The Real Cost of Academic Discrimination against Conservatives

(Michael Brown/Dreamstime)

One has to truly step into the world of “elite” higher education to understand its isolation and its sad intellectual mediocrity. The men and women who populate our most culturally influential universities quite simply don’t understand America and its citizens. They view dissenters from the academic mainstream as a toxic combination of malicious and ignorant.

Defenders of the status quo tend to claim that this is simply the natural order of things. Conservatives, the thinking goes, self-select out of the academy because they’re more interested in commercial gain, less interested in intellectual pursuits, and repelled by the spirit of “open inquiry” and devotion to “critical thinking” that (allegedly) dominate higher education.

In a testament to how bad things have gotten, it comes as a shock that two new studies from inside the academy should employ truly open inquiry and critical thinking to posit a different, more plausible explanation, and detail its costs: Conservatives don’t self-select out of the academy; they’re culled from it by discrimination.

Northwestern University’s James Lindgren tracked the results of 16 years of law schools’ efforts to increase diversity. He found that law schools had successfully diversified faculties with regards to gender and ethnicity, such that women and minorities are now over-represented compared to their percentage of the working lawyer population. To no one’s surprise, white Christian males were under-represented in law schools, both at the beginning of the survey and at the end. Here’s Lindgren:

By the late 1990s, the proportion of the U.S. population that was neither Republican nor Christian was only 9%, but the majority of law professors (51%) was drawn from that small minority. Further, though women were strongly underrepresented compared to the full-time working population, all of that underrepresentation was among Republican women, who were — and are — almost missing from law teaching. . . . 

In terms of absolute numbers, the dominant group in law teaching today remains Democrats, both male and female. Because in the general public both white women and white men tend now to vote Republican, law faculties are probably less representative ideologically than they have been for several decades.

Lindgren doesn’t believe that these disparities are “simply the result of discrimination,” and I agree. No one should expect that each and every American demographic will choose and succeed in professions in exact proportion to their share of the population. There are cultural differences.

RELATED: When Conservative Scholars Fall Prey to Stockholm Syndrome

That said, however, discrimination against conservatives is real — and it has disastrous consequences. James Philips, a doctoral student at the University of California–Berkeley, examined the credentials and publication rates of faculty at America’s 16 highest-ranked law schools, and found that conservative and libertarian scholars not only published more and were cited more than their peers, but also had “more of the traditional qualifications required of law professors than their peers, with few exceptions.”

#share#Evidence of superior credentials is a blow to the “self-selection” hypothesis. Rather than there existing only a few conservatives who are interested in academic careers, only a few conservatives are over-qualified enough to make it through a discriminatory process. Moreover, in the absence of known and notorious discrimination, fewer conservatives would self-select away from academic careers. People don’t like to apply for jobs for which they don’t have a realistic hope of being hired.

Academic consensus is typically a result of a combination of groupthink and radical ideology, not rigorous scholarship.

The upshot of this is that “elite” law-school faculties are no longer stocked with America’s best and brightest legal scholars. It’s a state of affairs that perfectly suits progressive purposes. The media is fond of citing “scholarly consensus” on key legal disputes, noting the overwhelming numbers of professors who, say, support same-sex marriage or oppose American detainee policies — a task made easier by the dearth of conservative dissenters. Employment at an elite law school can be decisive in determining whether a lawyer is qualified for a spot on the federal bench, which makes it more likely that liberals will become judges, which in turn benefits the project of mainstreaming legal radicalism.

Yet academic consensus is typically a result of a combination of groupthink and radical ideology, not rigorous scholarship. New cultural and legal theories are hashed out within the closed academic shop — among like-minded men and women — before being trotted out to the public as a moral and intellectual fait accompli. Against that backdrop, is it any wonder that liberal academics attribute all opposition to ignorance or bigotry? After all, every smart person they know agrees with them.

#related#When I left Cornell Law School, my faculty colleagues hosted a nice reception. I liked every person in my department — they were all unfailingly courteous, kind to my family, and conscientious as teachers and scholars. I tried my best to be good to them as they were to me, but at that farewell party, I cringed when a colleague toasted me by saying, “To David, the person who taught me that conservatives are people too.” She was joking, of course, and I took it in the spirit it was intended. But there was an uncomfortable truth only half-hidden in her words.

No community composed entirely of people who think like that — kind and well-meaning though they may be — is worth respecting as a neutral arbiter of public debates. The faculty-discrimination racket is real, and we all pay its price.

— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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