Kristof on “liberal intolerance”

May 8, 2016 • 9:45 am

I heard a statement a while back that stuck in my mind. It went something like this: “The only kind of ‘diversity’ that colleges don’t want is intellectual diversity.” That struck me as so true that I meant to write about it. But now I don’t have to, as liberal New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has done it in today’s op-ed column, “A confession of liberal intolerance“. It’s illustrated with this gif:


And its opening precisely defines the problem:

We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.

Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.

The problem is at two levels: the students, who in many cases simply don’t want to hear ideas different from theirs (nominally liberal ideas, but sometimes regressive), and on the faculty level. Kristof concentrates on the latter, citing surveys showing that academics are less likely to hire conservatives than liberals, Republicans than Democrats, and even less likely to hire evangelical Christians. Academia is also self-selecting for liberals, for reasons I’m not quite sure of. But bias there is. As Kristof notes:

Four studies found that the proportion of professors in the humanities who are Republicans ranges between 6 and 11 percent, and in the social sciences between 7 and 9 percent.

Conservatives can be spotted in the sciences and in economics, but they are virtually an endangered species in fields like anthropology, sociology, history and literature. One study found that only 2 percent of English professors are Republicans (although a large share are independents).

In contrast, some 18 percent of social scientists say they are Marxist. So it’s easier to find a Marxist in some disciplines than a Republican.

This is disturbing. Lord knows that I’m a Leftist—though perhaps not in the minds of Authoritarian Leftists—but we lose something if we’re not constantly challenged by those having different views.

I’m not saying we should hire Holocaust denialists, creationists, or other loons who might present such lies in the classroom. But religious faculty can challenge secularist views, making us examine our nonbelief, and at least to understand others who accept the numinous; and conservatives can challenge things like abortion and affirmative action, discussions worth having even if you’re liberal. After all, the best way to scrutinize your beliefs, and hone the ones you retain, is to be challenged—often.

Kristof also dispels the view that conservatives and religious people simply aren’t worth hiring:

It’s also liberal poppycock that there aren’t smart conservatives or evangelicals. Richard Posner is a more-or-less conservative who is the most cited legal scholar of all time. With her experience and intellect, Condoleezza Rice would enhance any political science department. Francis Collins is an evangelical Christian and famed geneticist who has led the Human Genome Project and the National Institutes of Health. And if you’re saying that conservatives may be tolerable, but evangelical Christians aren’t — well, are you really saying you would have discriminated against the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.?

Of course Posner is on my own faculty, and is a highly valued colleague. (He’s sort of conservative, but has some liberal views.) One reason that there’s a bias against conservatives—something I found surprising—is that people just think conservatives are a priori wrong. Kristof describes some reactions he gets on his Facebook page:

I’ve been thinking about this because on Facebook recently I wondered aloud whether universities stigmatize conservatives and undermine intellectual diversity. The scornful reaction from my fellow liberals proved the point.

“Much of the ‘conservative’ worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be false,” said Carmi.

“The truth has a liberal slant,” wrote Michelle.

“Why stop there?” asked Steven. “How about we make faculties more diverse by hiring idiots?”

You can’t say a worldview itself is wrong, for worldviews encompass ethical philosophies, which aren’t objectively right or wrong. (Sam Harris would disagree.) What one can say is that if conservatives (and liberals) make statements about reality, about what kinds of social interventions will achieve certain ends, those claims are in principle subject to empirical tests. Insofar as worldviews are consequentialist in that way—that they are not just philosophies or subjective preferences but claims about the results of possible actions—then yes, they can be shown to be right or wrong. But too many liberal claims aren’t of this type: they constitute assertions that are deemed unchallengeable because they’re simply asserted as statements of “rights”: women have a “right” to an abortion; affirmative action is “a right.”

I happen to agree that women do have the right to choose abortion (right up to the end of pregnancy), and that we still need affirmative action for minorities or women (in some situations). In general, I think a liberal and progressive worldview is one that improves the world’s well-being, for, as a consequentialist, that’s the kind of world I want. But we need to be able to defend those views against our opponents, and not just dismiss them by saying the opponents are “wrong” and that our preferences are “rights.” Why should women be able to have abortions on demand? If so, up until what period of gestation? Why should gays be able to marry? All of us pro-choice and pro-gay-rights people need to think more deeply than simply asserting that such things are “rights.”

It is only our conservative opponents who can force us to articulate our reasons—and hence to scrutinize our beliefs. That’s precisely why we need political and ideological diversity on top of gender and ethnic diversity. But you’ll never hear colleges or students demanding that!

104 thoughts on “Kristof on “liberal intolerance”

  1. Excellent post. We need to *listen* to what people are saying, not dismiss them because we think they are not members of the correct tribe.

      1. Man. I was wondering!

        It troubles me that I can’t readily think of a reason why people with gigantic lesions in their minds that render them Republican or Religious or an Astrologer, shouldn’t be deemed unfit to hold any leadership position. It really seems like there should be at least one, in an ideal world.

  2. “We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.”

    This is largely true, but authoritarian leftists tend to be peculiarly selective with their outrage; their indignation is often based on the speaker’s identity, rather than the content of her or his ideology, as we’ve seen with the far left’s responses to liberal Muslims, secularists, of those who employ what they derisively label colonialist or white feminist discourses.

    Nevertheless, it’s wonderful to hear this from Kristof; it’s too easy for regressives to dismiss criticism as reactionary, and it’s heartening to see more critiques coming from centrists and liberals.

  3. This is interesting and important. The article answered most of the questions I had, although I am surprised that this pattern has not resulted in some lawsuits.

  4. ‘Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.’

