Campus Free Speech

Being Conservative in Academia: Like Being Gay in '50s Mississippi

New book explores lack of intellectual diversty in academia.


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Former Reason Editor Virginia Postrel has a great column up at Bloomberg View. It's about the new book, Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University, whose title pretty much gives away the game.

The modern academy pays lip service to diversity. Yet as a "stigmatized minority," the authors note, right-of-center professors feel pressure to hide their identities, in many cases consciously emulating gays in similarly hostile environments. "I am the equivalent of someone who was gay in Mississippi in 1950," a prominent full professor told Shields and Dunn. He's still hiding because he hopes for honors that depend on maintaining his colleagues' good will. "If I came out, that would finish me," he said.

The study is built around interviews with dozens of academics. Folks in the humanities face the least-welcoming environment while economists tend to do OK, or at least better. Postrel again:

Shields and Dunn put a positive spin on their results because, like many of their subjects, they want to encourage others on the right to pursue scholarly careers. Research and teaching benefit from a variety of political lenses, they argue. The paucity of conservative professors also gives liberal scholars a misleading picture of the American right, reinforcing the idea that conservatism is incompatible with intellectual rigor. Liberal academics picture Rush Limbaugh rather than an intellectual peer.

To the contrary, most of those interviewed expressed what the authors call a "Madisonian" political philosophy: "It is a political vision that values the discovery of common ground over ideological purity, learned elites over charismatic leaders, and reasoned appeals over passionate exhortations." If institutions of higher learning refuse to make a place for scholars who share this vision, they will not only stifle inquiry. They will also deprive themselves of vital allies when the inevitable backlash comes to pull them down.

Read the whole thing here.