Earlier this month, Spectator published an article on the lack of political diversity among faculty members. Several students lamented the paucity of conservative teachers, claiming that “our degree and society suffer as a result.” Another expressed concern, rather bizarrely, that their classmates would struggle speaking to mainstream Republicans: “You get into the real world… you’ll have no idea what’s going on.”
Yes, conservatives are scarcer in the social sciences. In a survey of more than 1,000 American academics, economics professors Charlotta Stern and Daniel Klein found that Democratic professors outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one. The skew appeared stronger in sociology and anthropology departments. These researchers drew the quick, unsophisticated conclusion that political disparities require correction. More conservative linguistics professors! A course on the French occupation of Egypt instructed by a liberal must diverge from the teachings of a Republican. While there’s no evidence that balancing political composition improves the educational enterprise, Spectator entertains these claims nonetheless, especially when they cite the wryly named Heterodox Academy, a network of academics crusading against odious, “leftist monoculture.”
Lee’s writing flirts with the idea that conservatives ought to be installed into positions in the same manner as underrepresented minorities. Such a supposition falsely equates intellectual diversity with diversity in race, sex, gender, and ability. And certainly, diversity is important. In the words of Justice Lewis Powell (deciding the 1978 University of California v. Bakke case upholding the holistic college admissions process), “Diversity adds an essential ingredient to the educational process.”
But in no way should we pursue some kind of affirmative action for conservatives. This would belittle the principle behind Bakke. Justice Powell affirmed diversity as a legitimate interest for educational institutions, and to qualify the argument, he relied on a Harvard admissions primer about disadvantaged economic and racial groups. It explicitly linked diversity to ensuring opportunities are afforded to groups that have been historically excluded.
Have conservatives faced historical constraints or quotas in the academic world? To answer this question, we must examine discrimination against ideological groups across the political spectrum. If anything America’s history bodes against leftists: Political screening during the McCarthy era brought us to the nadir of academic freedom in pursuit of the “red menace.” Moreover, we still hear stories about women and minorities failing to receive tenure in spite of their scholastic accomplishments and teaching aptitude. As Provost John Coatsworth highlighted in his interview with Spectator, we must keep championing diversity to ensure justice for marginalized groups: “We hire talented scientists and scholars on the basis of the work they do… In the case of ethnic diversity, we’re asking departments to make sure they haven’t missed anybody.” Unlike the fixed category of race, ideology and politics can metamorphose. Without a legacy of restriction, there’s no legitimacy to the claim that conservatives face prejudice in seeking academic appointments.
We should also investigate the Heterodox Academy for concentrating on the humanities and social sciences. What about computer science? Mechanical engineering? Institutions of higher learning offer a rich variety of disciplines, and the liberal professoriate does not outnumber the right in every one. Another review, by Stern and five other scholars, admit that there are many fields where “self-identified conservatives” are “about as numerous as self-identified liberals: typically business, computer science, engineering, health sciences, and technical/vocational fields.”
Let’s then consider a more self-interested reason that conservatives call for political diversity: to spread their influence in the liberal bulwark of the American college campus. Unlike the finance industry and coal county strongholds, the conservative project has yet to infiltrate our marbled, decanal halls. It’s a tactical move to insist that Republican professors are members of a dying breed. With this imagined persecution, conservatives victimize themselves. They’ve long castigated groups—the poor, women, African Americans—for “playing the victim,” so why don’t they swallow their own unsavory, bootstrapping advice? Because this time, it’s chicanery. Delusion and self-pity are not commensurate to the continued oppression of marginalized groups. There’s no evidence that political diversity engenders intellectual diversity; so my apologies, conservatives, if I don’t buy the subterfuge.
The University, with the succor of radicalism and leftist politics, should remain a liberal bastion. Such ideas have the luxury of being debated in the classroom, on Low Steps, in a dorm lounge. From Voxsplainers to Althusser acolytes, robust intellectual diversity endures among students and teachers on the left (as Ben Swanson wrote in his recent Spectator column). But once we leave these gates, to join various fields built upon the edifice of neoliberalism and capitalism, fewer environments permit criticism of ruling ideologies. A corporation won’t accommodate your trenchant analysis of their neo-imperialism; that behavior might just be standard business practice.
The world beyond will not always be friendly to liberal shibboleths. Conservative voices are everywhere—even welcome—at universities, but liberals must be prepared to rigorously fight against half-truths and pretense. I’m not falling for the right’s diversity hoax, and neither should you.
Nikita Mary Singareddy is a Columbia College senior. She spends most of her spring listening to Chapo Trap House and learning how to play frisbee. She is a former columnist for Spectator.