If I Ran the Zoo VIII

Michael Kellman

If I ran the zoo, I would first remind myself that nobody really runs the zoo. Then I would relax and go back to musing about an imaginary world.    

In my world, contemporary academics would acknowledge the astonishing disparity between liberals and conservatives among their ranks. They would realize that this is very unhealthy for their institutions, for the education they provide, for their own intellectual life. They would not necessarily own up to overt politicization of the classroom – in fact, I think this is greatly exaggerated. But they would recognize that the current lopsided faculties can’t possibly do justice to the full range of perspectives that are needed in the academy. They would avoid the temptation to fall back on a denial of open bias, and would look, for example, at the range of invited speakers on politically tinged subjects. And they would immediately understand why outsiders see a problem.

What to do about it? A difficult question, especially if, like me, you are opposed to group preferences. Maybe I am blind and deaf, but I really am not aware of legions of conservative scholars banging on the doors of academia, seeking entry. Maybe some conservatives have had their careers trashed, but the biggest problem as I see it is simply that they are vastly outnumbered. I would be happy just to see the academy acknowledge that the imbalance, whatever its causes, is a real problem, and begin to ponder what might be done to ameliorate the damage it causes. 

In my fantasy world, outsiders, especially conservatives, would ponder their own role in the problem. They would not be so quick to blame everything on bias in faculty hiring. My own experience from many years in the natural sciences, in something approaching a hundred faculty hiring, tenure, and promotion cases, is that nothing having to do with political views plays much of a role. (I wouldn’t say the same of high administrative positions.) And yet, I have no doubt that even the natural science faculties lean heavily to the left. Whatever the complete explanation for the faculty tilt, a greater taste for academic life among people of the left is a big part of it.   

Another thing: it doesn’t help that so many conservative academics and scholars have shunned academia for conservative institutes and think tanks, where the teaching loads are low, to put it mildly, along with the chance to influence students. 

If conservatives really want to do something about the ideological imbalance on campus, it won’t do to shun graduate studies, take up a pose of disdain for the campus, and opt for greener pastures. 

The situation was typified perfectly, if perhaps unwittingly, in a recent Wall St. Journal column, in which Naomi Schaefer Riley pondered “The Ivory Tower Leans Left, but Why?” Her final sentence said it all: “If you want to know why conservatives don't get doctorates, maybe it's because they just don't like hanging out with the people who do.”

To which I say, “If you don’t play the game, don’t complain when you don’t win.” 

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