Sunday, September 28, 2003

David Brooks,, "Lonely Campus Voices", offers a paranoiac view of campuses dominated, in the social sciences and humanities, by leftists who systematically drive out conservatives. His evidence? Anecdotes from conservative professors, conservative ex-students, and the canard that "faculties skew overwhelmingly to the left." Had he interviewed radical leftist professors, it is likely that he would have heard the same complaints in reverse. There is no doubt a preponderance of non-conservatives in English and history departments, but also no doubt a preponderance of non-leftists. Most faculty are not politicized (whether this is a good thing or not is another question).

There is, to be sure, a higher percentage of leftists in the humanities and the softer social sciences. But this is counterbalanced by the domination of economics and political science faculties by conservatives, something that of course goes unmentioned by Brooks.

Brooks at least recognizes that conservative profs and their grad students might be discriminated against not for the color of their opinion but the content of their topics. But he confuses the content of conservative approaches to these topics with the topics themselves, which are neutral. Brooks: "the sorts of subjects a conservative is likely to investigate ó say, diplomatic or military history ó do not excite hiring committees. Professors are interested in the subjects they are already pursuing, and in a horrible job market it is easy to toss out applications from people who are doing something different." This is true only if one believes that diplomatic and military history are not being investigated by leftist professors. The problem with conservatives investigating diplomatic or military history is that their work is often (though probably no more often than the work of leftists) not very interesting.

The real split in academia is not between conservatives and leftists, but between the model-building "hard" human sciences and the historically-focused interpretative human sciences. It is a rare thing to find a humanist, left or right, who feels it necessary to ground generalizations (like Brooks' generalizations about how things are for conservative jobseekers in academia) in any evidence beyond anecdote. It is equally rare to find an economist, psychologist, political scientist willing to entertain the possibility that statistical thinking about human behavior might obscure (or leave obscure) crucial aspects of selves and society.

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