    Yet ideologies are irrational and religions are false. At their very best, college professors who are Marxists or evangelical Christians will have to work overtime keeping belief separate from knowledge. For education is normative: ostensibly devoted to teaching and learning what is the case with the world. And it is very, very probably not the case that the ‘end times’ are near, nor that History is an objective force ineluctably headed toward its own end in a communist utopia.

    In the natural sciences what the case is is never a matter of opinion. In the humanities and social sciences it almost always is. If a professor or a student in a university philosophy or anthropology class asserts that, say, heaven and hell are real and eternal, there is a strong presumption against a third party’s saying, ‘well, you’re wrong, and here’s why.’ This is not a question of ethical objectivity but of the facts upon which ethics must stand in order to clarify human right and wrong. But when mistaken beliefs go unchallenged, the truth dies of malnutrition. This is largely what has happened in the non-science areas of higher education.

  5. There is no doubt that for people to reach a rational decision on a particular topic, they should be exposed to diverse views. But, would having more conservative faculty on campus help to provide this diversity of views? I think only to a limited extent. First, in many fields the political ideology of the faculty has little to bear on the subject matter. Does it matter what the liberal to conservative ratio is in the electrical engineering department? Second, let’s look at a field where political ideology does play a role in teaching the subject matter, for example, economics. Presumably, the vast majority of economics professors are liberal and teach the subject from that perspective. Now suppose a large number of conservatives are hired to teach that subject. Would this mean that individual (emphasis on individual) students would now be exposed to a diversity of views? I don’t think so. Except for students who major or minor in economics, the vast majority of them will take only one course at the most in that subject. So, now many more of them would learn the subject from a conservative instructor. But, again, there is no diversity of views. Such students would then be denied the liberal viewpoint. The net result is that regardless of the liberal to conservative ratio individual students would not be exposed to diverse views in a particular subject area. Remember, when talking about diversity we are concerned with the exposure of individuals to it. It should not be considered an ideal for an institution of higher learning to turn out a student body that is 50% conservative and 50% liberal. The ideal should be to turn out students who have been taught how to use reason and evidence to research topics for the purpose of independently reaching conclusions.

    In today’s world, any person with an elementary knowledge of the Internet can easily find diverse views on any subject. A judicious use of this tool is probably the best means for a person to become acquainted with various positions on topics of interest. Websites of conservative intellectuals, journals and think tanks are ubiquitous.

    1. “when talking about diversity we are concerned with the exposure of individuals to it.”

      No, I don’t think this is what Jonathan Haidt’s main concern is. I think he’s mostly worried with the quality of research turned out by the social sciences.

  6. Conservatives/Republicans largely select themselves out of academia by their predominant anti-intellectualism and by the fact that they’re commonly people who are in it for the big bucks. Literally and figuratively. One does not get rich in the academic fields lacking conservatives (e.g.,literature or anthropology) so they’re not there.

    And it is absolutely true that: “Much of the ‘conservative’ worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be false”

    The core of U.S. style conservative/Republican “philosophy” is religious doctrine (conservative Christian), combined with authoritarianism/militarism and racism. This includes widespread creationism, which is the major thing thinning their ranks in biology departments. These things are not hard to detect in most specimens. Conservatives are not dismissed as a priori wrong, but as known to be usually wrong following years of experience and many observations.

    That said, if one of them should come up with some important new idea, it’s not like we’re never going to hear of it, since they’re pretty pervasive in the U.S. news media.

    1. The article brings up the possibility that there is some self-selection going on. I think that that possibility needs to be explored, and in any case there should be more out-reach to be more inclusive.

      1. I’m not clear on why. Do we really need more creationists or climate change deniers? Not enough Christian dominionists in the political sci. dept? When a committee is reviewing applicants for a position should we really be seriously considering people who believe things in their field that are clearly and obviously wrong? Diversity of ideas is only good when the ideas are at least somewhat likely to be true.

        We’re SUPPOSED to be selective about ideas, and to avoid being so about gender, races or ethnic groups. It’s our job to discriminate against dumb ideas, and those who insist on clinging to them.

        Besides, has anyone ever noticed a lack of disagreement or argument in academia? No one carries on disputes in the journals or argues with the guy down the hall?

        1. I have no problem with creationists in a biology dept (though they would need to not push that view if they taught evolution). Nor is there a problem, in my view, with people from the political right in any academic dept. so long as what they teach is balanced. I think students should be able to handle it.

          1. If you’re a creationist, then you have to reject evolution, the two ideas are incompatible. I would have a problem with creationists in the biology dept.

          2. I wouldn’t care for it either, but as long as they stay away from it while teaching it should be ok. It works both ways. I teach evolution, but I would never touch on the subject that there is probably no god. But back to our subject, it would be discriminatory to not hire someone because of their religious beliefs (or political affiliation). What is important, though, is that those beliefs not interfere with their performance to standard.

          3. But essentially, evolution is biology. It is the common thread tying nearly every sub-discipline together. I can’t imagine a creationist driving this point home or helping the non-majors learn to really understand evolution.

            Then there’s the fact that so many would-be creationist biology professors are there under false colors in the first place–those who disingenuously get degrees in biology for the exact purpose of “infiltrating” faculties.

          4. Would you be ok with an engineering professor (say in chemical engineering) who denied the laws of thermodynamics, so long as (e.g.) he didn’t teach about heat engines?

    2. But you would also find it difficult to prove that it is absolutely true that: “Much of the ‘liberal’ worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be true”.

      Now don’t get me wrong I too believe that on balance the liberal values are preferable – but when anyone talks of ‘absolutes’, absolute truth, absolute morals, I wonder what unfortunate data have been trimmed to fit into the confines of the absolute box.

