Back in November, after the presidential election but just prior to Thanksgiving, my wife and I were in Chicago for a huge academic conference. In connection with that conference, we took a couple of architectural tours of the city that ostensibly focused on religious buildings but, in one case, seemed to concentrate to a surprising degree on sites associated with one Barack Obama, a long-time resident of the area. (Perhaps, given the attitude of some Americans toward Mr. Obama, the distinction between religious sites and sites connected with our president is not particularly stark or significant.) Anyway, as we drove through the Hyde Park area adjacent to the University of Chicago, our overtly Obamaphile guide gushed that this was the most diverse neighborhood in Chicago and that Mitt Romney had received virtually no votes from it. My wife, bless her, asked him exactly how that constituted “diversity.” He floundered, having clearly just encountered a wholly new thought, so I decided that I had better help him out a bit: ”You mean, I said, that it’s ethnically diverse but ideologically monochrome.” ”Yeah,” he replied, a bit uncertainly. ”That’s what I meant.”
“Diversity” is one of the foremost governing values in American higher education today, and yet it doesn’t seem to be applied very often to ideas — the one area where, one might imagine, academics would see it as most important.
Studies abound that illustrate the prevailing ideological slant of American academia. One, for instance, shows that, among California colleges, the University of California at Berkeley has an adjusted Democrat:Republican ratio of almost 9:1. (Pepperdine University, a rather conservative Christian-related school, is an outlier, with a ratio of nearly 1:1.) Academic field makes a tremendous difference, with the humanities averaging a 10:1 D:R ratio while business schools average 1.3:1, and with departments ranging from sociology (44:1) to management (1.5:1). Across all departments and institutions, however, the the D:R ratio is 5:1 while, in the “soft” liberal-arts fields, the ratio is higher than 8:1. And these findings are generally in line with comparable previous studies (e.g., with this one and with this fascinating but less formal one).
For a while, at least, one gay rights group tried to block Crystal Dixon’s new employment, after her firing from the University of Toledo, by government agencies (that is, by tax-funded public agencies) in Michigan. Not because she had done anything at all there, but solely because of her opinions.
This is what worries me: That public, government, tax-supported entities take it upon themselves (e.g., at the University of Toledo), or are asked to take it upon themselves (e.g., in Michigan), to enforce one particular opinion on a disputed social/moral/political issue as a requirement for being employed by them.
It doesn’t much matter to me what the issue is, so long as it’s one upon which decent people disagree. (I’m not calling for the indiscriminate hiring of Holocaust deniers.)
Taxpayers/voters haven’t reached consensus on issues relating to gay rights, same-sex marriage, and the like. And it’s not the place, therefore, of public officials (including administrators at public, tax-supported schools) to impose one. (And remember back a few months ago, when the major of Chicago and some elected officials in New York were explaining that Chick-fil-a shouldn’t be permitted to do business in their areas because of the views of its owners on gay marriage?) I don’t argue that Crystal Dixon shouldn’t have been fired because her position is popular; I argue that it’s a position well within the rights of decent people to hold and to express publicly without losing their jobs in government, without fear of having their businesses barred by zoning commissions and regulators.
In fact, if anything, Ms. Dixon’s views on gay rights are massively unpopular in American academia, and, as such, they are precisely the kinds of views that the First Amendment was enacted to protect.
Many years ago, while I was a graduate student at UCLA, a professor of medicine there wrote a very gentle letter to the editor of the student newspaper explaining why, while he wouldn’t personally dream of interfering with the right of others to choose otherwise, he himself could not ethically justify performing abortions. And then, for the next several weeks, letter after letter after editorial demanded that he be fired, explaining that people such as this deserve no place at a decent hospital or university. But we’re not talking neo-Nazis and defenders of pedophilia here, and they do, in fact, deserve such a place.