The ghost in the regalia controversy

regaliaLet me open by getting a few comments out of the way, just to be careful. I realize that the recent New York Times article titled "Republicans Outnumbered in Academia, Studies Find" contained few, if any, clear references to religious issues. Ditto for John Fund's Wall Street Journal essay, "High Bias: It's time to bring some intellectual diversity to America's colleges and universities."

Who cares? I still think there is a giant religion ghost hiding in the silence. Let me state, in anticipation of valid comments by some readers, that I would be the last person to automatically equate the word "Republican" with the word "Christian" or even "conservative." I am well aware, as this blog constantly points out, that there are traditional religious believers -- social-issue conservatives, even -- who are political progressives and active in the Democratic Party (my new Democrats for Life T-shirt should arrive any day now). There are liberal believers and conservative believers in both major political parties.

Nevertheless, one would have to be blind not to see that there are more social-issues and religious conservatives among the Republicans these days than among the Democratics. It's also hard not to notice -- although many journalists continue to do so -- the growing coalition of anti-fundamentalist voters that is throwing its weight around in Democratic Party. The Democrats are nervous about this.

In light of all of this, it's easy to grasp the religious implications of new research about the ratio of Democrats/liberals to Republicans/conservatives on college and university campuses. This is one of those "Duh!" stories that has been rumbling around for decades. Writing in the Times, John Tierney offers this summary of some of the data:

One of the studies, a national survey of more than 1,000 academics, shows that Democratic professors outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one in the humanities and social sciences. That ratio is more than twice as lopsided as it was three decades ago, and it seems quite likely to keep  increasing, because the younger faculty members are more consistently Democratic than the ones nearing retirement, said Daniel Klein, an associate professor of economics at Santa Clara University and a co-author of the study.

In a separate study of voter registration records, Professor Klein found a nine-to-one ratio of Democrats to Republicans on the faculties of Berkeley and Stanford. That study, which included professors from the hard sciences, engineering and professional schools as well as the humanities and social sciences, also found the ratio especially lopsided among the younger professors of assistant or associate rank: 183 Democrats versus six Republicans.

There's plenty of other amazing numbers where those came from.

Sure enough, this issue is serving as a rallying point for the right -- with the omnipresent former leftist David Horowitz leading the charge on behalf of his new Students for Academic Freedom network. The goal is to find a way promote diversity, of all things, while stopping short of affirmative-action campaigns for political and moral conservatives. It's especially interesting to note the number of conservative scholars who have eventually settled into jobs far from the bloody and political tenure wars.

While you're at it, note the references to "conservative" scholars who quickly point out that they are Libertarian conservatives. This also points toward deep fears of being labeled as "religious conservatives" -- the kiss of death. You also see this rush to embrace the Libertarian label among Republicans in Hollywood.

Actually, there is one clearly religious quotation in Tierney's piece -- which completely avoids any discussion of the hottest moral and cultural issues that divide America and the academic fields that relate to them. Is it possible that these academic kingdoms have now defined themselves in opposition to traditional religious beliefs? One scholar thinks so.

"Our colleges have become less marketplaces of ideas than churches in which you have to be a true believer to get a seat in the pews," said Stephen H. Balch, a Republican and the president of the National Association of Scholars. "We've drifted to a secular version of 19th-century denominational colleges, in which the university's mission is to crusade against sin and make the country a morally better place."

Fund's note covers a lot of the same territory, but goes on to note one or two religious issues that have obvious political implications. Thus, Jewish students at Columbia University claim that they are facing discrimination at the hands of anti-Israel professors. Students have reported professors making statements such as "the Palestinian is the new Jew, and the Jew is the new Nazi."

Finally, Fund notes that there are leaders in the academic establishment -- conservatives are the new rebels -- who do not believe they are involved in "group think" or the crushing of free speech. Perhaps they believe they are merely engaged in quality control?

Robert Brandon, a Duke University philosophy professor, is one liberal who has at least made an effort to explain why conservatives are seldom seen in academia. "We try to hire the best, smartest people available. If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire. Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican Party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia."

Then again, perhaps this another sign that the toughest issues in American life are linked to faith, salvation and the sexual revolution, although perhaps not in that order. Those seeking more information on these topics can dig into the files of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or read one of my Scripps Howard columns about these conflicts.

Please respect our Commenting Policy