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agreement and disagreement with victor ray about conservatives in academia

Recently, my friend and colleague Victor Ray published a very interesting essay in Inside Higher Education. In it, he makes three claims about conservatives in academia:

  1. Demands for intellectual diversity are not made in good faith.
  2. Conservatives “dominate” higher education.
  3. There is no diversity within conservative thinking.

I agree with #1 but I think #2 and #3 are simply incorrect. Let’s start with agreement: There are exceptions, of course, but many people who claim to represent conservative view points are not really interested in genuine engagement. Probably the most obvious case are the types of people who invite Milo Yiannopolous, Ann Coulter and other conservative “performance artists” who come to college campuses. They’re shock jocks, not real intellectuals.

But on the other points, Victor is not quite right. To be fair to Victor, let me quote him directly: “The second false premise that promoters of so-called diversity of thought rely upon is that conservative ideas are marginalized in higher education when, in fact, they are ubiquitous.”

It depends on what you mean by “marginalized,” but here are some relevant facts:

  • Most research on professor politics shows that they are overwhelmingly registered Democrats and/or liberal. In some disciplines, like sociology, people on the right constitute about 10% (!) of the population. Interested readers can consult Neil Gross’ book, which remains the standard treatment of this topic. There’s even a book that discusses the psychological lives of conservative professors because they are the minority in their workplace (“Passing on the Right“).
  • If you read through the major journals in the social science in the humanities, you don’t see a lot of conservative themed articles. Go ahead, show me some.
  • A standard finding in political science is that college educated in America people are *more* liberal and democrat than republican. Here’s a recent summary by Pew on the topic.
  • I suggest that readers go the course catalog of their own institution and find courses with an obvious conservative leaning. A seminar on F.A. Hayek, or maybe Burke? There are some, of course, but unless you teach at a place like Hillsdale, it’s probably uncommon.

I also disagree with Victor’s claim that there is no variation among conservatives. Once again, here is Victor: “A third premise that should be strongly questioned is the very idea that conservative thought is diverse. What is diverse about a body of thought reliably in support of a reactionary status quo?”

I am not conservative, so I am probably not the best person to defend their point of view, but there is definitely a wide range of thought. And some of it might even be seen as liberatory. For starters, there is the split between social conservatives and libertarians, who often hold conflicting points of view. It is such a stark split that it inspired calls for “fusionism” in earlier eras. Among intellectual conservatives, you have Straussians, nationalist conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and Burkean conservatives. Treating about 40% of the population as a Borg like entity is just as bad as treating everybody from one ethnic group as having the same beliefs.

Let me end on a point of agreement with Victor. In his essay, he says that conservative ideas are “hegemonic.” I think that is an over statement, but there is an important truth in it – the conservative party (the Republicans in 2018) are dominant in a way they haven’t been in about a century. Maybe not in academia, but definitely in the American state.

The GOP holds the White House, the state houses, and the US Congress. There political ascendancy is due to multiple factors, but one is  definitely culture. The GOP, and the Democrats to a lesser extent, offer ideas that people want to hear. They want big prisons, and they want deportations, and they want a war on terror, and they want tariffs and trade wars. These ideas need to be resisted and refuted.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 14, 2018 at 4:35 am

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  1. […] Conservatives in academia Fabio Rojas, orgtheory […]

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