      1. I don’t argue that liberals are always right, or even that we’re not wrong with some regularity. We’re variable enough that some of us may manage to be wrong most of the time.

        But, that does not change the fact that many core conservative beliefs (current, may not have always been so) are demonstrably wrong. Conservatives seem stuck defending certain positions regardless of the evidence. Especially positions related to their religious beliefs, or the economic interests of their sponsors.

        Evolution happens! Carbon concentrations in the atmosphere really do affect climate.

        1. Your logic seems questionable – some liberals may be wrong sometimes but all conservatives have false beliefs?

          I could just as easily argue (for demonstration purposes) that “Liberals seem stuck defending certain positions regardless of the evidence. Especially positions related to their philosophical beliefs, or the economic interests of their clients.”

          I prefer the Sam Harris approach – think very very carefully about issues and don’t jump too soon to an absolute ‘one moral answer fits all situations’ answer.

    3. Racism is part of “the core” of U.S. conservatism? So what, most conservatives are white nationalists and sympathize with the KKK?

      I really detest how easily and slanderously liberals like you use that word nowadays, and how it’s lost its real definition as a result.

      1. Yes, racism is a core part of US conservatism. It’s a major motivator and if it didn’t exist conservatives would never win an election. Sorry — I didn’t design things that way. It’s a byproduct of, among other things, the “southern strategy” and the absorption of numerous southern racial bigots into the Republican party — bigots who had been Democrats before the mid 1960s.

    4. However, a quote in the post states: “Conservatives can be spotted in the sciences and in economics, but they are virtually an endangered species in fields like anthropology, sociology, history and literature.”
      Being predisposed to science isn’t anti-intellectual.
      On the other hand, “liberal” thought also carries some anti-intellectualism, e.g. that science is but one view of many, and the practices of hunter-gatherers are no less admirable that doctors’ recommendations and the Human Rights Charter – or even more.

  7. Knowing how left you are, I’m am so glad to hear you say this. As a fairly conservative person (which is very different from right wing), I really grow weary of the reflexive racist/stupid caricature of conservatism.

    Here’s another example: Clarence Thomas. No one gets more abuse than he, yet is less understood. People think he’s just “Scalia’s sock-puppet”, yet consider this:

    The first time Clarence Thomas went to Washington, DC, it was to protest the Vietnam War. The last time that Clarence Thomas attended a protest, as far as anyone can tell, it was to free Bobby Seale and Erikah Huggins.

    Or this:

    When Clarence Thomas was in college he memorized the speeches of Malcolm X; two decades later, he could still recite them by heart.

    Of course, one may vehemently disagree with Thomas, but without actually understanding him, it’s just self congratulation.

    See here:

    1. I certainly don’t think Thomas was a sock puppet…he is more conservative than Scalia was.

      Perhaps he was perceived as a sock puppet because he doesn’t talk much.

    2. I’d had no idea Thomas had those “credentials.” Interesting article. I did know he was quite skeptical of the so called “color-blindness” many, especially leftists, insist they themselves are. I often share his pessimism.

  8. I am not sure “liberal” and “conservative” are useful labels. On abortion, gay rights, defense spending, equal opportunity, and the first amendment I am a raving liberal. On limited government, market competition, taxes, the nanny state, and restrained SCOTUS justices I am a raving conservative. (The only constant is that I rave.)

    On STEM subjects, I don’t see why the political views of instructors should matter. In social science, say economics, instructors should be able to explain and discuss with their students the arguments for capitalism and the arguments for socialism independently of their own views. That is idealistic, I know, but that is the culture that I think should be promoted in academia.

    1. I agree that they are not useful labels. There is nothing “conservative” about the modern Republican party. The promote a radical-right economic agenda and espouse ideas that have been proven to be wrong. For example, they favor removing many environmental,health and safety regulations. But we know that when these regulations did not exist (and still today when ignored or not enforced), that there were many violations that led to injuries and deaths in factories, terrible pollution, tainted food sold in stores, and so forth. A true conservative would oppose removing regulations that are demonstrably of value to society. The modern right wants to get rid of the social safety net by proposing that people are more free when they don’t get help from the government, but we know from the history of poverty in America that there is nothing liberating about being extremely poor. A true conservative would argue for evidence based reforms where we see programs not working as well as they could, but not for removing them. A true conservative would not want to privatize Social Security or Medicare, programs that help people at a very low overhead cost, but rather would want to see these programs strengthened and look for ways to further reduce costs, fraud, etc. The only result of privatizing Social Security would be the transfer of massive wealth from that program to the rich.

    2. I should add, that all you have to do is look at the Republican Party platform from the 1950s to see how different the party is today.

  9. Kristof has a point, but not as much of a point as he thinks – see above and in the comments on his column itself.
    And what he notably fails to mention are the schools/colleges/universities where conservatism and religious fundamentalism are the only acceptable viewpoints – the places where faculty have to swear a “loyalty oath” to a particular Christian worldview to get a job.
    I’m a chemist and a lawyer. I wouldn’t have cared what my teachers’ religious and political views were – and I don’t think I ever knew them. Science doesn’t care, unless you consider “creation science” as science. But if I had been a student of philosophy, or history, or any one of a number of other subjects, I’d like my teachers’ worldviews to come out of something other than just (your favorite religious book here). And that, I think, tends to liberalism.

    1. What about Marxism? Some students wouldn’t want to be taught these disciplines by teachers whose worldviews come out of Marxism, but only Kristof spots the problem here. The dominant view apparently is that if you do not want to get neck deep in debt just to listen to some fan of Marx, then too bad for you.

