Professors vs. Republicans

by John J. Miller on August 10, 2010

in Articles,Politics

  • Sumo

March 12, 2004



The anonymous posters began to speckle the campus of St. Lawrence University in upstate New York last month. They carried an eye-grabbing message — “Republicans: The Other White Meat.”

Elizabeth Wardell, a senior, thought she knew who was responsible for their appearance: a certain assistant professor with the reputation of a provocateur. Surfing around her school’s Web site, she landed on the sociology department’s homepage and read a paragraph about Robert J. Torres. Then she clicked on his name and was transported to his personal blog. There, Ms. Wardell — who is president of the local College Republicans — discovered an entry headlined “Fascist, Racist College Republicans.”

Politics on the Internet can be a nasty business, but what Mr. Torres spewed forth was unusually obnoxious. His condemnation of the Grand Old Party’s youngest members was angrier than a Howard Dean hissy fit and cruder than John Kerry’s potty-mouthed interview with Rolling Stone. The professor denounced everything from “the Saddam s—” (the liberation of Iraq) to “economic policies that favor rich, white f—s” (tax cuts).

“I couldn’t believe that one of our professors would write such hateful things,” says Ms. Wardell.

Mr. Torres insists that browbeating College Republicans is just a hobby he pursues in his spare time. “What I do on my blog is personal,” he says. The administration at St. Lawrence University seems to agree, or not to care. It says it won’t remove the link from its official Web site to Mr. Torres’s private one, despite requests from Ms. Wardell and others.

Perhaps this is a good thing. Right-leaning students intrigued by one of Mr. Torres’s course descriptions can find out what their prospective teacher really thinks of them before they make the mistake of enrolling in his class. But there is a larger matter to consider: Why do so many professors loathe Republicans?

The simplest explanation may be that it’s easiest to hate your enemies when you don’t know them. After all, assistant professors like Mr. Torres have very little opportunity to mingle with card-carrying members of the Party of Lincoln, or with non-card-carrying conservatives, in their faculty lounges. Call it a crisis of diversity — not of the racial or ethnic sort but of the intellectual variety.

Eighteen months ago, American Enterprise magazine studied voter-registration rolls and published a survey of professors and their political preferences. At Stanford University, 151 professors were aligned with parties of the left (e.g., Democrats, Greens) and 17 were affiliated with parties of the right (Republicans, Libertarians). Similar disparities were recorded everywhere researchers looked: Brown, Cornell, Harvard, Penn State, UCLA, etc. A separate review of Ivy League academics found that 84% of them voted for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, compared with 9% for George W. Bush and 6% for Ralph Nader.

Apparently the term liberal arts is just another way of saying conservatives need not apply. At Duke University — where Democratic deans and humanities professors outnumber Republican ones by a factor of 18 — the chairman of the philosophy department recently offered his unvarnished views on the subject. “We try to hire the best, smartest people available,” said Robert Brandon. “If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.”

A philosophy professor may be forgiven for not realizing that the typical Republican is actually a little better educated than the typical Democrat, according to a social survey administered by the University of Chicago. Yet he really ought to know that Mill’s barb was aimed at a 19th-century British political party rather than a beleaguered minority of 21st-century American academics.

Imagine if Mr. Brandon had used a similar logic to explain why blacks are underrepresented among Duke’s students and faculty. The administration would have issued a gushing apology for the philosopher’s hate speech. As penance, it might have offered Jean-Bertrand Aristide an endowed chair in the political-science department.

People of the right enjoy no such coddling. To borrow a lit-crit term applied to the alleged victims of white-male hegemony, campus conservatives are “The Other” — a barely human subpopulation whose presumed inferiorities justify the dominance of an enlightened professoriate.

The ivory-tower crowd generally defends itself from charges of bias in one of two ways. There is the Torres approach: “Despite my grievances with the right, I work hard to treat people equally in my work as a matter of principle and a commitment to social justice.” In other words, a deep-seated antipathy for College Republicans and other fascists doesn’t influence how these students are taught. (“Not true,” says Ms. Wardell. “My friends and I often pretend to be more liberal because we know it leads to better grades.”)

Then there is the suggestion that politics are irrelevant: e.g., that an admiration for Dennis Kucinich has nothing to do with teaching calculus or Chaucer.

Both theories sound plausible. But haven’t liberals been telling us for years that the personal is political and ideology is everywhere? My own experience suggests that the liberals may have a point — and that their prejudices can’t be checked at the schoolhouse door. To take a single example: About 15 years ago I endured a psychology course at the University of Michigan. One of the lectures focused on racism. My professor announced that it takes several forms, starting with the KKK variety. She said another strain is called “symbolic racism,” which involves opposition to government programs meant to improve the status of blacks and Hispanics. So if you think racial-preference policies aren’t a great idea, you’re a “symbolic racist.”

Today this is basically the official position of the American Psychological Association. Students who question it can’t win, because speaking up is an admission of guilt. Call me a stupid conservative — or worse — for suspecting that the whole thing has more to do with politics than pedagogy.

So what might be done, apart from packing professors into sensitivity seminars? Conservative gadfly David Horowitz has written an Academic Bill of Rights that promotes intellectual diversity and protects students from political harassment. In his energetic way, he is urging legislative bodies from student assemblies to Congress to adopt it.

The American Association of University Professors has already announced its opposition to Mr. Horowitz’s proposal. No surprise there. The last thing it wants is a new generation of students informed of the fact that they can’t believe everything their professors say — even the ones who aren’t cussing on the Web.

Mr. Miller is a writer for National Review.

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