I generally agree with John Tierney’s editorial and Tevi Troy’s comments about the lack of conservatives in academia. I do think many conservatives avoid academic careers either because they do not wish to keep their views closeted or because they do not feel they will be as successful as their politically liberal counterparts. However, one thing that John and Tevi both overlook is the value of mentorship.
Academic training is almost like an apprenticeship. To be a successful academic, one typically has to develop at least two good mentor/mentee relationships — one as an undergraduate and one as a graduate student. A conservative student may be less willing to seek out a liberal professor as a mentor. Similarly, a politically liberal professor may not be inclined to invest time in a student with conservative views.
Even as an untenured professor, I have been fairly open about my conservative views. After all, I was publishing Policy Analysis pieces for the Cato Institute as a graduate student and was writing for NRO as a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard. An academic career certainly has its share of aggravations and there are no shortage of horror stories from the academy. However, one thing that I always remind smart young conservatives is that you do not need every school to admit you to their Ph.D. program or grant you tenure — you just need to find one school. There are also some great benefits. No matter where you end up, you will be offering your students something unique. Many will be responsive, and you will get the chance to mentor a great group of young people.
I have always felt that there is a real need for more conservatives and libertarians in the academy. Whenever I talk to a young person considering an academic career, I always end with the same bit of advice: “Run to the barricades and join us!”
— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.