  10. “We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us”

    Depends on what he means by “think like us”. If he means “have the same view as ours on abortion, etc.”, then yes, we should be fine with people who hold a different view. But if it means “open to rational persuasion”, I’m with many of the commentators over at the NYT: I’m not fine with people who are not open to rational persuasion (whether they happen to agree with me on substantive issues or not), and the academia is not the place for them.

    It may be that the scarcity of conservatives in the academia is due to a bias against those who do not think like us in sense 1. But given that those same people often seem not to think like us in sense 2 either, the “bias” may just be, I don’t know, justified rejection?

    1. I wonder if a person who is not open to rational persuasion could make it into academia, unless their entire educational career was spent with peers and faculty who already held agreeable beliefs? That is a potential pitfall of a lack of viewpoint diversity. How would we know that academics are actually open to persuasion, unless we knew that they had, in their education, encountered and confronted opposing viewpoints? The much publicized behavior of college students this year suggests that, for some students, either this isn’t happening, or they aren’t learning how to respond maturely.

      1. ‘Rational persuasion’ about what? If it’s the Christian religion, for example, then I’d say based on my own experience that, yes, there are a goodly number of people in academia who are not at all open to changing their minds. They won’t even discuss the topic of religious beliefs, except possibly to disparage those of other religions. Such teachers and students are very adept at compartmentalizing their minds and personalities. Call it cognitive dissonance or even doublethink–but it’s there, and deeply.

  11. As a lifelong conservative, but not a Republican (I disagree with the party on too much), I don’t know how to think about this. I am trying to remember what it was like in college. I don’t remember any professors who were Republican (or obviously conservative — let’s not forget that using Republican as the identifier for conservatives is only a poor approximation), although I do remember some who were Marxists. What I also remember is that there was enough diversity in course offerings that you could avoid classes that looked like they were overly influenced by political beliefs. (Just as conservatism is a spectrum, so is liberalism, and there are many places on the continuum where personal views don’t lead to extreme bias.) My impression is that this is still the case.

    What worries me, though, is that the ‘social’ justice movement is working to eliminate the ability of students to make these choices. The case of UMass Amherst’s new diversity requirements really does seem like a way to indoctrinate students. However, it also suggests that the political views within academia are not as monolithic as some believe or as some might want. If all professors were raging Leftists, then this sort of requirement would be redundant. It’s clear, though, that some students are able to avoid getting the message.

  12. Has it been shown that the small fraction of conservatives in this part of academia is due to selective hiring? Or are conservatives just less interested in these jobs?

    In the Netherlands (and probably elsewhere) civil servants tend to be more leftwing than the population as a whole. One explanation is that leftwingers are (somewhat) more interested in serving people than making big bucks in private jobs.

    Also, we hear conservative propaganda all the time, to the tune that “government jobs are not real jobs”. I wonder if that plays a role in the US?

    1. I wonder about conservatives self-selecting out of jobs in academia too. One of the things I’ve noticed watching US media is the way conservative media outlets scorn academia. I think, whether consciously or not, this makes conservatives less likely to pursue careers there.

      As for Marxists, such a career is probably one of the few where they can be reasonably well paid and still retain their reputations.

      There are less people with viewpoints such as conservatism in academia. However, there are plenty of well educated people in the world who are conservative. Those people therefore “escaped” supposed indoctrination by liberals. Extremists, whatever their beliefs, tend to be squeaky wheels so we notice them. Most professors teach a balanced viewpoint whatever their own beliefs.

      1. I also wonder if they self-select out of academia because of the poor pay levels. Would a conservative econ major in college rather go on to investment banking or teaching ungrateful college students?

        1. I agree though I suspect not just conservatives feel that way, especially as many in society judge a person’s total worth by their wealth.

      2. “However, there are plenty of well educated people in the world who are conservative. ”

        You might take a look at what their degrees are in. The graduate degrees are likely law or some sort of business.

        If conservatives self-select out of certain career choices, it may be due to perceived hostility towards their world views. Haidt believes that a conscious outreach needs to occur to these people.

  13. “Kristof also dispels the view that conservatives and religious people simply aren’t worth hiring”

    I think the only idea he dispels there is that there are ZERO conservatives and religious people who are smart enough to be worth hiring, an idea I doubt anyone actually has. The real question is are there ENOUGH conservatives and religious people who are smarter or more qualified than liberals, and non-religious.

    1. And shouldn’t those that are smart enough really be employed as test subjects to determine how smart people can be so wrong about some things? – to find a cure.

      1. “And shouldn’t those that are smart enough really be employed as test subjects to determine how smart people can be so wrong about some things?”

        My point is that perhaps they are being employed, but there just aren’t that many of them, particularly looking for jobs in academia. The 2 most popular post grad field are business, and education. Each field attracts approximately equal numbers. It seem likely to me that intelligent conservatives would gravitate more towards business fields, and less so towards academia where they feel would be less accepted given that conservatives have for a long time have characterized universities as bastions of liberal elitism. That characterization would likewise appeal to liberals.

  14. “Insofar as worldviews are consequentialist… they can be shown to be right or wrong.”

    But that’s the problem. Much of what passes for conservatism today requires denying empirical reality.

    It takes a very special person to hold onto conservative ideals only to the degree they can be supported, or at least not contradicted by, what we know about the world.

    1. I agree.

      The liberal world view is much more in line with reality, for example:
      – generous unemployment benefits are a good thing economically;
      – austerity in a recession is a bad idea;
      – privatisation of government servives generally brings no improvements;
      – income equality is bad for everyone;
      – environmental protection needs strong government (and does NOT bring economic ruin);
      – harsher prison sentences do not help to reduce criminality;
      – climate change is real.
      – tax breaks for the wealthy do not help the economy.
      Et cetera.

