Change Coming to Campus?
A July 3 article from the New York Times/International Herald Tribune argues that academia is becoming less dogmatically left wing as radical baby boomer faculty retire and are replaced by more moderate younger professors:
Together, these Midwestern academics, one leaving the professoriate and another working her way up, are part of a vast generational change that is likely to profoundly alter the culture at American universities and colleges over the next decade. Baby boomers, hired in large numbers during a huge expansion in higher education that continued into the '70s, are being replaced by younger professors who many of the nearly 50 academics interviewed by The New York Times believe are different from their predecessors - less ideologically polarized and more politically moderate.
"There's definitely something happening," said Peter Wood, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, which was created in 1987 to counter attacks on Western culture and values. "I hear from quite a few faculty members and graduate students from around the country. They are not really interested in fighting the battles that have been fought over the last 20 years."
Democrats continue to overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans among faculty, young and old. But as educators have noted, the generation coming up appears less interested in ideological confrontations, summoning Barack Obama's statement about the elections of 2000 and 2004: "I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the baby boom generation - a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago - played out on the national stage."
My reaction to this piece is hopeful yet skeptical. On the one hand, the Times may be right that the next generation of college and university faculty are less radical than their predecessors. However, it is hard to believe that the environment of left-wing conformity that exists on many campuses will be dramatically altered anytime soon. Especially in the humanities and social sciences, factors such as ideological self-selection and the ability of older faculty to influence hiring and tenure decisions enable the current ideological climate to perpetuate itself. If change occurs, it will take years to become apparent. An end to campus speech codes and allowing center-left Democrats like Larry Summers, let alone right-of-center individuals, to speak on campus without harassment or interruption would be good indicators.
Assuming that the Times is correct, however, will the same phenomenon manifest itself in librarianship? Will the new generation of "hipster librarians" prove less dogmatic and more open to opposing views than the aging sixties radicals who still dominate the profession at the national and large library level?
For lack of a better answer, they can't be any worse. If nothing else, at least they will probably have a sense of humor, unlike the dourness of Rosenzweig and Gorman. Still, I do get an occasional e-mail from conservative library science students and what I hear isn't encouraging. Sadly, it appears, based admittedly on anecdotal evidence, that the climate of ideological conformity in librarianship begins in library school. As long as this is the case, our profession is unlikely to become more open to the expression of conservative or even moderate points of view.