Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Good Diversity 

On most university faculties, as in most newsrooms, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a sizable margin. If you read George Will's recent plaint about the liberal "filtering process" that results in the de facto blacklisting of conservatives from academia, you will no doubt be highly amused by Steven Lubet's response:
These are odd arguments to hear from conservatives, since they usually deny that disproportionate statistics can be taken as proof of discrimination. When it comes to employment discrimination or affirmative action, conservatives will blithely insist that the absence of minorities (in a workforce or student body) simply means that there were too few "qualified applicants" from a particular group. And don't bother talking to them about a "glass ceiling" or "mommy track" that impedes women's careers. That's not discrimination, they say, it's "self-selection."

Conservatives abandon these arguments, however, when it comes to their own prospects in academe. Then the relative scarcity of Republican professors is widely asserted as proof of willful prejudice.

Of course, there are other possible explanations. Perhaps fewer conservatives than liberals are willing to endure the years of poverty- stricken graduate study necessary for a faculty position. Perhaps conservatives are smarter than liberals, recognizing that graduate school is a poor investment, given the scant job opportunities that await newly minted Ph. D.s. Or perhaps studious conservatives are more attracted to the greater financial rewards of industry and commerce.

Beyond the ivy walls, there are many professions that are dominated by Republicans. You will find very few Democrats (and still fewer outright liberals) among the ranks of high-level corporate executives, military officers or football coaches. Yet no one complains about these imbalances, and conservatives will no doubt explain that the seeming disparities are merely the result of market forces.

They are probably right. It is entirely rational for conservatives to flock to jobs that reward competition, aggression and victory at the expense of others. So it should not be surprising that liberals gravitate to professions -- such as academics, journalism, social work and the arts -- that emphasize inquiry, objectivity and the free exchange of ideas . . . .

Nonetheless, liberals (like me) should admit that faculties face a risk of intellectual conformity, which can be stultifying and confining even when it is unintentional. Most major universities would likely benefit from the presence of more conservative scholars, who would sharpen the dialog and challenge many assumptions. I might even be convinced to support some form of recruiting outreach or affirmative action for Republicans -- but surely my conservative colleagues would never stand for it.

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