George’s post links to his commentary on Daniel Klein’s studies of faculty politics and attitudes, and his final remarks are worth amplifying. He notes the prevailing explanation for why the humanities and social sciences tend way leftward: “by virtue of their courageous willingness to criticize the status quo.” George correctly notes that the Left is, precisely, the status quo on campus, but we can say more.
The truth is that academia is one of the most conformist zones in American life, and that timidity and cowardice among the professorate is rampant. The many years of graduate school coping with disrespectful undergraduates and indifferent professors wears them down. The job market forces them to moderate their opinions (as so measured by the academic consensus) and position themselves diplomatically in their chosen fields. The looming tenure meeting turns them into constant second-guessers.
The institution contains extraordinary protections for dissenting voices, but they are few and far between, and you better not exercise your academic freedom too broadly until you’re safe. At least that’s what everybody believes. Against the dreaded and disdained mainstream bourgeois society, they stand up brave and strong. But among themselves, they are hesitant and plotting. Reputation is everything. Yes, there are a few bullies out there, gruff and insistent, but most professors just want to get by, and they’re easily intimidated and led.