Liberals in Academia, Take 492

Dan Drezner begins a review of a new book exploring why liberals dominate the American academy with an excellent observation:

As a professor who hails from the conservative side of the political spectrum, I truly loathe the debate about liberal bias in the academy. It’s one of those questions that rears its head every year or two, at which point the same stale arguments are trotted out and not much of note is said.

About the only thing I like about this debate is how it forces both sides of the political spectrum to subvert their traditional arguments and appropriate the other side’s rhetoric. Conservatives wind up arguing that the bias problem is a structural one — and therefore the way to fix it is through some kind of ideological affirmative action program. Liberals, when confronted with the numbers, nevertheless insist that the academy is a strict meritocracy with no old-boy networks whatsoever — and that aspiring conservative academics should quit whining and pick themselves up by their bootstraps.


FILED UNDER: Education,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I personally am not a big fan of the “conservative diversity affirmative action” idea. What I would look at would be alumni donations for private universities and public funds for state universities. Move funds towards universities that provide a better educational (as opposed to a one sided echo chamber) experience and away from those who have the problem. Nothing is likely to get the administrations attention faster for fixing the problem than money. Since we are “grading on a curve” here, we don’t need to find the perfect exemplar, just rank the better ones. Competition should kick in for the rest. Of course this is a long term solution, so will require watching this over time, not just occasionally paying attention.

  2. legion says:

    I’ve always suspected that one of the main contributing factors is that academia simply doesn’t pay very well… An educated conservative would have a much easier time sliding into a career in business or finance – areas that are expected to be somewhat more conservative-friendly, even though you don’t see crowds of hippies demanding liberal affirmative action on Wall Street…

  3. RJN says:

    There seems to be a lapse of logic by Dan Drezner, or somebody, here. The left recruits more of it’s own once it has a beachhead in an organization. The bias in the academy has been a long time making, but it is a made – not shaken and poured like dice – phenomenon.

    I am sure that much of what Legion says is true, but what he says might also cause the middle and the left to exit the schools for money and broader horizons.

  4. Legion,

    Wall street hires, retains and pays on very different criterion than academia. It is not how many presentations did you create/publish, but how much money did you bring in.

  5. Bandit says:

    An educated conservative would have a much easier time sliding into a career in business or finance

    Unlike gov’t and non profits – you actually have to produce something of value in business.

  6. Kent G. Budge says:

    I don’t like the thought of conservative affirmative action either. The concept is demeaning and condescending.

    But that doesn’t mean there isn’t bias, or that it isn’t structural. Academia presents a unique incentive structure, and it isn’t at all implausible that the incentives would appeal more to liberals than to conservatives.

    In addition, academia has always been an old boys network. I seem to recall a weird, ancient ceremony involving cultlike robes, a hood being solemnly slipped around my neck, and blather about now being part of the “community of scholars.”

    Given the unique incentive structure, along with the old-boy-network tendency to uphold that incentive structure at any cost, and you have an environment that only a fool could expect to be ideologically neutral. The academy is there to propagate an intellectual tradition.

    Perhaps the answer is for the conservatives to invent a method of signalling that can compete with academia.

  7. floyd says:

    The way to fix it? Quit PAYING the fools.HOW?Don’t attend their schools! The answer is plain, just don’t buy a BAD product!!