February 25, 2006
In America, I am left-center, but certainly closer to the left. And on the Harvard arts and sciences faculty, I would be on the extreme right.
The students at Harvard supported President Larry Summers by a ratio of three to one. . .
As did the Harvard Crimson (the student newspaper) with editorials like "No Confidence in ‘No Confidence:' The Faculty needs to end its groundless campaign to oust the president" (published on February 13th) or "Harvard's Loss: Summers’ vision of a worldly university should serve as model for Harvard’s next chief" (published on February 22nd). . .
As did enlightened elements of the faculty, like economics professor David Laibson, in this OpEd in the Crimson: "Summers and the Students."
Summers had his faults: he was arrogant and boorish. But he was one of the smartest guys around as well as intellectually honest and willing to listen to new ideas or rethink his opinions. Most importantly, he recognized Harvard's responsibility as one of the world's leading universities to help make the world a better place. He took seriously the job of guiding that university into the 21st century, forcefully advocating major investments in life sciences and engineering, as well as introducing a requirement for every undergraduate to have a study abroad experience during their years at Harvard.
During his five year tenure, he tried (unlike most university Presidents) to actually manage the university; to allocate resources towards important areas for research and education, and require faculty members to adhere to high standards of teaching and scholarship. The tragedy for Harvard is that if a man with Larry Summer's talents -- youngest full professor at Harvard, former Secretary of the Treasury, prodigious intellect, robust ego -- is unable to effectively govern the university, who can?
The out of touch, tenured leftists on the FAS faculty should be ashamed of themselves. But this was not primarily a battle of ideology. While Summers was more of a political centrist in many ways (he was forceful in advocating the return of ROTC to Harvard's campus and was the first University President to address the ROTC commissioning ceremony in many, many years), he was, after all, a liberal: a card-carrying friend of Bill's and a loyal member of Clinton's cabinet. What was at stake here was not politics but faculty privilege: would tenured academics be left alone to work (or not) as they saw fit, without executive oversight or criticism.
Again, I am very disappointed in Harvard. It should have done better; and easily could have. If only the seven members of the Corporation who hired Summers (and were the only people who had the power to accept or request Summers' resignation) had shown more backbone.
February 23, 2006
Winter in America
Columnist Gerard Baker, writing in today's UK Times, sees broader significance in Harvard President Larry Summers having been run out of office:
TWENTY YEARS AGO the American philosopher, Allan Bloom, published a book called The Closing of the American Mind, a devastating indictment of the nation’s universities and, more broadly, of its cultural elites.
Its premise was that the spirit of openness, a willingness to consider ideas freely, the great virtue of American life and the guiding ethos of a university had been perverted into a cultural relativism. From the 1960s liberal philosophy had taken hold, defiantly asserting that truth was in the eye of the beholder, and that notions of absolute ideals or virtues were anachronistic. In this new world, liberal democracy was no better than totalitarian theocracy, Plato’s philosophy was no more valid than Marianne Faithfull’s and Mozart should be considered on the same terms as the Monkees.
The resignation of Larry Summers as President of Harvard University this week indicates that the closing of the American mind is a continuing process, remorselessly squeezing the light out of its academic enlightenment
Technorati Tags: Larry Summers
February 21, 2006
Dropping The Pilot
Larry Summers resigned today as President of Harvard University, having been nibbled to death by ducks. This is very bad news for Harvard.
Stanley Kurtz, at the NRO's Corner, observes that it is a bad idea to appease tyrants. He's right of course, but the advocates of campus political correctness really only used the issue as a club to attack Summers. The real question was governance: would Harvard continue to be run by and for its professoriate or would adult supervision be imposed? With Summers' resignation, the answer is sadly clear.
I suspect that many alumni (including myself) are going to rethink their level of financial support for the institution.
Technorati Tags: Larry SummersUpdate
Professor Alan Dershowitz (whom rarely see eye-to-eye with) is not pleased either.
December 01, 2005
You can't get there from here
Yale Law Professor Peter Schuck on faculty ideological diversity:
Elite law schools cherish robust debate, iconoclasm, and arguing issues from all sides, right? Wrong. The dirty little (not-so) secret about these faculties-that they care much more about diversifying their skin colors, genders, and surnames than about diversifying their points of view-has finally come to the attention of the general public.
