The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Those darn liberal academics
Tom Smith

More data on dog bites man in the academy.  Yes, if you are a conservative, you will be a stranger in a stranger land, stranger than most lands in this diverse country of ours.

I bet data would show, however, that law schools are more like economics departments than like, say, sociology departments.  That is, biased against conservatives, yes, but not as much as is the norm in the academy generally.  Just a guess.

Here is a point, more observation really, which I may be able to add to the debate, such as it is.  (I say such as it is, because it is not really a debate whether such bias exists.  Merely a fact on one side, and its denial on the other.)  My point is that many people go into the academy (I suspect) because they have a higher than average demand for intellectual stimulation and entertainment.  They are driven from many probably more productive pursuits by their sheer tedium.  To the question, what do you want to be when you grow up, they (i.e., we) respond, "why grow up?"  (N.B.: a good line, not original to me.)  But the most painful thing about being a conservative in the academy is not being discriminated against, but the sheer, awful tedium of having to listen to the cant that passes for reasoning where PC-ness has taken over. If you are a pointy-head, having your intelligence insulted is one of the worst insults of all. 

I feel fortunate that for whatever reason this has not happened at the law school where I work, perhaps because it actually is pretty ideologically diverse.  But I have taught at schools where the most absurd, knee-jerk, dumb, soft left postures passed as assured academic wisdom.  It is only comparable in terms of mental pain inflicted to having to endure the the numb-skulled cliches that would issue from the mouth of some poorly educated Babbit-type whom you can find in any midwestern town, for example.  You just sit there and think "shoot me now" or "I wonder what the chances are that I would be acquitted if I speared this clod with my butter knife?"  It is the sheer provincial, narrow-minded, unsophisticated, smug pusillanimity of it that really corrodes the soul.  It is the exact opposite of that urge to follow the Life of the Mind that drew many of us in younger, more idealistic days to become academics in the first place. But as I say, I think law schools are better than the academy in general, and some law schools better than others.  This may be because law schools still have contact, however attenuated, with a profession in the real world.  A conservative who wanted to be an English or History professor, is probably just out of luck.

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Tom Smith
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Comments

"A conservative who wanted to be an English or History professor, is probably just out of luck."

This presupposes that a conservative would be drawn to an unproductive subject like English or History, rather than a productive one like Engineering or the hard sciences.

Posted by: Ed Minchau | Dec 9, 2007 2:57:06 PM

It is the contact with the real world that makes the difference. If the profession involves reality-testing, most leftist academics are not interested.

Most normal intellectuals welcome the challenge of matching themselves against the real world. Not lefties. They run away from it like vampires from a garlic crucifix.

Posted by: Al Fin | Dec 9, 2007 3:29:00 PM

Heh. "some poorly educated Babbit-type whom you can find in any midwestern town, for example" and "provincial, narrow-minded, unsophisticated, smug pusillanimity"..hoist high on your own petard, Brother Smith. Pot calling, kettle grinning, etc.

Posted by: Bob Whiteside | Dec 9, 2007 4:13:38 PM

'My point is that many people go into the academy (I suspect) because they have a higher than average demand for intellectual stimulation and entertainment.'

I disagree. What intellectual stimulation is there in applying Marxism to everything? Leftists go into the acadamy because in that mileau results don't matter; they don't have to challenge their dogmatic views because ideological diversity does not exist; and, if they get their cherished tenured job, they can work a few hours per day with great bennies and vacation time, all the while enjoying their espresso and the power differential between them and the lowely students or associate professors. It is no ivory tower; no, its a pillar of leaden agony.

Posted by: Jeff | Dec 9, 2007 4:31:44 PM

English and history were once useful disciplines (see Tolkien, Lewis, Johnson, Fischer) for centrists and even conservatives. They could be again.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot | Dec 9, 2007 4:35:20 PM

You ain't kidding. As a humanities prof in a large department I show up for the fall reception every year wondering what the new code word will be. This year's winner was "safety", threats to which apparently lurk at every turn. Faculty meetings have become suspenseful again, colleagues shoving one another out of the way to be the first to pronounce every new agenda item a "safety issue". You conservatives are not just wrong, you see, you threaten the safety of everyone around you.

Posted by: tiltingatTedium | Dec 9, 2007 5:48:02 PM

Have just spent the better of two days learning about Mormonism.

