Policy, Class of 1941 Monroe Deutsch Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of California Berkeley; and (5) Professor David W. Brady, Bowen H and Janice Arthur McCoy Professor of Political Science in the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.
I’ll begin by saying that, judging by their performance on the panel, both my undergraduate and law school educations would have been much more entertaining and informative if I had been able to attend a class taught by any one of these men, let alone all of them. Having said that, I was disappointed in the overall panel discussing because I thought it didn’t go far enough in either diagnosing the problem or proposing solutions.
All the panelists agreed that conservative professors cluster in disciplines such as STEM or economics. All also readily pointed to data showing that Leftists — nay, hardcore, self-identified Marxists — far out-number conservative professors in the humanities. This is especially the case in sociology, which the Left routinely uses to advance its political agenda. From there, though, the talk never really took off because (in my mind) the panel focused too narrowly on a small subset of issues and students.
The professors agreed on the following facts or principles regarding Leftism in higher education: (a) Solidly conservative students maintain their values despite Leftist professors; (2) an interesting teacher can manage to introduce new facts to adamant Leftists; (3) the imbalance in professorial political diversity does more of a disservice to Leftist students than to conservatives, because the Leftists never learn new data nor are they called upon to defend their facts, ideas, or beliefs; (4) a calm demeanor and a strong command of facts can help conservative professors bring a note of rationality to their more extreme colleagues and students; (5) conservative students avoid sociology specifically and humanities generally because they find the group think boring; (6) nobody, even Leftist students, really likes professors who are too doctrinaire; and (7) diversity was initially a good idea because it opened the academy to new ideas about women and minorities, but it’s now gone too far.
Yes, yes, yes. I agree with everything, but the above represents a very placid view from behind the lectern (“Don’t worry, I’ve got things under control here.”) and it too easily congratulated itself on the fact that conservative students were able to withstand the Leftist academic assaults.