Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

America's Left Wing Universities

At Bell Curve's request let's open a discussion of the disproportionately left wing politics of American universities.

I used to thing this was grossly overblown and I still think it's exaggerated. However a few years ago I was involved in an interdisciplinary course on globalization involving an economist, a political scientist, a geographer and a comparative literature professor (sounds like a joke where they all get stranded on a desert island somewhere).

The economist and political scientist clearly had less politicized and more empirical approaches to studying globalization. If a normative political bias could be attributed to them it would be that they were centrist. The geographer was openly Marxist but he tried to use data to support his positions and when data didn't support his predictions he reported it anyway. The comparative literature professor however was beyond the pale. I was shocked at how openly and radically left wing his lectures were. There was complete absence of data of any kind and his lectures never discussed how the world actually is so much as how he thought the world should be.

I looked into the English department and Comparative Literature departments in that university and found that many of their courses were portrayed as courses about politics. As a political scientist I was very uncomfortable about it. Students were taking courses of untrained polemicists and coming out them thinking they actually learned something about political science. I don't have a problem with an English professor having political views. I don't even have that big a problem with them shooting their mouth off in class. But I don't like the false advertising.

Since that experience I've been more open to criticisms from the right that universities are bastions of left wing bias. I now only correct them by saying, "It's not the whole university. It's the humanities, in particular it is post-modernists." There are political scientists who are post-modern but they are (thankfully) becoming fewer and being relegated to those departments that do not train new political scientists.

This isn't to say that people with PhDs in the natural sciences or social sciences aren't more likely to be Democrats. They are (and that so many educated people dislike right wing ideologies should give Republicans pause). But they are less likely to make their political affiliations the foundations of their teaching and research.

A big reason I got involved with this blog (and the main reason I keep my identity obscured), is because as a professional political science educator, I have to keep my personal views separate from my professional research and teaching. I make a great effort to be objective and not preach to my students about my own views (even though I'm often tempted). This blog let's me blow off steam without introducing bias into my teaching. It also allows me to be considerably sloppier in my arguments and evidence than I would be professionally.

OK, that's what I think. What do you all think?


Anonymous said...

I have a mish-mash of ideas about this. Firstly, I'd like to point out that "liberal" means free. And free thinking should be the standard for universities.

I think that calling universities liberal is a Republican attempt to scapegoat. Gee, Princeton was so damn liberal it turned out GW Bush. All of these finger pointers went to university at some point. And yet, there they are all just so liberal. So let's counter the trend all you conservative ladies and gentlemen. Let's open and fund our own law schools. Let's educate an army of future conservative justices. Let's fund huge think tanks where we will co-opt all those "liberal" professors. I think it s really rich of conservatives to call universities liberal when ratio of universities to churches are so lopsided. But that isn't what RBR wanted to get at.

I think certain disciplines are more apt to have left wing views just like others will have more right wing views. I also think it depends on the university. Do you think, for instance, that divinity schools are going to be left wing? Is BYU, Notre Dame, or Pepperdine going to be liberal? I really don't know, which is why I am asking.

Comparative Lit as well as many lit classes deal with art. And art by its very nature is about breaking new ground, pushing the envelope, etc. Consider political science, law, or policy. These are disciplines that lend themselves to understanding both sides of the coin. What side your choose to be on is one thing. But you end up having to study both sides. What is liberal about math or science? Discoveries might raise ethical questions that social sciences students will have to discuss. But this doesn't make them "liberal".

Let's take your comparative lit example. Is the Scarlet Letter, with its admonishments against the dangers of ultra dogmatism left wing? How about To Kill a Mockingbird? Grapes of Wrath? Anything Shakespeare? Does Plato count as literature? Ahhh . . there's the rub. I see Plato as political science or philosophy. But he could be read as literature. You can read the Bible and the Koran as pure literature and you'd probably come out with a completely different view than when you read it in church or at the Mosque. This is how it should be.

To say that universities are bastions of liberalism is to say that liberals have values to teach. Whoah! That is a big concession on the part of conservatives, don't you think? Does UCLA make conservatives insecure? What is liberal about it? Is it teaching people to actually think that what makes universities liberal? And if our universities are churning out such huge numbers of liberals, why are the Republicans in control now?

When I taught American government, I worked to keep my views hidden. My job was to get all my students, regardless of their political views, to question what they thought they knew and to have INFORMED opinions rather than just opinions. One of the reasons I had to quit teaching was because GW got elected and I couldn't hold my tongue any longer.

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

It is amazing, being in an academic setting, and just assuming everyone else around you is liberal. It gets to the point where one is taken aback when someone says that he/she is not. 

// posted by Bell Curve

Anonymous said...

I get where Bell Curve is coming from. Especially out in California. At the university I'm at now, conservatives are not so uncommon. Nevertheless you can spot where major universities are by looking at a presidential election map with the results reported by county. Any county that votes Democrat but does not have a major city, likely has a major university in it. It also depends on field. If you hang out with business school professors or even some law school professors, you'll find conservatives and even some libertarians.

Most political scientists and economists are pro-free trade. In some circles that makes them conservatives. They also tend to vote Democrat despite/because of the free trade issue. What they are is "liberal" in the classical sense of being pro-liberty: economically, culturally and personally. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

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Anonymous said...

I think the first comment left was hilarious when the writer revealed, gasp, he was an educator in the university system!

Of course the university system is controlled by leftist politics. I didn't even know it was up for debate. And I, being a liberal and a proud Obama supporter, love it.

The fact that the trend in the US is to get more and more education means we as democrats have more and more opportunities to mold the minds of future generations. Isn't that why Anonymous#1 became a professor? To make people think like him? Isn't that the goal of politics? To gain power by winning over the masses? What better plan than making education valuable and then controlling the education system?!

Genius as only the liberal thinker can invoke.

The fairy tale of God and Jesus needs to be exposed and the progressive movement carried on by the baby butchers and tree huggers of tomorrow.

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