Frankly, I am shocked that it is not headline news what an utter and total fraud this "faith" is.

That so many are fawning over the Republican Mormon candidate is an embarrassment to the Right.

Maybe the Liberals are correct. There are far higher intellectual standards in their camp, it seems.

It's shaken me to my core. If Mitt gets the nomination, I am gone for good to the "dark side".

Posted by: Having a Breakdown | Dec 9, 2007 5:59:25 PM

If you wonder what a conservative with a History degree can do, I would suggest Victor David Hansen of National Review Online/Pajamas Media.

Posted by: Donald Campbell | Dec 9, 2007 7:16:37 PM


I think the data actually overstate the lefty-ness of top economics departments. Most of my colleagues are democrats but most are like Larry Summers - they are reality-based, understand microeconomics, think incentives matter, are into evidence-based policy and so on. They like redistribution but thoughtful redistribution that takes incentives into account and that actually reaches the poor. They are just not social conservatives. Their party identification and voting habits derive entirely from the fact that they do not like social conservatism, and the anti-intellectualism that comes with it any many cases, and that they do favor some redistribution. As I have often said, if all democrats were like my democrat colleagues in economics, I would vote for them every time. Sadly, my colleagues are a tiny minority of sanity on the left, as classical liberals and libertarians are a tiny minority of sanity on the right.

Posted by: Jeff Smith | Dec 9, 2007 7:22:02 PM

It's not confined to the social sciences and liberal arts. I teach at a medical school in the midwest in a department of medicine. I consider myself a center-right person, trending a little more conservative as I age, but pretty mainstream.

That makes me a right-wing nutter according to my colleagues, who start mainstream left and go way left from there right into Kucinich-land.

Now in every other way my relationship with them is fine -- we treat patients, write grants, and teach the medical students without a problem. There's plenty of real-world contact there. But as soon as the topic turns to politics in any way, it's essentially me by myself on the bridge versus the Visigoths. And it gets tiring after a while. As rational as I think my beliefs are, you don't win too many 8 to 1 or 12 to 1 discussions.

So what it does is cause you to grit your teeth and shut up. And that's corrosive to one's soul over a long time. I'll hang in there, but there are plenty of days I'm growling in my car the entire way home.

Posted by: Steve White | Dec 9, 2007 7:52:36 PM

American universities have been hospitable to conservatives since at least the 1930s. Prof. Maranto should familiarize himself with the Southern Agrarian Movement. Recent conservatives who have done very well are John Yoo and Condi Rice. I would add Richard Pipes, his son Daniel, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Richard Weaver, Leo Strauss and Wilmoore Kendall.

Posted by: Steve J. | Dec 10, 2007 12:32:23 AM

'My point is that many people go into the academy (I suspect) because they have a higher than average demand for intellectual stimulation and entertainment.'

Yes, us folks outside academia, we sit around watching paint dry all day. Nothin' going on in our minds...

Hate to break it to you, but we folks outside the ivory tower tend to think that people go into academics because they aren't smart enough to make it in the real world.

Posted by: Mama73 | Dec 10, 2007 9:24:57 AM

I was one of 2 open law school students in a section of 75 (back in the early 1980s). If law schools are better than other disciplines, then that speaks telligly of their "diversity" efforts.

Law is somewhat more conservative only because so many alums get that way (after they become big tax payers).

Posted by: krm | Dec 10, 2007 9:29:31 AM

While I won't speak with respect to professors--among students, history is actually probably one of the more conservative majors for liberal arts. I realize to some extent that's like saying "world's tallest midget," but you have a few things in play 1.) if you want "save the world" spending four years studying history is not really your major of choice, 2.) call me sexist (though I think the stats would bear me out), but it's more of a subject that guys and, in general, conservative guys would be interested in than some other majors--even past college, I've seen numbers showing men are more likely to buy and exchange history books than woman.

A few years ago I read an article, I believe, in the American Lawyer about political donations among law school faculty members. It had a ranking of law schools that showed which ten had the greatest percentage of faculty members giving donations to Democrats and Republicans. Amazingly enough NYU made the cut . . . for one of the ten largest numbers donating to Republicans. As someone who attended that school, if law schools constitute one of the more conservative areas of academia - it says way, way more about academia than it does about law schools.

Posted by: AD | Dec 10, 2007 5:55:15 PM