The Corner


Affirmative Action for Conservatives?

Academic leaders are always talking about the need they see to get more “underrepresented minorities” into their faculties, so why not demand that they do something about a terribly underrepresented minority — conservatives? Across the nation, professors who hold left-wing beliefs greatly outnumber those who hold right-wing beliefs. And if you look only at the places where ideology might matter (social sciences, history, all those “Studies” courses, etc.) the disparity is even greater. In many schools, you find no conservative faculty members at all in English, Sociology, Anthropology, and so on.

Should anything be done and if so, what? In this Martin Center Clarion Call, Jay Schalin first considers a legislative approach. At least one state legislator has introduced a bill to mandate the hiring of more conservative professors. But Schalin does not favor that approach. For one thing, conservative thought is not monolithic; it encompasses social conservatives, libertarians, neocons, paleocons, and more. What exactly counts as conservative and would there have to be some sort of equality among the numerous varieties?

An even greater problem, Schalin notes, is that the implementation of any such mandate would rest in the hands of current college leadership. He writes,

The actual hiring would still be in the hands of liberal or radical academics faculty and administrators. If they chose to resist the imposition of quotas for conservative faculty — an act they would likely view as tyrannical — they could effectively neutralize the intent of affirmative action policies by hiring the candidates who would be the least effective voices for conservative ideas, as is routinely done in the media (with centrists such as David Brooks and Joe Scarborough serving as house “conservatives” for the New York Times and MSNBC respectively).

My suspicion is that a mandate to hire a “fair” number of conservative professors would be no more effective than the state laws that prohibit racial preferences in admissions and hiring. The leftists will go on doing what they want to do while pretending to follow the law.

The best approach is not to try to “solve” the problem of ideological imbalance, but rather to avoid the profs who just can’t stick to teaching an academic subject but feel justified in preaching their belief system. This is where parents and other interested individuals come in. Schalin suggests that “parents should examine course syllabi in the humanities and social sciences for bias and mention the possibility of indoctrination. At the least, parents should question courses students enroll in and be aware of red flags, such as a focus on diversity, race, or gender. Should such courses suffer enrollment declines, there will be less need for professors specializing in them.”

Governing boards also have a role to play here. They can indicate their desire to more ideological balance on the faculty, even if not a conservative quota. Boards can also insist that courses be taught “straight” and no used as soap boxes for “progressive” activism.

I like Schalin’s conclusion:

The nation is going through a period of heightened political awareness, with an increasing realization that traditional Western thought and free market economics must be defended in academia if our way of life is to continue. If conservatives — politicians, trustees, alumni, students, and parents — work together, they may be able to restore political balance without throwing away the spirit of free inquiry through intrusive legislation such as affirmative action.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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