As we have documented at Heterodox Academy, American universities have experienced a decline in the political diversity of the professoriate since the 1990s. It is a complex problem with many causes, and there are good reasons to believe that rising political homogeneity has led to a decline in the quality of research and teaching in some academic fields. Heterodox Academy is the first major attempt by a large and politically diverse coalition of professors to address the issue from inside the academy.

Iowa state senator Mark Chelgren is also concerned about the problem, and he recently introduced a bill in response. The bill (see full text here) mandates that Iowa’s public universities not hire any professor whose political party is already the majority (by more than 10%).

I believe this bill offers too blunt a solution, and would therefore cause a variety of serious practical and ethical problems if it were implemented. The Iowa bill is apparently triggered by the current political ratio, which, if Iowa is similar to national norms, means it has at least five Democrats for each Republican. Iowa universities would therefore be required to hire only Republicans (or politically unaffiliated professors) until they reach 55/45, which could take decades. Thus, the bill apparently would require political discrimination against qualified Democrats. Whatever your views about the causes of the current imbalance, two wrongs do not make a right.

Furthermore, because the Democrat-Republican ratio is far higher than five-to-one in most fields in the humanities and social sciences—not just among professors but among the graduate students in the pipeline—the bill would eliminate almost everyone in the applicant pool. Hiring only from the few that remain would likely cause a sharp decline in the quality of the faculty. And just imagine the stigma that would be attached to those young Republican professors hired partly because of their party registration, rather than entirely on basis of their scholarship and teaching.

I am opposed to this bill, or any similar approach that tries to solve the problem with quotas. As I wrote in my annual letter last month:

As a general principle, I am concerned whenever universities become political footballs, to be moved down the field by whichever team has the power to do so. I think that most members of Heterodox Academy want to reduce the politicization of academic life, and we are trying to do that from within. Heterodox Academy will oppose threats to academic freedom from either side.

The problem of declining political diversity is real, and we appreciate Senator Chelgren’s concern. But it is a complicated problem that will take patience, nuance, and more research to resolve.

Jonathan Haidt, Director, Heterodox Academy

(With input and advice from the steering committee)