      I suspect this is no accident. Liberals tend to think more of the consequences for everybody, now and in the future.

      I for one am always surprised when a conservative politician who argues for the opposite viewpoint in these cases is still taken seriously.

      (Yes, I know that I am very much simplfying and generalising here.)

      1. “The liberal world view is much more in line with reality, ”

        Well, mainstream liberal. The radical left is as contemptuous of evidence as mainstream conservatism is.

        I don’t know if this is an actual consequence of the liberal worldview, or merely an accident in response to conservatives going off the deep end.

        1. “Mainstream” is the operative word here. The fringe on the left is just that: a fringe. Unlike on the right, where ideas going against reality ARE mainstream.

          As Paul Krugman has pointed out many times, the situation is not at all symmetrical.

      2. I mostly agree with your list, but there are degrees within it that do make a difference. For example, there is some evidence that privatisation does improve things. It depends very much on the sector. Prisons, for example, are better in government hands. Things like road building are often done better if they are contracted out.

        1. I think I can make a good case that privatisation almost never gives the promised benefits, but the thing is of course that we should look at the evidence.

          If we do that, we may decide on a case by case basis if privatisation gives better outcome. Most conservatives however subscribe to a religious belief in privatisation, and are not swayed by any evidence.

          1. I definitely agree with you there. Too many just don’t look at the evidence, discount the evidence that opposes their pov, and play up the stuff that supports their case. Even when a proper assessment tool is used, often factors are weighted so the result is more likely to match the ideology of the decision maker.

        2. “Things like road building are often done better if they are contracted out.”

          Do you have any evidence for that?

          I’m skeptical that government contracting stuff out pays off mainly because the relationship between the government and private contractors is still highly regulated. There are few free market forces at play.

          One example: our city contracted out pest control activities, but after getting paid, the private contractor went out of business. The city had no pest control for a year and rats started showing up in every area of the city, even the wealthy neighborhoods.

          1. The first thing that came to mind when I wrote the comment was the situation in NZ when all roads (and many other things) were built by a government department called the Ministry of Works. It’s monopoly situation created huge inefficiencies and a bloated bureaucracy. Now that the government contracts out the work billions has been saved and our roading infrastructure is in better condition.

            As I said, it depends on the situation. A lot depends on the contracting process, good oversight, and good management. Good contracts have to be drawn up with reliable companies if the process is going to work.

            I hope no one would argue that Soviet Russia, for example, was better run than a well-functioning Western democracy, whatever the faults of the latter.

            There will always be things that both sides can point to as problems. My argument is that which solution is best depends on the situation. Also, what’s the right decision in one place won’t necessarily be correct elsewhere. Where I live there’s only one company that is capable of road repairs, so they effectively have a monopoly. So everything I’ve said about roads in NZ has only been helped in a limited way by privatisation in my own town.

          2. Bureaucracies are usually a failure of the decision-making process of an organization, not so much its execution process, yet it’s the execution process that is often privatized. The main way that privatizing the execution process can sometimes be more efficient is that they pay their employees less and can fire them when there’s no work. Some see that as a bug, not a feature.

            Regardless, your example in NZ is merely one data point and isn’t enough, IMO, to make broad generalizations about private vs public. There are many examples of efficient state run operations, and poorly run private ones. Probably an important fundamental in ensuring that government can provide good service is effective democracy, which wasn’t present in the USSR.

          3. I agree Scott. And what happens here is that the decision-making process stays with government. Also, our workers have much stronger protections than yours. I’m certainly not saying that private is better than public because I don’t believe that, and I think the decision-making is better left with government. I do think that PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships) have a place in some areas.

            And I agree also that even when they do that right it can still go wrong. Our government recently privatized our worst maximum security prison. There were all sorts of conditions written into the contract about rehabilitation, training, etc but it was a disaster and we ended up with cellphone videos of fight clubs on the internet. (I wrote a post about it: , but all the videos of the fighting have been taken off YouTube so that part’s gone.)

            The private provider has not only had their contract cancelled, but they have been fined millions for not meeting the terms of the contract. The money side is thus sorted, but there were prisoners who needlessly suffered and that cannot be fixed. It should never have happened and I’m embarrassed that it occurred in my country. I want us to go down the Norway path re prisons:

          4. What we’re faced with here is a movement to privatize the public schools. So far, the privatized schools haven’t, overall, done any better than public schools, but this “reform” movement has powerful allies in the private sector with lots of money, so it looks like it will continue even as it produces no results. It’s become an ideology.

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the free market, but there are a lot of conditions that must be present before it works the way it’s advertised.

          5. I hate the idea of privatizing education. We have a good state system here with very few private schools, and I wouldn’t want to see it changed. There have been several attempts to establish charter schools, but they have not caught on and we only have a small number. NZ makes a lot of money providing education at all levels to people from the Asia-Pacific region and also the Middle East, so that provides another reason for the government to ensure quality remains high throughout.

      3. I strongly disagree with most of the list. About austerity in recession – my experience is that it helps when it is applied (such as in my country, Bulgaria) and it doesn’t help when people whine about it without actually applying it (such as in neighboring Greece, where too many feel entitled to a high living standard and laugh at our poverty).

  15. I cannot speak to the specifics of what goes on within the colleges but on a national level the separation between liberal and conservative has grown wider and this is the result of movement on the part of both sides. At the fringes of this separation (extremes)there is almost no discussion between sides happening. This is why our government is in almost total grid-lock and compromise is not even an option.

    If the trend in the 50s and 60s at the schools was more toward the liberal ideas it would only become more so as time moved on and now may be to a point where “the other side” does not get in the door or at least, not hired.

