Friday, January 22, 2010

Liberal Professors

Sociologists Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse are trying to figure out why professors in general, and sociologists in particular, as so liberal. Patricia Cohen has a pretty good story about it in the New York Times. They argue that the academy has become "politically typed" on the analogy of some jobs becoming "gender typed." It is not that conservatives get all the way through Ph.D. programs only to get turned away from professoring jobs by political discrimination. Rather, conservatives don't even start down the path of professor training. They are more likely to head to business and the professions in the first place.

I am wrestling with this argument. I think it is mostly true. I see a broad political mix of undergraduate students. Of those who head on to graduate school to be professors, quite a few are very liberal; almost none (actually, none that I can think of) are strong conservatives. The liberals expect the academy to be an easier and friendlier place for them to make their way than any other occupation would be. I attract and encourage centrists, some of whom go on to academic careers. Some of them are, indeed, pushed left by academia, though just as often they are pushed more to the center in reaction. This center movement is especially true for religious and family-oriented centrists.

In my own case, as I have moved more to the center, I have encountered some resistance from liberal academics who regard liberalism as a requirement of being a professor. Just recently I proposed a family sociology textbook that would be an empirical and centrist compilation of the basic facts of most people's family lives. A potential publisher said, reasonably, that such a book would be so controversial that it would be too risky to publish - not enough professors would assign it to make it financially viable.


Nols said...

Much like how traditionally, most strong conservatives are very vehement in their religious beliefs. How often does a conservative atheist come into the broad spectrum of conservative thinking? I see that conservatism holds a warm place for the men of faith. Not to say that all liberals are anti-religious people, but statistics shows that the larger base of evangelicals rests within the conservative mindset.

Anonymous said...

The better question to ask might be why do so many liberals choose to become professors in general and sociologist in particular?

Gruntled said...

Gross and Fosse say that sociology is attractive to liberals because much of it is about race, class, and gender inequality, which liberals are interested in.

Anonymous said...

Oh! That's right. I just read that.

A Burger King in Miami will soon begin to serve beer. Just like the Starbucks you mentioned earlier.

I wonder why they ( sociologists and liberals) are so interested in those particular things? Sometimes I think we dwell on our differences too much and for the wrong reasons.

Gruntled said...

I think the starting point is the ethical premise that inequality is wrong. I don't think this premise stands up to scrutiny. I have impressed with how many sociologists don't scrutinize it.

Black Sea said...

"How often does a conservative atheist come into the broad spectrum of conservative thinking?"

John Derbyshire, who writes for National Review, among other outlets, would probably be the best known. Heather McDonald, who writes for City Journal, would be another candidate. In case you're interested, there is a website called "Secular Right," at which the above two writers and several others appear.

halifax said...

I would suggest that this a recent phenomena and I think that the researchers actually only date it to the last forty or fifty years.

In re. the connection between religion and conservatism, this connection is much more tenable in the US than in either the UK or Canada. In the UK, for example, neither of the two most important conservative thinkers over the past century (Oakeshott and Hayek) was religious at all, and the old canard about the Anglican Church being the Conservative Party at prayer has been false since at least WWI.

In the US, the term 'conservative' as applied to politics is of very recent vintage (post-WWII), and many academics who would probably be identified as conservative by others (like me, for example) aren't convinced that it is a particularly useful term (I tend to think of myself as a skeptical liberal, meaning that I am skeptical about the possibilities of building the New Jerusalem here, not that I’m a metaphysical or a religious one).

The real story is not the self-identification of faculty as liberal because I don't think that the label is particularly useful anymore. However, it is true that humanities and social science professors (excluding economists, not to mention engineering professors or scientists) do support the Democratic Party in large numbers, approximating the support of African-Americans for the Dems. To offer an ungenerous partisan explanation (and I will, of course, exempt the whole Weston family from what follows), I think that much of it can be traced to the anger and insecurity that lefty academics have concerning their position in American society. They believe that they are incredibly bright and that they should be running things, but instead they aren't really respected, they get paid very little (at least according to the amount of work they put in for their credentials), and they often have to live away from the locus of their interests, which lies in the delights available in large cities. These disgruntled folks develop a hatred for others who have made different choices and who are more successful (by some different measure, usually wealth) than them, and they want to use the power of the government to bring all people to an equal level of misery, envy, etc. They are anti-individuals and they favor teleocratic/collectivist government because they are unhappy with the way their own choices have worked out and thus would like to deny such individuality to others. It damages their self-esteem and self-image after all. How's that?

By the way, I think your post also points to the disconnect between some of your readers who dismiss your claim to being a centrist and your own opinion of yourself as such. I can personally attest to the fact that many Centre faculty believe Prof. Weston to be just to the left of Ronald Reagan, although Beau has done more to actually get Democrats elected than just about anyone else on that campus. So, amongst the Centre faculty, Beau, you are certainly a centrist, but they're not exactly a representative sample (compare yourself with John Shelton Reed and your position on the political spectrum moves considerably left).

Their attitude reminds me of the old story (apocryphal, perhaps) of Pauline Kael, the film critic of the New Yorker magazine, expressing shock upon hearing of Nixon's landslide victory over McGovern. She apparently said, 'I can't believe he won. No one that I know voted for him.'

Anonymous said...

Being from the deep deep South we
considered anyone born north of Interstate 10 to be a Yankee and suspect.

randy said...

is inequality wrong?

i'd say yes and no. no, not as long as it's kept within reason. leftys hate the notion of ANY 'inequality' EVER, for any reason-even very good reasons. besides, a certain degree of inequality is inevitable.

at the same time...if EXTREME inequality, INTRACTABLE, WIDESPREAD inequality exists w/in a society; are you not back in the old Confederacy?

Anonymous said...

I'm a handyman. I make 40k. I want to make what a senator makes. Am I a slave. Should we all make the same amount? Should hamburger flippers make what professors make?

I NEED wealthy people to make a living. 40k people don' hire me.

Gruntled said...

I think legal equality and soul equality are solidly good. All other kinds of equality are neutral. Whether they are good or bad is an empirical, not ideological, question.