Ivory Conservatives: Part I, The Faculty
(This is the first half of a two-part piece on conservative faculty and students within American institutions of higher education.)
The ivory tower has long been crumbling in the American conservative mind. According to a Pew Research Center study, as of June 2017, 58% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country. Reflected in tirades about “Marxist professors” and “liberal brainwashing centers,” this disdain for academia stems from the ideological makeup of university faculty. As of 2014, around 60% of American college faculty identified as far left or liberal, while fewer than 15% considered themselves far right or conservative. These sentiments, therefore, are clearly not unfounded.
However, with plenty of complaining and very little palpable action being taken, it seems to me that conservatives have no one to blame but themselves. If conservatives truly aim to create ideological diversity within American universities, they should look across the aisle for more workable solutions.
But first, let’s examine the current state of American academia. As I previously mentioned, conservatives seem to love whining about the supposed overabundance of left-wing professors, decrying the lack of intellectual diversity among university faculty. Numerous scholars, however, have revealed that much of this injury is self-inflicted. According to social scientists April Kelly-Woessner and Matthew Woessner, educated conservatives are significantly more likely to forgo academia and enter the private sector than their liberal-minded peers. Through analysis of data collected by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, the husband-and-wife team concluded that conservatives are much more likely to pick majors in professional fields, while being less likely than liberal students to consider pursuit of a PhD. Furthermore, the study demonstrates that both earning potential and the ability to raise a family (two things conservatives tend to care more about) are major factors in these decisions.
In a similar vein, Massimo Pigliucci, a professor of philosophy at CUNY, theorizes that the conservative aversion to academia may be rooted in the nature of the profession itself. He asserts that the “low pay, long time before one gets to tenure (if ever), [and] frequent rejection rates from journals and funding agencies” act as major deterrents, arguing that conservatives tend to be more materially-driven than their left-leaning counterparts.
And while it can be argued that anti-conservative biases push some conservatives out of academia in the humanities and social sciences (where ideology is somewhat deeply rooted), the same cannot be said for STEM academia. After all, one’s opinions on institutional racism in modern America tend to matter very little in the realm of quantum physics. Yet, in spite of this lack of discrimination, there still exists a significant disparity between liberals and conservatives in STEM academia specifically.
One study published in 2007 examined voting behavior amongst college faculty during the 2004 election, paying special attention to each professor’s department. Through the use of surveys, researchers discovered that George W. Bush ‘68 won the votes of just over a third of computer science and engineering faculty, placing those who voted for our Republican pal Mr. Dubya in the clear minority and further demonstrating that those “intolerant liberals” are not all-deserving of blame.
So, to a certain degree, conservatives are shooting themselves in the foot on this one. And while some actual discrimination may occur with respect to faculty hiring decisions and grad school admissions, conservatives have done little to address the problem, allowing it to fester. In order to better combat biases and increase intellectual diversity, perhaps conservatives should take a few hints from their political opposites.
While conservatives champion intellectual diversity, leftists and liberals also possess a passion for diversity, albeit diversity of race and gender. For several decades now, the left has placed increasing emphasis on greater inclusion and representation of women and minorities, viewing it as crucial in the fight for racial and gender equality. However, unlike conservatives, those on the left have taken tangible steps to realize their stated goal. In order to ensure greater representation, the left has aided in the creation of support systems with the sole purpose of encouraging and enabling women and minorities to enter institutions and fields in which they are underrepresented.
These support systems take on many different forms, and include everything from Black Student Unions to groups like WISAY (Women in STEM at Yale) to minority scholarships offered by nonprofits like the Jackie Robinson Foundation. They provide mentors, college and grad school advising, and even funding for internships. In short, they act as empowering forces, granting women and minorities better access to places in which they are underrepresented.
And these concerted efforts haven’t been for naught. Although progress has been slow, women and racial minorities have seen increased representation in academia, politics, business, and a myriad of other fields over the past few decades, much of it being a result of the aforementioned support systems. With a proven record of success, I fail to see why conservatives haven’t taken the initiative to emulate these support systems; crafting more scholarships for young conservatives or establishing groups to mentor right-wingers interested in pursuing PhDs would be a relatively straightforward task. With greater encouragement and access to support systems, conservatives would enter academia at notably higher rates, engendering the diversity of thought so deeply desired by those on the right. Of course, conservatives should still attempt to keep their firearms away from their feet and should instead take aim at the lack of diversity they so despise rather than just complaining about it.