    I was just thinking about the Bush family – both Georges went to Yale and were pretty clearly known as conservatives. Yet they have already stated they will not attend the republican convention this year and have washed their hands of it. They obviously cannot stomach Donald Trump and refuse to be in the same building with him. Let’s hope that does not happen in the other party we assume to be the liberal one.

    1. “this is the result of movement on the part of both sides.”

      No, both parties have moved right, but the Rep. party has moved much farther, thus opening the gap wider. If Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan were to come back they couldn’t get nominated by the current republicans. It’s true that the Dem. party has shed most of the racist southern wing (thus moving left on that issue), but Franklin Roosevelt would probably still be left of the mainstream on many things.

      1. Funny, I thought my comments were mostly responding to the posting main point regarding liberals in the schools and even less conservatives at all. However, we can talk politics if needed. Which party moved more is not really the question today, so much as how far are they from the people. The ones who actually vote out there.

        Just looking at everyone’s favorite, Hilary the mainstream, party favorite establishment democrat, how far away from the principles of the democratic party is she. Damn far, I would say and that is why we have Bernie, the long time independent, not even a democrat in registration, giving her fits.

        The Clinton’s first step into the white house in the 90s was directly to Wall Street, the banks and big money. Kind of like the republicans and frankly, who could tell the difference. This move to republican Territory has continued since by Obama and Hilary. Again, we see the rise of old man Bernie and why?

        So, you and others may think the republicans have lost their voters and they have. But I would not ignore the same thing happening on the other side of the political game either.

        1. ” who could tell the difference” [between HRC and the GOP].

          Well, pretty easily:

          Abortion rights
          Universal health care
          Environmental protection
          Foreign policy
          Support for education
          Attitudes towards unions
          Attitudes Re: taxing the very wealthy
          Global warming
          Gay marriage
          LGBT rights
          Who they would appoint to the SCOTUS
          The basic idea of government as a force to positive change
          Generalized militarism (support for the military-industrial complex)
          Support for separation of church and state
          “Bathroom laws”
          Gun control
          Religious nutterism
          etc., etc.

  16. The conversation would be more productive if there was less deceptive use of language — if words were more commonly used to communicate what IS instead of to fool people into believing what ISN’T. One example is the way “people who would rather see their daughters die from coat-hanger abortions than see a black man in the White House” are labelled simply as “Social Conservatives” by what passes for liberal news media in the USA. I’m all for dialog between different parts of the political spectrum as long is it is not packed with implicit lies. If people who were both linguists and scientists moderated such discussion, we might get somewhere.

    1. By that rule, many professors would have to identify as “people who think everyone else deserves to be tortured for eternity” instead of simply calling themselves “Christian.”

      Indeed, to some extent, the entire conservative scheme relies on concealing truths through clever ruses for political ends. Which could well account for why nobody wants to hire them in academia.

    2. By the same token, Kristof claims that 18% of social scientists support violent takeover of power, forced expropriation of possessions and banning political parties, except one.

  17. My undergraduate years were back in the Pleistocene (well, almost — ’76 to ’80). I attended a public university as an engineering student; I have no idea whether most of my professors were conservative, liberal, or in-between, except for those who taught the humanities classes I was required to take. For this then-Catholic kid, having grown up in a conservative household, they were FLAMING liberals. Wow! Almost a different subspecies of humans.

    Of course the joke is on me; I’m now pretty liberal by the standards of today, probably as liberal as those humanities instructors of long ago. That’s mostly because I’m inordinately fond of finding reality, and it tends to have a liberal bias.

    I find that the people I have serious political discussions with (as opposed to just hanging out with) tend to be fellow reality-seekers who like scientific references for backing up their arguments, and they tend to be liberal. Maybe I’m living in a bubble. Maybe reality does indeed have a liberal bias, the way we define it in the US today.

    1. Many conservatives in fact do not want any truck with scientific evidence.

      Most strongly religious people are conservatives (at least in the IS). Very few Global-warming (AGW) deniers are liberals. I can’t imagine a liberal public figure stating, as conservative Rick Santorum has< that parents shouldn't send their kids to college because they'll leave their religion because of it.

  18. Personally, I think it shouldn’t matter what a person’s political leanings are. They should be interested in honest research and teaching should be unbiased.

    That said, can a professor deal with students every day for years and not see the difference that privilege makes? Wouldn’t they see the rich kid with the car who doesn’t have to work has more time to study (and party) than the poor kid who works 20-30 hours per week? Or that the kid from the prep school is indeed prepped for college while the equally smart/talented/hard-working kid from public school has some catching up to do?

  19. This is quite heartening and especially since I was unsatisfied with an editorial Kristof wrote about Ayaan Hirsi Ali several years ago (although it’s problems were horribly overstated by Greta Christina who vigorously vented against it on one of the rare occasions I completely disagreed with her).

    It’s now more of a problem as I would be inclined to mark the year 2000 as that in which the Republican party morphed into a National Lampoon parody of itself, making dialogue with conservatives much harder.
    Far more working scientists were Republican in 1950 than is the case today. I really do appreciate the fairly rational conservatives of yesteryear like Barry Goldwater. I also appreciate the usually annoying William F. Buckley for working hard to purge American conservatism of anti-Semitism, hoping to make conservatism a “safe space” for Jews (even if I have big issues with some of the practical consequences of that.)

