Thursday, January 26, 2006

Diversity in Academia Debate

At Legal Affairs, there's a debate on "ideological diversity" in law schools between Peter H. Schuck and Brian Leiter. As you may know, the "ideological diversity" debate is one of my favorite topics, but even I had trouble wading through the debate, because it is just terrible. Schuck's answers, specifically, stink. For example, after listing statistics from some studies showing that law faculty at several institutions gave more to Democratic than Republican candidates, he writes:
And for those who enjoy irony, it is amusing to learn that the faculties that most loudly proclaim their commitment to diversity do not exemplify it in the very area, viewpoint, that is (or should be) most central to their professional mission.
Honestly, I don't know how anyone can say that with a straight face. Nevermind the fact that Schuck clearly knows nothing about sampling bias, as the figures he use come from 29% of the faculty at the surveyed institutions (a fact that Leiter notes). Since when has bivariate analysis of political contributions said anything profound about diversity of viewpoints? Does Schuck really think that all viewpoints are either Democratic or Republican (or liberal and conservative, as though contributing to Democrats necessarily indicates liberalism, and contributing to Republicans necessarily indicates conservativism)? Does he not understand that both within and outside of those two categories, there are a wide range of viewpoints? And what's more, since when has ensuring that Democrats and Republicans are both well represented been the professional mission of anyone? Unless they're teaching a course on contemporary poliiics, I can't imagine it's an academic's mission to do so.

When Leiter makes roughly these points in response, Schuck replies:
I too would prefer rigorous social science studies, but until they arrive, I feel fairly confident in relying on the ones I cited plus my personal observations and knowledge of the political leanings of elite faculties over a 25-year period.
That's exactly why Schuck's idea of "viewpoint diversity" can't cut it in law schools, or in any other academic institutions. Relying on a bunch of extremely flawed, and potentially irrelevant studies, combined with the answer "I know what I've seen," just doesn't cut it.


"Orange Mike" Lowrey said...

"[T]here are a lot of mediocre judges and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises, Cardozos, and Frankfurters, and stuff like that there."
-- Sen. Roman Hruska (R-NE)

John Paul said...

Kind on late on this comment, but there seems to exist among conservative pundits (at last the ones I listen too) a belief that universities are all bastions of liberal indoctrination. This extends beyond the Law schools you refer to. Sean Hannity was talking about this just last friday. There are even websites when you can "turn in" a professor who has a liberal bias or "bashes Bush"

I do not believe this. And I'm a professor and a large university in Canada. The most liberal country in the world. Gay people get married here.

These pundits, I think, remember one or two outspoken anthropology professors and think that every professor is like that. (Availability AND representativeness heuristic in the same example). At UIUC (where I was a post doc) we had huge numbers of Agriculture professors, Meat Science professors, engineering professors (lots of whom were not even American, let alone liberal). Lost of these professors were quite conservative politically. Many were more or less apolitical. As you mention, unless the course is related to political theory it is hard to imagine ideological diversity meaning anything.

Besides, the claim of "liberal indoctrination:" seems a little weak when much of the US seems still headed on a rightward drift. Indoctrination is not working.

Anonymous said...

Liz here from I Speak of Dreams. Michael Bérubé wrote on this issue recently:

Michael Berube:
Tthe title of today’s presentation, “Recent Attacks on Academic Freedom: What’s Going On?” can be answered in a single sentence. Academic freedom is under attack for pretty much the same reasons that liberalism itself is under attack. American campuses tend to be somewhat left of center of the American mainstream, particularly with regard to cultural issues that have to do with gender roles and sexuality: the combination of a largely liberal, secular professoriat and a generally under-25 student body tends to give you a local population that, by and large, does not see gay marriage as a serious threat to the Republic. And after 9/11—again, for obvious reasons—many forms of mainstream liberalism have been denounced as anti-American. There is, as you know, a cottage industry of popular right-wing books in which liberalism is equated with treason (that would be Ann Coulter), with mental disorders (Michael Savage), and with fascism (Jonah Goldberg). Coulter’s book also mounts a vigorous defense of Joe McCarthy, and Michelle Malkin has written a book defending the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two. In that kind of climate, it should come as no surprise that we would be seeing attacks on one of the few remaining institutions in American life that is often—though not completely—dominated by liberals.


Not all college professors are liberals, and attacks on academic freedom are dangerous partly because, in some instances, they can undermine the intellectual autonomy of conservative professors. And I don’t believe that this is the same old same old, either. What we’re seeing today is actually unprecedented, for two reasons. One is demographic: college professors have, in the aggregate, become more liberal over the past thirty-five years—though, as I’ll explain later on, most of the studies that have been done on this subject in the past three years are exercises in cooking the data. The other is strategic: for the first time in American history, there is an organized, national campaign to undermine academic freedom by appealing to the ideal of . . . academic freedom. And the reason it’s enjoyed such success in recent years is that so few people—faculty, students, and state legislators included—seem to have a good grasp of what academic freedom really means.

the rest at

Chris said...

Hey Liz, I watched the video of his talk. Good stuff. Thanks.

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