Nicholas Kristof essayed in the NYTimes that universities are not only havens for progressive and liberal thought but also places that alienate conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, and there is a hiring and empowering bias against conservatives, evangelicals, republicans, and Christians.
In the following excerpt from Neil Gross we see his response to an interview question — a fairly standard, laissez faire narrative of how universities actually operate. Substitute one word for “left” or “liberal” (in bold italics below in his response) and you get a scenario he’d never condone or write about this way. Here are the words to use — one at a time: white, male, Christian, conservative. In those cases it would be condemned and denounced and activists would get busy for suppression. What Gross offers is a “conservative” narrative that “this is how it has been and always will be because this is the way it is.” Why change when it works for you? Is this a response to Kristof?
TG: Whenever we talk about unbalanced applicant pools, there is a larger context and history. If it’s self-selecting, why? Why are the applicant pools so unbalanced from the get-go?
NG: This is nothing new. The political left has been overrepresented in academia for decades. There is really good research on this dating back to the 1960s, if not before, and research shows that even in the 1960s liberals were dramatically overrepresented among graduate students. So whatever phenomenon is driving this has been around in some shape or form for a long time. Which isn’t to say that the exact shape of this hasn’t changed – it has shifted a little bit – but the basics have been there for a while.
There are competing theories about this. One theory I find fairly persuasive is the idea that early in the 20th century, basically for contingent historical reasons, academia became socially defined as an appropriate place for people with liberal sensibilities.During the progressive era [there were] big fights over the meaning of academic freedom, as a small number of very left-leaning social scientists found themselves in big public tussles with university trustees over their calls to break up big capital. I think it has resulted in a show that academia was a hospitable place for people with liberal-leaning views.
That social definition of what it meant to be a professor spread and became established. Increasingly, liberal students who were academically talented said, Hey, this is a professional career I can really see myself being in, and conservative students didn’t. For me, that is what the driver of this is.
I think there are other theories, most of which don’t hold much water. Some are advanced psychological theories explaining differences: something about the personalities of conservatives that makes them less interested in academic questions, which I have not seen evidence of. There are certainly those on the left who think this has to do with intelligence, which, again, I haven’t seen any evidence of that either — that just seems like a self-serving explanation from the left.
A third account is that liberals and conservatives might have different values, and the values that conservatives might have leads them to other occupations; that they are more inclined to go into business and make money, and if they were to go to graduate school it would be to get their MBA. But I don’t think the different values hold that much weight either.
At the end of the day, the big part of it is what our social understanding of different occupations look like. If you think about a professor, author, researcher, whatever, you think of somebody who has leftist sympathies. And ultimately, changing the political composition, if that is something we want, then we have to change the social perception.