David Brooks: Colleges Slant Left

Roundup: Historians' Take

David Brooks, writing in the NYT (Sept. 27, 2003):

Most good universities have at least one conservative professor on campus. When, for example, some group at Harvard wants to hold a panel discussion on some political matter, it can bring out the political theorist Harvey Mansfield to hold up the rightward end. At Princeton it's Robert George. At Yale it's Donald Kagan.

These dissenters lead interesting lives. But there's one circumstance that causes true anguish: when a bright conservative student comes to them and says he or she is thinking about pursuing an academic career in the humanities or social sciences.

"This is one of the most difficult things," says Alan Kors, a rare conservative at Penn. "One is desperate to see people of independent mind willing to enter the academic world. On the other hand, it is simply the case they will be entering hostile and discriminatory territory."...

The most common advice conservative students get is to keep their views in the closet. Will Inboden was working on a master's degree in U.S. history at Yale when a liberal professor pulled him aside after class and said: "You're one of the best students I've got, and you could have an outstanding career. But I have to caution you: hiring committees are loath to hire political conservatives. You've got to be really quiet."

Conservative professors emphasize that most discrimination is not conscious. A person who voted for President Bush may be viewed as an oddity, but the main problem in finding a job is that the sorts of subjects a conservative is likely to investigate — say, diplomatic or military history — do not excite hiring committees. Professors are interested in the subjects they are already pursuing, and in a horrible job market it is easy to toss out applications from people who are doing something different.

As a result, faculties skew overwhelmingly to the left. Students often have no contact with adult conservatives, and many develop cartoonish impressions of how 40 percent of the country thinks. Hundreds of conservatives with Ph.D.'s end up working in Republican administrations, in think tanks and at magazines, often with some regrets. "Teaching is this really splendid thing. It would be great to teach Plato's `Republic,' " says Gary Rosen, a Harvard Ph.D. who works at Commentary magazine.

Response by Joyce Appleby, as published in the NYT (Sept. 30, 2003):

David Brooks ("Lonely Campus Voices," column, Sept. 27) should have consulted more widely before spreading the word that conservative students would encounter discrimination in graduate school.

I have had several conservative students, and they all received financial and moral support throughout their graduate careers — and landed good jobs to boot.

Because they knew that their views ran counter to the norm, these students did an excellent job defending their positions, and were eager to do so.

What a self-fulfilling prophecy to publicize a prejudice that doesn't exist and limit further the number of conservatives in the academy.

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