The New York Times Magazine on Sunday featured a shrugging dismissal of claims of the relevance of liberal preponderances in American university faculties by Michael Berube, who is rather fond of the topic as of late. He writes:
So far as I know, my department, like many university departments of English, consists of wall-to-wall Democrats. If my faculty colleagues have any good words to say about George Bush’s fiscal or foreign policies, they’re keeping them to themselves.
Berube of course goes on to suggest that there’s nothing at all strange or disquieting about this. He doesn’t know the applicant pool!
But the truth is that no one knows what the applicant pool looks like. For all we know, in the arts and humanities (and even some of the biological sciences), the number of bright young conservative aspirants may be no greater than it is for your average Broadway production of “Torch Song Trilogy.” But charges of pervasive “liberal bias” on campus tend to play better than demographic reports on how young conservatives go about choosing their career paths, so every year the preponderance of Democrats in English departments is trotted out as if it were a decisive refutation of everything for which liberalism claims to stand.
Why of course! Don’t we often hear academics suggest that ‘the number of bright young Hispanic aspirants may be no greater than it is for your average Broadway production of ‘Evita!’ Universities are regularly criticized for a lack of minority faculty even where no evidence of racial discrimination exists. A regular refrain is that if minority professors are insufficiently represented, something is askew. It’s not merely a question of righting wrongs, but a mandate of education to provide a “Diverse Faculty.” Consider comments of Beverley Tatum, President of Spelman college, speaking to the Chicago Reporter
(the title “Minority Faculty Finish Last on Tenure Track” is another bit of evidence):
The final statement is not unreasonable, but enforced preciously selectively. Increasing faculty diversity in countless ranges is regarded as an unambiguous good, but in the political dimension seen as simply irrelevant. Should Universities gerrymander “diverse” faculties of perfect racial, gender, and political balance? I wouldn’t think so; but something about the nature of the diversity actually sought is revealed in their fervent attention to the former two categories and utter indifference to the last. The modern University is one in which there’s no question you’ll interact with people that look different from yourself; whether you’ll find persons who think differently is another question – unless you’re a Republican. Then you’ll find quite a lot.
We think of programs that increase faculty or student body diversity as only helping the student of color or faculty of color, but white students are being truly prepared to interact. In order to be an effective leader in the 21st century, you need to be able to interact effectively with people different from yourself.