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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Self-Selection, Conservatives, and Left-Leaning Universities

Do conservatives self-select out of academic careers?:

Do Conservatives Self-select Away from Academic Careers?, Lee Sigelman, The Monkey Cage: Academicians in this country, especially those in the social sciences and humanities, are disproportionately left of center, or at least centrist, politically, rather than conservative. That finding has cropped up in so many surveys over the years that I won’t even bother to cite sources. Let’s just take it as a fact and go from there.

Go where? How about addressing the “Why?” question? It’s here that things begin to get interesting.

One answer is that conservatives are discriminated against in academia. They don’t get hired in the first place, and the fortunate few who do find academic employment aren’t tolerated for long by their liberal colleagues. That answer is simple, straightforward, and politically combustible. It’s the standard story that conservatives tell and liberals dispute.

Now, however, comes quite a different answer. Based on their recent research, Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner contend that the culprit isn’t discrimination against conservatives, but rather self-selection on the part of conservatives. ... Woessner and Kelly-Woessner conclude that “The personal priorities of those on the left are more compatible with pursuing a Ph.D.” than are the priorities of their conservative counterparts. For example, ... conservative undergraduates are outnumbered by two to one in the social sciences and humanities. Conservative students are more oriented toward financial security and raising families. Accordingly, they gravitate toward more “practical” courses of study that lead them into highly remunerative professions like accounting and computer science. They’re also less willing to delay having children — a common pattern in academic life, where childbirth often awaits a favorable tenure vote.

For a chatty and not especially informative introduction to this project in the current issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, click here. For a copy of the paper itself, click here. ...

In comments, Lee adds:

Richard Posner has some interesting thoughts about self-selection into or away from academia; click here. Among other things, he notes that members of the military are disproportionately Republicans. Does that mean that the military discriminates against Democrats? Maybe or maybe not, but a more plausible account would be that liberals are less drawn to military service in the first place. Another of his points is that liberals may be more attracted, and conservatives less so, to the "quasi-socialistic" culture of academia. Like so much of what Posner writes, you may like it or not, but it will make you think.

I had this ready to post a few days ago, but never actually posted it. But it seems relevant here.

Conservatives embrace the idea of diversity on campus:

University creates a position to promote conservative thought, by David Accomazzo, Longmont Times-Call: The College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado has approved an academic position specializing in conservative thought to foster ideological diversity on campus.

In December, the University of Colorado Foundation began raising $9 million to create the Visiting Endowed Chair of Conservative Thought, which CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard says could be funded as early as the 2008-09 academic year.

The chair would teach one class a semester, give speeches around Colorado, and assist with research and coursework in the department closest to his or her specialty, Hilliard said.

Todd Gleeson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will hire an instructor every two years to fill the temporary position. An advisory board of donors, alumni, well-known conservative leaders and others will recommend a candidate to the dean, Hilliard said. Officials have not yet recruited the advisory board.

The university will not necessarily hire an academic, but candidates should have a background in conservative thinking, such as former politicians, political strategists and journalists in addition to political science scholars, Hilliard said.

He named political strategist and pundit Bill Kristol as an example of a qualified candidate. “It’s going to be someone with some national standing who could teach a class,” Hilliard said.

Former Chancellor Richard Byyny said via e-mail that he proposed the idea for the chair to a receptive political science faculty sometime between 2001 and 2003. “I did not pursue this because I am a conservative,” Byyny wrote. “I pursued it because I thought it was the right and responsive approach (for intellectual diversity).” ...

Uriel Nauenberg, physics professor and chairman of the Boulder Faculty Assembly, said the chair “is a perfectly good idea to discuss as long as the faculty are in charge of the curriculum.”

Economics department chairman and professor Nicholas Flores said he supported the new position but thought CU also would benefit from a chair in liberal ideology. “There should be a diversity of thought,” Flores said. “I’d like to see something on the other side as well.”

Professor Kenneth Bickers, chairman of CU’s political science department, supports the position and doesn’t believe the chair is necessarily political in nature. “I don’t see it as a partisan chair,” Bickers said. “The idea behind the chair is to expose students to a wide array of ideas that could be considered conservative.”

[A letter to the editor from my pre-blogging days. I'd write it a bit different today, but not much.]

    Posted by on Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at 01:32 PM in Economics, Universities | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (50)


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    » Intellectual Diversity in Academia--Discrimination v. Self-Selection: from The Volokh Conspiracy

    A recurrent question regarding the dominance of left/liberal perspectives among university professors is the extent to which this lopsidedness arises from discrimation against those with non-left viewpoints that excludes them fro... [Read More]

    Tracked on Friday, February 22, 2008 at 01:58 PM


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