This is a guest post by Russell Jacoby from the Department of History at UCLA.
Professor Jussim has asked me to comment on the rejoinder to my piece “Academe is Overrun by Liberals. So What?” (Chronicle of Higher Education, April 1, 2016), which he authored with Professors Woessner and Crawford. In the spirit of collegiality, I will make a few points, beginning with the observation that the headline for the essay was, of course, not my own—and does not capture its drift. Yes, certain fields at certain schools are “overrun” by liberals, but I am not convinced this is generally true—or generally matters. I noted that almost all the studies I have seen on faculty political loyalties focus on the humanities and social sciences, and exclude medical, science, engineering, and business schools, which is where the real clout resides. Why this exclusion? Woessner, et al have nothing to say about this. I observed that if American social psychology, the subject of a study that has spurred much discussion (“Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science” Duarte, et al, Behav Brain Sci. 2015;38) leans to the left, this does not seem surprising inasmuch as historically topics such as racism and prejudice defined the field. Again Woessner, et al have nothing to say about this.
Instead they open by taking me to task for my “sincere but inaccurate assessment” of the Heterodox Academy mission. Their group does not seek to add more conservative voices to the university, as I supposed, but to improve intellectual discourse by including a broad range of political perspectives. Why the mealy-mouth? Is the raison d’etre for Heterodox Academy obscure? Do they want more Marxists in the university? The Heterodox Academy website under the rubric of “The Problem” states the issue: the professoriate is “almost entirelRuy on the left.” Nor do I understand why Woessner, et al play dumb when they claim they have “no idea” as to whom might be asking for affirmative action for conservatives since I provide no sources. I cite the recent book by Shields and Dunn (Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University) that argues that defenders of affirmative action must logically extend the program to conservatives.
To take up the first three points they raise: I find them not all wrong—but not compelling either. That exponents of biological and genetic influences in human behavior are often pilloried by leftists: perhaps. But leftists are pilloried as well. Everyone has a list of insults received. For evidence of the plight of evolutionary psychologists, they refer me to Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate. Pinker goes after those who deny the role of genetics: fine. But is he, a chaired Harvard professor, and those who agree with him, beleaguered? If anything, as I read it, the Zeitgeist has moved on, and evolutionary approaches to everything from love to obesity and violence are celebrated.
The charge that “leftist egalitarianism” has led to “the widespread but empirically invalid conclusion that laypeople’s stereotypes are inaccurate” seems a mishmash of political animus and bad philosophy, the latter a case of misplaced abstraction. How can one argue about stereotypes in general? Are they all accurate? Or just some? And if some, which? Are all Muslims terrorists? All African-Americans superb dancers? All Jews rich? The article they link to this claim “Stereotype (In) Accuracy in Perceptions of Groups and Individuals” (Jussim, et al, Current Directions in Psychological Science 2015/24) itself admits that “national character stereotype accuracy” is “around zero.” Yes, some stereotypes are accurate—and some inaccurate. I do not see how one can offer a broad defense—or denial—of all stereotypes, especially if stereotypes simply mean generalizations. If psychologists want to busy themselves trying to ratify the accuracy of all laypeople’s stereotypes, then good luck to them. If “leftist egalitarians” refuse to confirm any generalizations, to say, for instance, whether NBA athletes might be tall, then good luck to them as well.
The Amherst petition calling for intellectual diversity they cite seems as much an illustration of the diversity beast as a protest against intellectual homogeneity. As I indicated in my piece, to reject diversity is like rejecting apple pie. No one want to do it. Indeed, it is difficult to fault students who want more intellectual discourse or a wider range of courses—courses that cover free-market theory or religion. Yet the same problems emerge in this petition I outlined in my piece. How does one achieve this proposed diversity? The petition suggests employing more conservative professors—in other words, rate and evaluate political allegiances in the hiring process. The cure—McCarthyism in reverse—is worse than the disease.
Moreover, how accurate or typical is this alleged political homogeneity? UMass Amherst is a notably a liberal university in a liberal state. Out of some two thousand economics departments in the US, UMass Amherst has one of two or three that leans left. I once informally surveyed economics departments and found very few taught, much less refuted Marx. (“Gone, and Being Forgotten,” Chronicle Review, July 25, 2008). Could this Amherst petition surface at the University of Chicago—or untold other schools? Is the absence of conservative viewpoints visible across other departments at UMass, for example, Marketing Department? Is it visible even across the state at UMass Lowell? I doubt it. Finally, I might note that this petition bespeaks the spread of an ideology that conservatives used to oppose—and motivated my piece. It tasks the administration for failing to establish “a secure academic space” for airing conservative ideas. This is a sign of the times. Everyone wants their own protected space—and petitions their guardians for it. What about the idea of acting on one’s own? If some teachers seem closed or ideological, students should challenge them in the here and now. Perhaps we can all agree on that.