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!