Phi Beta Cons

Why So Few Professors on the Right?

Since the 1960s the Left has been on an ideological roll, bringing America multiculturalism, socially constructed reality, mindless diversity, the primacy of race/class/gender and allegedly invisible institutional racism/sexism/homophobia, among multiple other disastrous ideas. All are “Made in the Academy,” and defeating them requires that conservatives likewise mobilize professors.

Alas, based on my experience on the right including attending countless conservative events, professors are largely AWOL in reversing this idiocy. To be sure, right-thinking professors are out-numbered on campus, but as a career academic of four decades, let me assure you that they exist and loathe the Left’s ideology. Still, when all is said and done, few will enlist in non-campus organizations to fight the battles. My enticements to academic colleagues to sample conservative gatherings are met with indifference. Informal head counts at conservative meetings find few professors in attendance, especially faculty from elite research-oriented universities.

This aversion is complicated, but let me offer one awkward explanation based on personal observations. The academic hierarchy rewards intellectual accomplishment, not money. Watch a cocktail party of professors and those being fawned over are the smartest, best published; their salaries or personal wealth are absolutely irrelevant to the adulation.

Far less so for the Right, at least the Right of think tanks and membership groups I have encountered. Here the big donors are treated as royalty. Indeed, to openly challenge these donors on their pet schemes or raise qualms about larger philosophical issues is an unforgiveable faux pas regardless of the merits of an argument. This is quite different from what occurs in the academy but understandable — you don’t bite the hand that signs the checks. It is not that academics are irrelevant in conservative settings; they are just less important than they are on campus.

This “pay to play” style in conservative venues is readily observable in who is invited to chat privately with the distinguished dinner speaker, who gets to sit at the head table, or who is called upon in the Q and A. Prestigious academics may be invited to conservative gatherings, even honored with prizes, but they don’t pay the bills and this subtly comes across. If somebody’s opinions are to be listened to, it will be that of the generous investment banker or hedge-fund operator, not the better-informed professor who may have spent decades mastering the subject. If big donors want an opinion, they are perfectly capable of hiring somebody to give it to them.

This hierarchy is a return to 19th-century customs in which wealthy aristocrats invited brilliant writers and thinkers to join the elegant dinners, but only afterward for coffee to amuse the guests. Academics who venture into conservative settings, especially those with distinguished campus and disciplinary reputations, immediately sense their loss of status. This is not conscious evil; on the right side of the ideological divide, the financial marketplace necessarily outranks the marketplace of ideas.


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