Unfortunately, while he recognizes the problem, he rejects any potential solutions:
What can be done to make professors practice what they preach on diversity? Alas, no easy remedy exists. The tenure system and the lack of mandatory retirement will project existing faculty bias far into the future. Moreover, the elite schools recruit new law teachers mainly from the top ranks of their recent graduates, whose own predominantly left-liberal views are fortified by their professors. And adopting affirmative action for conservative viewpoints would be odious and, for public law schools, almost certainly a First Amendment violation.
He also opposes even a non-binding "academic bill of rights." Well, looking on the bright side, at least he recognizes that it's a problem. That's progress, I guess.
November 30, 2005
Progress at Harvard
Glenn Reynolds links to an article in the current issue of The New York Observer by Anna Schneider-Mayerson describing a recent trend towards embracing ideological diversity at Harvard Law School. Evidently, Larry Summers' appointment of fellow Clinton administration official Elena Kagan as the new Law School Dean was a smart choice. She appears to be doing a great job of encouraging the selection of the best scholars and teachers for the faculty, regardless of their politics. (In the process, also managing to attract some first-rate conservative legal scholars.)
However, judging from a recently published study in the Georgetown Law Journal by John O. McGinnis, Matthew A. Schwartz, and Benjamin Tisdell analyzing campaign donations by law school faculty members, Harvard has a long way to go before its Law School faculty "thinks like America" on political issues. (For some preliminary results from this study, you can visit Professor McGinnis' web page.)
Meanwhile, kudos to Dean Kagan and President Summers for moving in the right direction.
August 28, 2005
University of California: No Freedom of Inquiry Needed Here
Leila Beckwith, professor emeritus of pediatrics at UCLA, had an interesting OpEd in today's edition decrying the erosion of academic freedom in the (state financed and managed) University of California system. She described the following series of events, which I had never heard of and, frankly, find to be outrageous:
From 1934 to 2003, UC regulations defined academic freedom this way: "The function of the university is to seek and transmit knowledge and to train students in the processes whereby truth is to be made known. To convert, or make converts, is alien and hostile to this dispassionate duty. Where it becomes necessary, in performing this function of a university, to consider political, social or sectarian movements, they are dissected and examined, not taught, and the conclusion left, with no tipping of the scales, to the logic of the facts."
. . . Yet, in 2002, the University of California, in an egregious act of irresponsibility, backed away from these rules after a UC Berkeley graduate student taught a remedial reading and writing course titled "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance." By all accounts, including the instructor's, the course was strongly committed to the Palestinian perspective in the conflict with Israel and taught without any obligation to present alternative views or inconvenient facts. The original course description went so far as to encourage conservative thinkers to seek other classes.
Though the school rewrote that description, then-President Richard Atkinson also began the process of gutting its academic freedom rules, and, by 2003, the university had eliminated the statements quoted above from its regulations and removed any obligation for professors and instructors to aspire to maintain political neutrality in their courses or even inform students that other viewpoints exist.
Evidently there is legislation pending that would restore the previous status quo and confirm that UCal's mission is to open minds to reasoned inquiry, not enforce political indoctrination. Let's hope that it succeeds.
February 15, 2004
Diversity? We don't need no stinkin' diversity!
On Monday February 9th, a conservative student organization at Duke University took out a full-page advertisement in The Chronicle, a Duke student newspaper, in the form of an open letter to Duke President Nan Keohane. The ad was an indictment of Keohane and her faculty for hypocrisy and ideological bias:
"According to your own words, "diversity" is of premium import to an individual's education. You also claim that "diversity" does not only pertain to race; rather, intellectual diversity is a key element of any learning environment.
We would hope, then, that your earnest regard for "diversity" would be apparent on your own campus. This does not, however, appear to be the case. The following information regarding the political party registrations of Duke faculty members might be of interest in your pursuit of your noble goal of "diversity":
[The ad then detailed the voter registration data for faculty members in nine humanities departments showing that only 5% of the 168 faculty members were registered Republicans while 85% were Democrats and 11% were unaffiliated. In six of the departments, no faculty members were registered Republicans.]
