Friday, 3 December 2004

Again on the leftward tilt of universities

Chris just commented on this extensively, but this topic seems to be all over the place (and I mentioned it earlier this week, however briefly). The Economist has an article as well by their “Lexington” on this issue of ideological bias in the universities. A quote:

This is profoundly unhealthy per se. Debating chambers are becoming echo chambers. Students hear only one side of the story on everything from abortion (good) to the rise of the West (bad). It is notable that the surveys show far more conservatives in the more rigorous disciplines such as economics than in the vaguer 1960s “ologies”. Yet, as George Will pointed out in the Washington Post this week, this monotheism is also limiting universities’ ability to influence the wider intellectual culture. In John Kennedy’s day, there were so many profs in Washington that it was said the waters of the Charles flowed into the Potomac. These days, academia is marginalised in the capital—unless, of course, you count all the Straussian conservative intellectuals in think-tanks who left academia because they thought it was rigged against them.

Bias in universities is hard to correct because it is usually not overt: it has to do with prejudice about which topics are worth studying and what values are worth holding. Stephen Balch, the president of the conservative National Association of Scholars, argues that university faculties suffer from the same political problems as the “small republics” described in Federalist 10: a motivated majority within the faculty finds it easy to monopolise decision-making and squeeze out minorities.

The more indeterminate the discipline, the more it tilts left.

Of course, I like the quote because it adds to one of my own pet theories: the more indeterminate the discipline, the more it tilts left.

There are some on the right that rather loudly oppose affirmative action in all its forms, except in academia, where they want some form of preferences for the right. This seems like a bad idea to me, and Chris said it better than I can below: “Replacing liberal ideologues who can’t keep their lectures and their leftism separate with right-wingers with similar faults is no solution.”

It’s not as much of a threat in my discipline, economics, as it is in other fields. As my Thought professor has pointed out at great length, the economic discipline has created a “little box” which it defines as theory. The box is supposedly used as a means of keeping ideas that aren’t fully explainable out of the body of theory. There’s also a nearly complete positive correlation in favor of those ideas that can be expressed using math. Again leading to my theory about how indeterminate a discipline is sets its leftward tilt.