Our fellow conservative Rick Hess has diagnosed us with “Stockholm syndrome,” because we allegedly downplayed liberal bias against conservative professors in academia in a recent Washington Post op-ed we wrote, one that highlights some of the key findings from our new book on conservative professors.
We suspect his reaction is substantially owing to the title of the Post article, which reads “Forget what the right says: Academia isn’t so bad for conservatives.” We were as surprised as Hess by the misleading title, which was not chosen by us and which we did not see before our essay ran. In the article itself, we nowhere say or even imply that discrimination against conservatives isn’t a problem or that the Right has been reacting to phantom menaces. In fact, we document much of the evidence for political bias and call on universities to become much more welcoming and supportive of conservatives. Nor did we call for the “unilateral disarmament of the Right.” Instead, we want conservative criticisms of academia to be better informed.
Hess rightly emphasizes that if we were recounting bias against one of the Left’s favored minority groups, our argument would be “ridiculed,” since the “merest hint at institutional bias is reason to rally to the cause of the oppressed.” That’s true, but we think it doesn’t matter. We conservatives shouldn’t follow the example of the Left by overstating our plight. That only feeds a victim culture, and might discourage bright young conservatives from considering careers in academia. Also, being held to higher standards, even though it’s unfair, can have benefits — and not just in building character. Many of the professors that we interviewed told us that one of the primary advantages of being a conservative was that it made them better scholars and teachers, because they knew their work would face more exacting scrutiny.
Of course, we know that many conservatives have been treated very badly in higher education, and that they have strong feelings about those experiences. But that doesn’t mean those same experiences provide an unclouded window into the soul of the university.
Some conservatives may reasonably conclude that we don’t understand the magnitude of political bias in higher education. Maybe we don’t. But does that mean we’re suffering from “Stockholm syndrome,” or some other psychological problem? We think that while all conservatives should be concerned about bias in higher education, all conservatives in good standing can also disagree over its magnitude and significance.
Our new work continues to point out unpleasant truths that most in academia would prefer to keep hidden.
Apparently Hess disagrees, because he also implies that we dismiss discrimination against conservatives so that we might become “celebrities in the academy.” Happily, that ship sailed a long time ago without us and it’s one we never wanted to be on. In our earlier research, both of us challenged shibboleths of the Left – conduct that has done little to endear us to the liberal intelligentsia. One of us (Dunn) has had the privilege of publishing some of that contrarian research on education policy with Rick Hess, while the other (Shields) wrote a book defending the democratic virtues of the Christian Right. We have also both published in National Review and The Weekly Standard, not outlets smiled upon by most of our colleagues. Our new work on professors continues to point out unpleasant truths that most in academia would prefer to keep hidden. We devote an entire chapter, for example, to the topic of closeted conservatives. We also document cases of overt discrimination against conservatives. If we were trying to whitewash academia, we chose an odd way of doing it.
Regrettably, Hess even attacks us for confessing our gratitude to the many liberal professors who supported our careers. By doing that we were simply acknowledging a truth every conservative in academia knows well: There are, in fact, many liberal professors who are liberal in the truest sense of the word. Do they have Stockholm syndrome too?
And finally, the problems that do exist in academia won’t improve until more conservatives decide to become professors. We hope that our book will help the next generation of conservative scholars navigate the progressive university.