    A caveat.
    I think Kristof is wrong in classifying Martin Luther King as specifically an evangelical Christian. King’s doctoral thesis was on Paul “Ground of Being” Tillich. As a teenager he stated he did not believe many of the supernatural doctrines of the Bible, but he was finally drawn to seminary when he decided the Bible has “many profound truths which one cannot escape”. Upon ordination, he stressed to friends he would be a “rational” minister. He even considered Unitarianism at one point.
    (In “God is not Great” Christopher Hitchens argues King was really a secular humanist dressing up his ideas in Christian language. I do not think this is entirely correct either. King, IMO, was more theistic than CH gives him credit for. He was ultimately an apophatic Christian.

  20. The question is whether liberals and conservatives are drawn to academic careers.
    This video attempts to answer this question–its long but worth it

  21. I certainly see that left-leaning and non-religious people are massively overrepresented in my area of science. But I am not so sure if there really is a hiring bias. I mean, how would that work? How would my colleagues be able to look at a systematist, ecologist or geneticist and go: “this woman is conservative, I don’t like her”? People don’t tend to put that onto the CV, do they, so while it would be easy to discriminate against women or people with non-European names, how would one discriminate against people voting conservative?

    It seems much more likely to me that a lot of self-sorting is going on, with people of certain ideologies drawn to certain professions, and anti-intellectual ideologies don’t mesh well with an interest in science. After that there may then be a formative influence of the environment. First, the stuff you are working with may have an impact on what you believe (e.g. the raw facts learned in evolutionary biology, astrophysics, or engineering may have very different impacts on faith, and doing economics or social science on politics). Second, it is just unavoidable that the majority opinion of your colleagues rubs off onto you in some way.

    Finally, although a bit mean, I think “Steven” has a point. If I look around and don’t see any evidence or even practical possibility of discrimination then I don’t see why I should go out of my way to preferentially hire a group. I understand the theory behind having diverse views to bring to bear on a problem, but it is not immediately clear to me how “voting for the Christian Democratic Party” is the kind of perspective I desperately need in a project on plant identification.

  22. Many of the authoritarian left types that I’ve encountered seem to completely by-pass the analysis and debate stage and want to spring straight into the vilify and reject unconditionally stage. They often have no idea how to construct an argument. I usually find myself explaining how to marshal evidence for their point rather than making assertions. The only way they know how to argue is to assume that anyone who disagrees is doing to because of a personality defect, dishonest motivations, or because they haven’t heard enough slogans shouted at them repeatedly.

    I am starting to understand why Hitch was always emphasizing the importance of irony — these fellows don’t seem to have any. It’s all literal, one dimensional statements aimed at sidelining whoever has been identified as the enemy, and that’s it. No subtleties, no self-awareness, no thoughts about own possible biases. I’ve seen in the last few days several people, including journalists, insisting that the British Labour Party has no anti-semitism problem, and that it is all a big blow up by the media….. the Zionist controlled media. With no hint of awareness of any possible irony there.

    I see it as analogous to biblical literalism, just with a different set of books (if they read any books).

  23. Is the filtering indeed done by the selectors, or are the candidates already skewed one way or another? While all sides may be guilty of some dogma, perhaps some sides are more dogmatic than others and rejected for good reason. I look at the political clubs on campus in Australia and although most clubs are somewhat rabid and dogmatic, the ones allied with the worst self-serving political dogmas are far worse than the others and they are really no different from the Band of the Red Hand: there is no place for reason or negotiation, only blind obedience.

  24. Except for my freshman year at a Nazarene college eons ago, I don’t remember any of my other college professors sharing political or religious beliefs with students. Professors should be selected for their education and skills in subject matter and, one hopes, their abilities to teach; not for being conservative vs. liberal, or vice versa. I had numerous professors who were obviously well educated. But, I can count on less than the fingers of one hand the professors I’ve had that I thought were exceptionally gifted teachers. Those few left a yearning in me to continue learning ever more about the subjects they taught.

    I am far more concerned that universities are places where diverse people can meet to share
    and discuss all topics in a free and open manner. These are supposed to be places we encounter new-to-us ideas and the freedom to discuss them. How can one do that if certain topics and speakers are verboten in

  25. “You can’t say a worldview itself is wrong”

    Worldviews don’t exist in objective reality, they only live in our imagination. We use worldviews to promote large scale cooperation between strangers; there is no need for them to be true (See f.i. Christianity).

    And they can surely be wrong if they are based on false claims (f.i. eugenics-Nazism).

    I think it’s safer to say that there is no true worldview.

    1. Not sure it is that easy.

      I agree with Krugman, who once wrote something on the lines of: An ideology is a model of how the world works plus a set of values.

      There is no Objectively True set of values, as far as I can tell. But the model of how the world works part – and surely such a model is part of Marxism, Liberalism, Objectivism, or Catholicism – can be closer to or further from reality.

      1. For approximating reality, empirical science is the only game in town.

        People need ideologies to justify their actions and to resolve their cognitive dissonance, reality doesn’t help there at all. They are all complete fiction and only exist in our imagination.

        We prefer one ideology over another because they are more useful or convenient for us. Unlike ants and bonobos it allows humans to cooperate in an extremely flexible way and with complete strangers.

        I’m sure it’s that easy 🙂

        1. I think we are talking past each other. When you want to do something, you need a framework that tells you what you should probably do. But it is no good to just say “science!”, because (a) science doesn’t provide the goals and values and (b) science is “only” a methodology and set of observations and theories that can inform such a framework. It is not the framework itself.

          I mean, if you want to decide whether it would or would not be a good idea to raise the minimum wage at the parliament vote next week, what would you do? Consult an economics textbook, naively assuming that there is one simple rule for all possible economic, political and social circumstances? Or do a five year double-blind study, then hop into a time machine and go back to this week to tell yourself what you should have voted for? I think that about covers what science can directly and now contribute to this.

