A Liberal Defense of the Campus Blacklist · 02 December 2004

A Liberal Defense of the Campus Blacklist

By Ellen Goodman--The Seattle Times--12/03/04

BOSTON - I like the old maxim that academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. How else to explain the intramural conflicts that erupt over such searing campus issues as tenure and parking?

But now it seems there's an extramural furor over politics itself.

Conservatives have long regarded universities as the last spider holes of liberalism. They regard professors as lefty holdouts who spend their days indoctrinating the younger generation on the virtues of Che Guevara.

Every year, conservative groups put some $20 million into campus politics and publications. While liberal students may organize against sweatshops and sneakers, conservatives organize against campus liberalism. One group led by David Horowitz has been pushing an "academic bill of rights" aimed at what is called liberal bias.

There is now more ammunition for the battle of the intellectual bulge. Two new studies point to campuses as oases of blue. The first, a survey of 1,000 academics, shows that there are seven Democrats for every Republican in the humanities and social sciences. A second study of voter registration records shows that Democrats outnumber Republicans 9-to-1 on the faculties of Berkeley and Stanford.

All of this adds to the complaint that conservatives are as marginalized on campus as synchronized swimmers. This in turn is used to back up complaints about discrimination in hiring and teaching, and the need for what is called ideological diversity.

The co-authors of the faculty survey put it this way: "The social sciences are pretty much a one-party system." They add, "A campus that had six males to one female would be universally recognized as very lopsided." So, they infer, is a campus that's 7-to-1 Republican.

Well, let us not forget that campuses are still lacking in the old-fashioned kind of diversity. As for lopsided? Among full professors, 87 percent are white and 77 percent are male.

But as someone who has long argued that people tend to hire those they feel comfortable with, I get the idea. I also get the idea of ideological diversity. You can, after all, have ethnic and gender pluralism along with intellectual uniformity. The Bush Cabinet is the case study of a multicultural rainbow of political clones.

What is fascinating, however, is to see how the campus watchers have usurped the language of liberalism for their own. It reminds me of the arguments in favor of teaching creationism in the name of open-mindedness.

The conversation about liberal bias on campus is chock full of words like diversity and pluralism. There is even the hint that universities might need a touch of affirmative action for conservative academics. What next? Quotas for Republican anthropologists?

The Independent Women's Forum has repeatedly claimed that the reason women don't rise to the corner office has nothing to do with gender discrimination. It's really because, as the IWF president said, "women often make different choices than men." Conservatives also like to talk disparagingly about "victim politics."

But now it appears that the activists on the right are claiming to be victims of discrimination rather than personal choice. No one is suggesting that Republican Ph.D.s might rather work in the free market than teach the free market. Nor are they suggesting that Exxon would profit from a gallon of ideological pluralism.

These surveys don't actually prove that one-party faculties color the classrooms blue. Nor do they prove that students are being wooed leftward.

Still, I find the attention to campus politics rather charming. The only ones who take universities as seriously as universities take themselves are activists on the right. When Harvey Mansfield, a Harvard conservative, was asked about the difficulty conservatives had getting tenure, he sighed ironically, "Well, I guess they'll have to go to Washington and run the country."

Want to talk real power? If the faculty clubs are blue, corporate management offices are red. In the name of diversity, let's trade some liberal sociologists for conservative oil executives.

And if you want to talk about civility, let's exchange college professors with a median salary of $88,591 for Fortune 500 CEOs with a median salary of $7.1 million. After all, the higher the stakes, the less vicious the politics.

Ellen Goodman's column appears Friday on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is ellengoodman@globe.com

Response from David Horowitz:

Dear Editor,

I am the author of the Academic Bill of Rights, whom your columnist Ellen Goodman took a shot at in her recent column about the blacklist of conservatives on college faculties. According to a study by Professor Klein at Santa Clara University, registered Democrats will outnumber registered Republicans on academic faculties in the coming generation by a ratio of 30-1.

In her column, Ms. Goodman makes the unsubstantiated charge that conservatives spend $20 million on campus agitation. If she looked at the budgets of Ford, Rockefeller, MacArthur and other liberal and left foundations she would find that American campuses receive several multiples of that figure for liberal and leftwing agendas.

Ms. Goodman thinks it's a trivial matter that that college professors hire only colleagues who agree with them politically or that many of them grade students on the basis of their willingness to parrot liberal opinions. She also thinks that conservatives naturally choose to go into business rather than pursue an academic career. Well why wouldn't they when conservatives have been excluded from the faculties and administrations of so many colleges, while professors openly show their intolerance towards students who disagree with them and give them assignments like "Explain Why George Bush Is A War Criminal," to quote one mid-term topic at a Colorado university?

The fact is, that despite Ms. Goodman's protest to the contrary, this is a serious matter. Thanks to the efforts of Students for Academic Freedom, legislators in more than 20 states are considering legislation for an Academic Bill of Rights to correct it.


David Horowitz