Since many of the departments listed above have become increasingly politicized over the past few decades, it is disingenuous to argue that the marked disparities found in the data do not have a significant impact on the daily workings of their faculty members.
Our question is straightforward: Is this 'diversity'?"
Not surprisingly, the ad has kicked off a great deal of controversy. Robert Brandon, chair of the philosophy department, added fuel to the fire by giving this ill-considered quote to a reporter from The Chronicle:
"We try to hire the best, smartest people available," Brandon said of his philosophy hires. "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire…
This tempest-in-a-teapot on the Duke campus can be seen as a isolated example, but it does reflect a broader problem. Most dispassionate observers would agree that over the last several decades, the political center for most U.S. university faculties has move to the left; often far to the left of the younger generation that they are seeking to educate. However, hard data on this issue is hard to find, unlike information on the racial or gender composition of faculty members, for example. (For more on the Duke controversy, see this excellent post by Erin O'Connor at Critical Mass.)
David Horowitz and Eli Lehrer of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture did a study in 2002 analyzing the publicly available voter registration information for the faculty and staff of 32 elite US universities and colleges. The study was able to identify the party registration for more than 1,500 faculty members and found that more than 91% were registered Democrats versus 9% who were registered as Republicans. In four colleges (Williams, MIT, Oberlin and Haverford) the study was unable to identify any Republicans among the faculty. Another study found similar ideological bias in terms of commencement speaker selection for these same educational institutions.
My attempt to identify the ideological composition of faculty and staff members at academic institutions used a different approach; tracking campaign contribution data filed with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). U.S. campaign finance law requires disclosure of all contributions in excess of $200 to the FEC including the name, address, occupation and employer for each contributor. This information is published on the Internet by the FEC, and various organizations maintain web sites where anyone with internet access can search for the records of individual contributors or contributors with the same employer. (The one I used is "The Political Moneyline" published by TRKC at https://www.tray.com.)
I examined political contributions made by staff and faculty members at US News & World Report's 15 top-ranked national universities for the period from January 2001 through the third quarter of 2003 (the most recent data available). Over this nearly three-year period, faculty and staff at these 15 universities made 2,974 donations for a total of nearly $2.2 million to federal campaigns and political action committees. Consistent with the results found by Horowitz and Lehrer's 2002 study, 84% of the funds contributed went to Democratic candidates or affiliated PACs while 12% went to Republicans and 4% went to non-partisan PACs that supported both Republican and Democratic candidates. The chart below shows the distribution by university:
(Percent of funds contributed, excluding non-partisan PACs)
Overall, the ratio of Democratic contributions to Republican ranged from a high of nearly 18:1 at MIT to a little more than 2:1 at Duke and Washington University. This compares with the nearly equal rates of party affiliation among the U.S. population at large.
Interestingly, the most "elite" and selective universities tended to be least diverse in terms of the political orientation of their faculties. On the other hand, those schools located in the South or Midwest (which also tended to be less prestigious) had larger minorities of Republican contributors on their staff. Duke, the university whose Conservative Union has done the most to draw public attention to the issue, is actually the most ideologically "diverse" of the 15 universities examined.
While I know of no source of historical data on the ideological composition of university faculties, my own sense is that ideological conformity has increased over time at U.S. universities. As a student at Reed College, Harvard University and Oxford University during the late 1970s and early 1980s I remember that many faculty members were more politically conservative than their students. (And certainly more conservative than I was, at least in my youth.) Today, it would appear the reverse is true and that faculty members are considerably more liberal than their students. According to the University of Michigan's National Election Studies data, congressional voting patterns among the youngest age cohort in their study sample (those born after 1975, which would include nearly all college age voters) were highly volatile and not overwhelmingly aligned with any one party. For example, in 2002, 61% of this age group voted for Republican congressional candidates vs. 39% who voted for Democrats. In 2000, the vote was nearly reversed with 65% voting for Democrats vs. 35% voting Republican. By contrast, the overwhelming majority of university faculty and staff appear to be firmly aligned with the Democratic Party over this period.