          So what I am left with is a framework that should, for rational people, be informed by science, but that isn’t science itself. Your framework might be “value: all people should have a decent income, model: but a minimum wage seems counter-productive as it may sometimes in the past have created more unemployment”, or “model: in most cases higher minimum wage raised the poorest people’s standards of living without any downsides, value: but people deserve precisely what The Market is willing to pay and not one penny more”, or the other two obvious combinations of value and model. Whatever of those you hold, bang, you have an ideology per Krugman’s definition.

  26. “You can’t say a worldview itself is wrong, for worldviews encompass ethical philosophies, which aren’t objectively right or wrong. (Sam Harris would disagree.)”

    I’m with Harris: I’d disagree, too (depending on what we mean by “objectively”), but I think our disagreement here is beside the point.

    It’s playing a dangerous game to deny someone an academic appointment merely because you think they’re wrong, even if it’s on an a matter where there’s no disagreement that there’s a fact of the matter and [i]someone[/i] has to be wrong.

    For instance, I would be disturbed to hear about a historian being denied a job merely because they were a mythicist (about Jesus) – or conversely, merely because they were [i]not[/i] a mythicist. If the person hiring has a different opinion from the applicant, then [i]of course[/i] the hirer will think that the applicant is wrong, and the hirer may be factually correct in thinking the applicant is wrong – but they still shouldn’t be allowed to appeal to this consideration by itself. What matters is the extent to which the applicant can reasonably hold and defend their view.

    1. Argh. Forgot once again that it’s angle tags, not square tags on this board.

      I wish the internet would be consistent in this matter.

  27. I think Russell distilled this down nicely:

    The fundamental difference between the liberal and the illiberal outlook is that the former regards all questions as open to discussion and all opinions open to greater or less measure of doubt, while the latter holds in advance that certain opinions are absolutely unquestionable, and that no argument against them must be allowed to be heard.

    — Bertrand Russell, Freedom and the Colleges, 1940

    Many on the Left have certainly taken on illiberal positions.

  28. Professor Coyne is a Liberal. Theres a big difference between a Leftist and a Liberal.

    Leftists, modern leftists, hate free speech when the speech doesnt conform to their ideology. Kristoff and Coyne are politically to the left but are classical liberals who value free speech and freedom of thought, in the mould of Milton’s Areopagatica, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and JS Mill’s “On Liberty”

    To see the poisonous venom, the utter poison that the modern Left breeds on campuses, check out this recent speech by 2 conservatives and 1 democrat about modern feminism on campus of UMASS, and just watch the heckling, the vitriol and pure hate that some of the leftist audience has for the speakers.

    They dont just want to not hear the speakers ideas, they want to make sure YOU dont hear it either.

  29. To some degree, this is based on the idea that right wing ideas – creationism, evangelical Christianity, trickle down economics, ad nauseum – aren’t getting a fair hearing.

    In fact, the opposite is true. For all that conservatives complain that the “Mainstream Media” leans left, the truth – based on statistical analysis of ownership and reporting patters – has always been that the MSM is overwhelmingly conservative. (But that hasn’t stopped conservatives from complaining endlessly about that nonexistent bias – it’s called “working the refs”.)

    For every MSNBC – which gets more conservative by the minute – there are many Fox properties, and the “balanced” reporting we see on CNN. ABC, CBS, NBC. Of course, balanced reporting usually consists of bringing on the same talking heads, regardless of whether they’ve been correct in the past, and of equating different statements about an issue, regardless of the evidence (or lack thereof) for the given point of view. Climate reporting is a perfect (but sad) example of this.

    So, I’m not bothered by there being, for many reasons, fewer conservatives in academia (and my personal experience is that there are many more than people think) – we’re constantly inundated with their worldview.

    If Academia gives us some small amount of respite from that flood of generally bogus information, I have very little problem with that.

    Of course, as good Liberals, we rend our clothing over the possibility that we’re not bending over backwards to be fair to our opponents. Do you think they’re doing the same thing?

    1. Pro-Palestinian students definitely did not bend over backwards to be fair to the Jewish professor Pessin after he wrote a post about “rabid dogs”.

  30. I think it is also important to consider that although there is merit to learning about different *American* perspectives, the US is very skewed “right” relative to Europe and Canada (and I think Australia and NZ too, but I know about them less). I encountered this while a graduate student at CMU: the “leftist” students and professors were often Democrats and not very left at all by Canadian standards. (At *best* “red Tories”.) I do remember finding one American student with more “Canadianesque” values and it turns out he knew Radio Canada International growing up!

    Also, the US has gotten *more* right, at least at the federal level. As far as I can tell, Obama is about Nixon level right (see the previous stuff about drones, etc.) and the Republicans are “off the scale”.

  31. Kristof took a small step forward on the issue, but also a step back–right there in the opening.

    Kristof says liberals want to include everyone at the table as long as they’re not conservative. He specifically names “women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims”. In fact a huge part of the problem is that the regressive left element does not oppose conservative views from any Muslim who justifies those views via Islam, such as the subjugation of women.

    As Jerry has often posted, this is a particular failing of Nicholas Kristof himself. Kristof has yet to acknowledge or examine the conflict between his own values and Islamist positions. Not surprisingly then, he again ignores that problem in this column.

  32. We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.

    The other side of that problem is, of course, the implication that if I were sitting on an appointments committee (or whatever they’re called), then I should deliberately hire someone I think is an idiot.

    1. On the other hand, for me people like Profs. Angela Davis and Joy Karega are idiots, and those who have appointed them are double idiots. This is why I think some objective criteria should be applied.

      1. Sorry, those names mean nothing to me. Are they from one of the threads that I don’t bother with?

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