Conservatives in short supply in academia—for a reason
This piece is in response to the Orient's recent front page article on the scarcity of Republican professors at Bowdoin. While the methodology of the study cited in the article is flawed, I have no doubt that Democrats outnumber Republicans on the faculty, though certainly not to the degree highlighted in the article.
Specific numbers aside, the key is understanding why the disparity exists here and at most other American colleges. I have seen no evidence that the social science and humanities departments discriminate against people of a certain partisan stripe. While Professor Potholm says "The most troubling thing of all is that these departments are making no effort to provide a more balanced departmental perspective," his own experience as an influential member of an academic department certainly ought to tell him that the situation is more complicated than he suggests.
As evidence, three conservatives (Profs. Potholm, Morgan, and Yarbrough) have been among the most senior and hence most influential members of the Government Department for the past 15 years. If ideology or partisanship drove hiring decisions, which is alleged in the Orient's article and Professor Potholm's comments, then these three conservatives would have hired other conservatives.
Their record in this regard is pathetic. Post-1988 hires include Paul Franco, Henry Laurence, Dov Waxman, Daniel Lieberfeld, Joe Lane, Mingus Mapps, Jonathan Weiler, and me. To varying degrees, we all share a left of center political ideology. If you go back a few more years, a department dominated by Professors Morgan and Potholm hired Allen Springer, Marcia Weigle, and Janet Martin, not a conservative among them. I can recall only one conservative hired in my six years here.
In short, departments run by conservatives have a hard time hiring conservatives just like departments run by liberals do. This suggests that the presence of a disproportionate share of liberals in academia is not central to understanding why few conservatives get hired. If the government department at Bowdoin can't find qualified conservatives, then it must be very hard to do.
What then, explains why the political left dominates the social sciences and humanities? The reason is supply; conservatives are much less likely to pursue a Ph.D. than people of other political stripes. Ask professors here whether their graduate school class included many conservative students. Unless they attended one of a handful of economics or political science programs, I guarantee you that the answer will be no. This is important. If there are four liberals for every one conservative entering a graduate program, then, other things being equal, four liberals for every one conservative will emerge from these graduate programs as the faculty of the future.
Unless conservatives as a group start to place the same emphasis on the accumulation of knowledge that liberals do, they will continue to be outnumbered. I agree that this is a potential problem for academia. But it is a problem that only ambitious young conservatives can solve.
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