Category Archive 'Discrimination'

09 Feb 2011

More on Political Bias in Academia

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Megan McArdle contemplates yesterday’s New York Times academic bias against conservatives article. She does not pretend to have a solution, but thinks it would be nice if liberals actually recognized their own biases.

[L]iberals, who are usually quick to assume that underrepresentation represents some form of discrimination–structural or personal–suddenly become, as Haidt notes, fierce critics of the notion that numerical representation means anything. Moreover, they start generating explanations for the disparity that sound suspiciously like some old reactionary explaining that blacks don’t really want to go into management because they’re much happier without all the responsibility. Conservatives are too stupid to become academics; they aren’t open new ideas; they’re too aggressive and hierarchical; they don’t care about ideas, just money. In other words, it’s not our fault that they’re not worthy.

Besides, liberals suddenly argue, we shouldn’t look for every sub-population to mirror the composition of the population at large; just as Greeks gravitated towards diners in 1980s New York, and the small market business was dominated by Koreans, liberals are attracted to academia, and conservatives to, well, some other profession. …

I don’t actually know many conservatives who want quotas for conservatives, either–I’m sure they’re out there, but even David Horowitz didn’t go that far. Most of the people I talk to think, like James Joyner, that this may be a problem without a solution. It is just my impression, but I think what conservatives want most of all is simply recognition that they are being shut out. It is a double indignity to be discriminated against, and then be told unctuously that your group’s underrepresentation is proof that almost none of you are as good as “us”. Haidt notes that his correspondence with conservative students (anonymously) “reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s”:

    He quoted — anonymously — from their e-mails describing how they hid their feelings when colleagues made political small talk and jokes predicated on the assumption that everyone was a liberal. “I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work,” one student wrote. “Given what I’ve read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not.”

Beyond that, mostly they would like academics to be conscious of the bias, and try to counter it where possible. As the quote above suggests, this isn’t just for the benefit of conservatives, either. Just as excluding blacks and women from academia by tacit agreement allowed for a certain amount of wrong-headed groupthink, so does excluding people with different political views. No, I’m not saying you have to hire a Young Earth Creationist to be a biology professor, but I don’t see why it should matter in a professor of Mathematics or Sociology.

Trying to be more conscious of one’s own bias, and even to attempt to work against it, should not be such a hard task for people as brilliant, open-minded, and committed to equality and social justice as I keep hearing that liberal academics are. So it doesn’t really seem like so much to ask.

08 Feb 2011

Diversity, the Lack Thereof, in the Social Sciences

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The New York Times has an amusing item about the professional bias investigators of the modern academic world finding themselves confronted with powerful evidence of a very large beam in their own collective eye.

Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.”

It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.”

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The social sciences are build around left-wing assumptions and perspectives, so it isn’t all that surprising to me that Sociology and Anthro departments are overwhelmingly populated by left-wing democrats, but lack of political diversity in American colleges and universities notoriously extends far beyond the social sciences. English and History departments are scarcely more diverse in their political representation.

Steven Hayward, at Power-Line, describes the well-known phenomenon of conservative fear and isolation on the modern university faculty.

I have a good friend–I won’t name out him here though–who is a tenured faculty member in a premier humanities department at a leading east coast university, and he’s . . . a conservative! How did he slip by the PC police? Simple: he kept his head down in graduate school and as a junior faculty member, practicing self-censorship and publishing boring journal articles that said little or nothing. When he finally got tenure review, he told his closest friend on the faculty, sotto voce, that “Actually I’m a Republican.” His faculty friend, similarly sotto voce, said, “Really? I’m a Republican, too!”

That’s the scandalous state of things in American universities today. Here and there–Hillsdale College, George Mason Law School, Ashland University come to mind–the administration is able to hire first rate conservative scholars at below market rates because they are actively discriminated against at probably 90 percent of American colleges and universities. Other universities will tolerate a token conservative, but having a second conservative in a department is beyond the pale.

A few weeks ago, I posted a link referred to in private email correspondence by a younger person from Yale, now teaching English at a major university. As is the custom, I mentioned his name as my source for the post in a final “hat tip.” A few hours later, I received an email from that university professor, thanking me for the courtesy, but asking me to remove his name from this blog for fear that the association with Never Yet Melted might possibly out his unacceptable personal political views and jeopardize his candidacy for tenure. Conservative faculty members all over America today live in real, and well-founded, fear of being victimized by discrimination on the basis of their political views.


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