Monday, November 29, 2004

Conformity in Academia: Part III

Courtesy of Redstate, here's a brilliant article by Mark Bauerlein from the November 12 Chronicle of Higher Education, that was cited by George Will in the piece I commented on earlier. In my view, Bauerlein provides the best overall explanation of the left's dominance over academia, and why all who value free thought, regardless of their political beliefs, should be concerned by it:

The obvious answer, at least in the humanities and social sciences, is that academics shun conservative values and traditions, so their curricula and hiring practices discourage non-leftists from pursuing academic careers. What allows them to do that, while at the same time they deny it, is that the bias takes a subtle form. Although I've met several conservative intellectuals in the last year who would love an academic post but have given up after years of trying, outright blackballing is rare. The disparate outcome emerges through an indirect filtering process that runs from graduate school to tenure and beyond.


Such parochialism and alarm are the outcome of a course of socialization that aligns liberalism with disciplinary standards and collegial mores. Liberal orthodoxy is not just a political outlook; it's a professional one. Rarely is its content discussed. The ordinary evolution of opinion -- expounding your beliefs in conversation, testing them in debate, reading books that confirm or refute them -- is lacking, and what should remain arguable settles into surety. With so many in harmony, and with those who agree joined also in a guild membership, liberal beliefs become academic manners. It's social life in a professional world, and its patterns are worth describing.


The problem is that the simple trappings of deliberation make academics think that they've reached an opinion through reasoned debate -- instead of, in part, through an irrational social dynamic. The opinion takes on the status of a norm. Extreme views appear to be logical extensions of principles that everyone more or less shares, and extremists gain a larger influence than their numbers merit. If participants left the enclave, their beliefs would moderate, and they would be more open to the beliefs of others. But with the conferences, quarterlies, and committee meetings suffused with extreme positions, they're stuck with abiding by the convictions of their most passionate brethren.

As things stand, such behaviors shift in a left direction, but they could just as well move right if conservatives had the extent of control that liberals do now. The phenomenon that I have described is not so much a political matter as a social dynamic; any political position that dominates an institution without dissent deterioriates into smugness, complacency, and blindness. The solution is an intellectual climate in which the worst tendencies of group psychology are neutralized.

The entire essay is well worth your time, and can be found here:

Liberal Groupthink Is Anti-Intellectual


Blogger Simon W. Moon ksc said...

What does the spread look like when one uses every one of the departments on campuses and uses a representative sample of campuses?

Surely the Business dept (largest dept at the last U I attneded), Economics Dept, Physiscs Dept and Med schools aren't chock full of 'liberals'. Are they?

Mr. Will says:

"Democrats outnumber Republicans at least seven to one in the humanities and social sciences."I'd suspect humanities and social sciences are not entirely representative of the entire population.

The next tidbit applies to merely Stanford and that great mainstream bastion Berkeley.

If one surveys liberal arts colleges' liberal arts department one should know what to expect.

So out of the thousands of institutions of higher learning Mr. Will prsents partial data on four- Stanford, Berkeley, Cornell and Colorado and data on a select portion of other profesors.

Forgive me if I do not find this compelling.

Surely Mr. Will realizes that he has not presenteed much useful data in this instance.

So why would one strive to make a case with such blatantly inadequate and inconclusive data?

I'm not saying that the conclusions are incorrect, merely that there's not enough evidence to support the conclusions presented.Some of Mr. Bauerlein calls "obvious answers" seem soemwhat less than obvious given the data cited. Perhaps Mr. Bauerlein draws upon info not in evidence.

Why is everybody trying to trick us these days?

12:01 PM  

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