Left, Right and Wrong: There's One Good Way to Address Campus 'Imbalance' · 24 May 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage

Left, Right and Wrong: There's One Good Way to Address Campus 'Imbalance'

Editorial from the Daily Camera--05/25/05

The University of Colorado faculty tilts leftward even by the standards of higher education, a Daily Camera report confirmed Sunday.

The Camera analysis, which compared a university roster with voter databases, found that only 6 percent of CU-Boulder faculty members are registered Republicans, while 57 percent are Democrats and another 20 percent are unaffiliated.

The numbers here are more extreme than the national average for institutions of higher learning; a study earlier this year found that 50 percent of faculty members at American colleges identify themselves as Democrats and 11 percent are Republicans. And the imbalance at CU is even greater than the numbers suggest, because some professors on the left don't align themselves with either major party.

This state of affairs is hardly new, but to a certain type of conservative it's a call to arms: Somebody has to do something! But what should be done, and who should do it?

So far, the answers from the political right have been consistently wrong. Conservatives tend to ask what universities and politicians can do about the imbalance. They should be asking what they can do about it.

For good reasons, the law prohibits universities from inquiring about someone's political affiliation during the hiring process. And in many disciplines, particularly the sciences, the professor's views are simply irrelevant; who cares whether the physicist is a Republican or a Democrat?

Those facts haven't prevented lawmakers in many states from considering measures to regulate political indoctrination in the classroom or protect students from discrimination based on their political viewpoints. When David Horowitz's "Academic Bill of Rights" became a subject of legislative discussion in Colorado last year, universities agreed voluntarily to review their own procedures for protecting free discussion on campus. Some have called for the abolition of tenure; others have waged - and won - campaigns to serve on boards of trustees at liberal universities.

We grant, as many liberals do not, that intellectual diversity on college campuses is a legitimate issue, particularly in the social sciences and humanities. But we doubt that conservatives will ever make inroads by putting external pressure on universities or by championing oppressive, possibly unconstitutional legislative remedies. The simple fact is that there aren't many conservative academics on campus because there aren't many conservative academics, period. Conservatives are far less likely than liberals to choose academic careers.

We've long believed that conservatives need to encourage talented young people from within their own ranks to pursue academic careers instead of blaming the imbalance entirely on "left-wing" universities. One who shares that view is Ross Douthat, author of the recently published "Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class."

Writing this week in The New Republic Online, Douthat says that "what the right really needs are numbers - not an Academic Bill of Rights but a slew of academic converts, a generation of like-minded graduate students who can integrate upward into the higher echelon of the university, and eventually transform it."

They have models to work with. One, as Douthat points out, is the political left - which "failed to start a revolution but succeeded in taking over academia (and without the help of a single state legislator)" by working from the ground up. Another is the right's own success at nurturing alternatives to the liberal media and liberal think tanks.

Intellectual debate at universities might be more robust if conservatives held a larger share of faculty positions. But it won't happen until conservatives take a share of the responsibility for making it happen.

Read SAF response.