Thursday, 21 August 2003

Vita envy

Dan Drezner has expanded his site. Meanwhile, since I’ve publicized it for the eJobs placement service anyway, you can read my vita too. (Any emailed recommendations for beefing up or otherwise enhancing my vita would be greatly appreciated.)

Discrimination in the academy

John Lemon has sparked an interesting discussion at Kevin Drum’s site about whether or not conservatives are discriminated against in academia. My two cents, from my end of the universe:

  1. I’ve seen surveys of political scientists, and their political beliefs as a whole are decidedly left-wing. (One such survey was made available at the 2003 MPSA convention, but I can’t seem to find a copy online.)
  2. There are relatively few self-identified conservatives in political science. I know one self-identified Republican, and he considers himself a liberal Republican—and he’s a Ph.D. student. There are probably a larger pool of either independent or libertarian-leaners in the academy, including my dissertation chair, but to my knowledge none of them have described themselves as Republicans either. I do know a few other students who have expressed sympathies that are consistent with conservatism.
  3. Conservatives and Republicans routinely receive abuse that, if directed at women or racial or ethnic minorities would be grounds for an EEOC lawsuit on the basis of a “hostile work environment.” For example, I have never heard a positive word about George Bush from anyone in a tenure-track job. In general the same goes for people with strong religious beliefs.
  4. There are probably subfields in which this matters more than others. I suspect—but have no evidence—that more empirically-oriented research programs are more accepting of conservatives, since there is less scope for personal political beliefs in such scholarship. (Speaking for myself, in general what I study is fairly divorced from left-right debates, although there are implications in terms of what we can expect from democracy.)
  5. I also suspect that this discrimination is less widespread the higher up the “prestige ladder” one goes in the discipline. I would be surprised if Ohio State, Rochester or Michigan denied someone tenure on the basis of their political beliefs, but I wouldn’t put it past Podunk State University.

What does this add up to? I’m not sure. But I’d be inclined to believe Lemon’s account.

Serendipity: Matthew Stinson at A Fearful Symmetry has some observations from a Florida State (not to be confused with Podunk State) perspective. And, the MinuteMan has more too…

Glass houses

Acidman thinks the design of Signifying Nothing is too busy. But at least I don’t have any photos of me—or Brock—shirtless on the front page…

Why nobody takes our discipline seriously, part 325

Pejman passes on news that one of the Ivys (specifically, Cornell University) has offered professional race-baiter and ex-Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney a guest lecturer’s position. $20 says it’s teaching “political science” courses.

Southern Appeal has dug up the press release, with the additionally-exciting news that none other than John “I idolize Robert Fisk” Pilger will also be receiving a guest professorship at Cornell. Ah well, at least I don’t have to disown that university.

Recalls as votes of no confidence

A number of people, including a healthy chunk on the right (most notably political commentator and Washington Post columnist George Will), don’t particularly care for the California recall election, considering it (variously) anti-democratic, unfair, or inconsistent with the will of the Founders. (Matthew at A Fearful Symmetry has rescinded his previous opposition in this particular instance due to Gray Davis’ general pissiness.)

The last point is fairly easily dealt with; unlike in gubernatorial elections, the president is indirectly elected via the Electoral College. The Electoral College was originally designed as sort of a half-way house between parliamentary democracy and direct election: like in a parliamentary system, the executive (in the parliamentary case, usually the prime minister) would be indirectly elected by the electorate. However, the Electoral College only does two things—electing the president and vice president—and then they go home; in a parliamentary system, the same body remains in office to approve, amend, or reject legislation proposed by the executive, and possibly—eventually—to remove the executive from office if it no longer reflects the preferences of the legislature. This removal, common to all parliamentary systems, is known as a vote of no confidence; if it succeeds, the executive must resign and be replaced, or new elections for a new legislature (and thence a new executive) are called.

The vote of no confidence is one way in which proponents of parliamentary democracy believe it leads to more stable government (the mirror image of no confidence is the power of the executive to dissolve parliament and call for new elections). So, how would we bring this benefit into a presidential system* without undermining the separation of powers? Obviously, a traditional vote of no confidence is out, as it would allow the legislature to remove the executive at will, and allowing the executive to dissolve the legislature would have similar problems.

The obvious solution is to allow the people who elected the executive and the legislature a “vote of no confidence” of their own. And, essentially, this is what the recall is: it allows the electorate to remove an executive or member of the legislature who is no longer acting consistently with their preferences. Since there is no continuous assembly of the electorate, and we don’t schedule election days on a regular basis with no expectation of some election taking place, the recall petition procedure allows the electorate to schedule a recall election if one is needed. And, since presidential systems don’t work well when there is no executive, there is a simultaneous election of a replacement executive (in parliamentary terms, it is a constructive vote of no-confidence). This system allows the electorate to work around deadlock between the legislature and executive, while at the same time not hurting the formal separation of powers between the executive and legislature (which would be a problem if we gave similar powers to either branch).

Perhaps most importantly, though, the recall provision substantially mitigates the problem of “lame duck” politicians who are subject to term limits. While the empirical evidence of “shirking” is decidedly mixed, the threat of a recall election may motivate term-limited single-minded seekers of reelection to behave more consistently with the preferences of the people who elected them, which is surely an outcome favored by proponents of the “delegate” model of representative democracy (as opposed to the Burkean “trustee” model).

To be sure, there is some fiddling at the margins that may be worthwhile. Some have suggested that the signature requirement for both setting a recall election and qualification for the ballot is too low, although at least in the former case it seems like getting a million registered voters to actually sign a petition is a rather daunting task to begin with; few, if any, organized interests in the state can claim that many members. And it might be reasonable to require some sort of run-off if the plurality winner doesn’t have a clear margin above the second-placed challenger (majority runoff is one possibility, but a threshold of 45% has also been suggested in the political science literature, and Shugart and Carey suggest the use of what they describe as the “double-complement rule” in Presidents and Assemblies), or to use an alternate balloting system like approval or Condorcet voting. But generally speaking, the recall provision is sound and there is no good reason why it should not be adopted elsewhere—it’s one of the few “progressivist” reforms that actually is good for democracy.