Campos: Irony Rife in College Crusade · 31 January 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage


By Paul Campos--Rocky Mountain News--01/25/05

Submitted for your approval: Imagine a world in which conservative college professors outnumber their liberal colleagues by a ratio of 7-to-1.

In this world, many departments, universities and even whole scholarly fields seem prone to repeating certain cliches of conservative thought, while liberal viewpoints are routinely disparaged and even vilified.

It's a world in which liberal students sometimes feel as if their classes are given over to right-wing political indoctrination, rather than scholarly study, and in which liberal candidates for academic jobs find their political views make them targets for severe discrimination.

Eventually, the situation becomes so bad that an activist liberal intellectual comes up with an idea: It's time for legislatures around the country to enact an Academic Bill of Rights.

This document declares that exposing students to intellectually diverse viewpoints is crucial to learning; that good teaching requires acknowledging the unsettled state of all human knowledge; and that discrimination on the basis of political viewpoint is wrong.

Although the Bill of Rights itself doesn't mandate any specific remedies, its message is unmistakable: Schools that wish to avoid the wrath of the legislatures that have adopted it had better start hiring a lot more liberal professors.

Now imagine what the reaction of the leading lights of contemporary conservative opinion would to such an initiative. Cries of outrage would condemn it as the ultimate expression of elite liberal arrogance. (Ann Coulter's shriek would likely shatter windows from coast to coast.)

Having lost the battle in the marketplace of ideas, liberals were oh-so-predictably demanding that the hated government impose intrusive and burdensome regulations, to produce outcomes the market had forcefully rejected.

The Academic Bill of Rights, we would be assured, was nothing but a quota program for discredited ideologies and their underqualified adherents.

But of course we don't live in this alternate universe. We live in a world in which David Horowitz, an activist conservative intellectual, is having quite a bit of success in promoting his Academic Bill of Rights, designed to redress liberal dominance on college campuses.

According to Horowitz, conservative academics aren't badly outnumbered because the market in its wisdom has decided that it doesn't need most of what they're trying to sell, or because their ideas have been discredited, or because there aren't a lot of bright right-wingers in this world.

Goodness gracious no! To even suggest such things would be highly insensitive. It would represent a failure to respect and celebrate diversity in all its forms. It would be, to coin a phrase, politically incorrect.

The ironies abound. Conservative ideologues are now invoking market failure, cultural relativism, and disparate impact in hiring to demand yet more government regulation of the academic world.

Another irony is that, in this case, they happen to have a point. There isn't enough intellectual diversity in many parts of academia. For example, in my own field of law, the typical faculty is dominated by squashy liberals, with a couple of libertarians and a feminist or three thrown in. Many of the most interesting schools of both right-wing and left-wing thought aren't represented at all (of course to those who make no distinction between supporting the estate tax and advocating communism, the idea that left-wing thought isn't strongly represented on law school faculties will seem bizarre).

In fact, the market isn't always right, invidious discrimination is both subtle and rampant, and a certain degree of government regulation is therefore often warranted. Too bad people like Horowitz only recognize these things when it's in their interest to do so.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at paul.campos@colorado.edu.