Clearly, if discrimination in employment on the basis of political affiliation were illegal, the "statistical disparities" between the ideological composition of faculty and staff at elite universities and the population at large would provide prima facie evidence of discriminatory behavior. However, this form of discrimination is not only widespread, it is also legal.
In the recent US Supreme Court decision regarding the University of Michigan's use of race as a factor in admissions, the Court endorsed the precedent established in the 1978 Bakke decision authored by Justice Powell that the state had a compelling interesting in ensuring educational diversity. Writing for the majority in Grutter v.Bollinger et al., Justice O'Conner quoted extensively from Powell in his Bakke decision:
Justice Powell grounded his analysis in the academic freedom that "long has been viewed as a special concern of the First Amendment." Justice Powell emphasized that nothing less than the "'nation's future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure' to the ideas and mores of students as diverse as this Nation of many peoples." In seeking the "right to select those students who will contribute the most to the 'robust exchange of ideas,' " a university seeks "to achieve a goal that is of paramount importance in the fulfillment of its mission." Both "tradition and experience lend support to the view that the contribution of diversity is substantial." [Citations omitted]
Of course, the Court was considering racial diversity, not intellectual diversity, and student admissions, not faculty appointments. However, it seems clear that the underlying logic behind these decisions is that diverse perspectives and ideas are an essential part of an educational system in a free society.
What is to be done?
If we accept the premise that politically conservative thinkers are under-represented on the faculties of most institutions of higher learning in the U.S., the question then becomes what (if anything) should be done about it?
I would suggest that the same approach taken in the past to remedy racial and gender discrimination in employment (commonly known as "affirmative action") would be appropriate with regard to political ideology as well. (This would be particularly relevant in the social sciences and humanities where the political beliefs and world view of the teacher would have a greater impact upon the classroom than it would in fields like mathematics or engineering.) That is not to say that political philosophy or ideology should be a "litmus test" for faculty hiring decisions or that quotas should be used to insure that university faculties accurately reflect the political beliefs of the population at large. Rather, ideological balance should be taken into consideration along with all of the other relevant factors. If two equally qualified candidates were competing for a position in a department that was under-represented by ideological conservatives, than the more conservative candidate should be given preference. In other words, providing politically under-represented groups (in this case conservatives and Republicans) the same preferences currently granted to minority or female applicants. Given the significant role played by the federal government in financing higher education (both directly though Pell Grants and research contracts and indirectly through guaranteed student loan programs), the federal government clearly has the power to compel academic institutions to end discrimination against politically conservative teachers. Of course, new legislation would be needed requiring schools that receive government support to have faculties that reflect the ideological diversity of the country at large.
However, one would hope that university faculties, administrators and trustees would recognize that campus ideological conformity is inconsistent with our pluralistic traditions and the ideals of a liberal arts education and voluntarily undertake reforms to insure greater representation of conservative views. After all, institutions that do not reflect the ideological diversity of our society cannot adequately discharge their responsibilities to educate future leaders in a democratic system of government. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not the academic community will recognize the need for greater balance in their ranks without the threat of legislation requiring ideological diversity.
Note on methodology
The data on individual contributions for the 2002 and 2004 election cycles as reported by the FEC database as of mid-January 2004 were copied from The Political Moneyline. However, many other sources are available, including the FEC's own website. More precisely, I queried the employer/occupation field for matches with several alternate forms for a university name; for example "California Institute of Technology" as well as "Cal Tech", "California Tech" and "CIT".
The data were then manually scrubbed to remove non-University affiliated entries like "Stanford Financial" or "Yale Materials Handling". Student contributions were also manually deleted by searching for the term "student".
The recipients of the contributions were then classified as either Democratic, Republican or Non-partisan by searching for the names of the candidates or PACs on the Political Moneyline to determine their party affiliation or the party distribution of their further contributions. PACs that gave 80% or more of their contributions to a single party's candidates were considered to be partisan. "Independents" like Jeffords or Sanders who caucus with the Democrats were considered Democrats. Republican leaning groups like the Libertarian Party were considered Republican.
The Microsoft® Excel file containing the data and charts can be downloaded here.
You can also see my earlier post on this subject here.