Politics & Policy

Dumb Bright Guys

On the academic divide.

When Robert Bork was a professor at the Yale Law School he had a telephone call from the young editor of the Yale Daily News, who was in a tizzy. The paper was going to press with its findings on the faculty vote in the upcoming election, President Lyndon Johnson vs. Senator Barry Goldwater. The editor explained that the paper was kind of embarrassed: As things stood, the next day’s edition would reveal that only a single member of the Yale faculty (of approximately 1,000) was going to vote for Barry Goldwater on Tuesday.

“Who is that?” Professor Bork asked.

“Some loony in the international relations department,” the editor said. “We know you have right-wing leanings, Mr. Bork. Is there any chance we could give your name as supporting Goldwater? Otherwise it would be pretty unbalanced.”

Bork shrugged and said, Okay, count me in. When the paper appeared, he had a call from the one other Goldwater supporter: Would Bork lunch with him? “I did,” Bork tells, smiling. “The kid was right. He was loony.”

Forty years later, the New York Times has published (November 18, 2004) a revealing article by reporter John Tierney titled, “Republicans Outnumbered/ In Academia, Studies Find.” We are told that the political imbalance among U.S. faculty is as pronounced as ever. “At the birthplace of the free speech movement, campus radicals have a new target: the faculty that came of age in the 60s. They say their professors have been preaching multiculturalism and diversity while creating a political monoculture on campus.”

Several studies are cited. One of them, a national survey of more than 1,000 academics, shows that Democratic professors outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one in the humanities and social sciences. “That ratio,” we are told, “is more than twice as lopsided as it was three decades ago, and it seems quite likely to keep increasing, because the younger faculty members are more consistently Democratic than the ones nearing retirement.” As the shrewd observer of the scene David Horowitz points out, “Right now, conservative students are discouraged from pursuing scholarly careers, because they see very clearly that their professors consider Republicans to be the enemy.”

Another faculty study found a nine-to-one ratio of Democrats to Republicans on the faculties of Berkeley and Stanford. That study included the hard sciences and engineering (where good sense is reputed to prevail). “The ratio [was] especially lopsided among the younger professors of assistant or associate rank: 183 Democrats versus 6 [loony?] Republicans.”

The imbalance is continuing, and doesn’t much bother anybody except, perhaps, students left to ponder the asymmetries. Learning brings wisdom, right? Waal, not on this campus.

It was thataway at Yale fifteen years before Goldwater ran for president, and a book remarking the phenomenon was hooted out of town (though its author lived on to write this column). Four years after Goldwater, a poll at Princeton registered that 70 percent of the faculty had voted the day before for Humphrey, 7 percent for Richard Nixon, and 7 percent for Dick Gregory, the black comedian. Postgraduate humor.

And these aren’t just wispy afterthoughts of a staid community that, one wild day, dived into the swimming pool with their clothes on. No no, these are earnest fellows. For the first time last year, universities were “at the top of the list of organizations ranked by their employees’ contributions to a presidential candidate,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group. In first and second place in per capita contributions were: 1) the University of California system, and 2) Harvard (runners-up were Time Warner, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft).

When the jury found O.J. Simpson not guilty of killing his wife and her companion, the American people reacted along racial lines. Seventy percent of whites thought him guilty, 70 percent of blacks thought him not guilty. What everyone could see was an epistemological divide.

That divide is there in the academic world. People see things differently. The people who elected the government of the United States see things differently from those who trained them in how to weigh public issues. “Our colleges have become less marketplaces of ideas than churches in which you have to be a true believer to get a seat in the pews,” writes Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars. On the other hand, those who get only standing room in the academies, get also the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate.


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