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Purging Conservatives from College Faculties By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, May 23, 2005

Frontpage Interview's guest today is Stanley Rothman, coauthor of American Elites (1996) and the Director for the Center for the Study of Social and Political Change and the Mary Huggins Gamble Professor of Government at Smith College. He recently co‑authored the article “Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty,” in BePress.com, that represents the first compressive examination of the ideological composition of American university faculty. It confirms that liberals and Democrats outnumber conservatives and Republicans by large margins and that ideologically‑based discrimination in academic advancement is widespread.

FP: Prof. Rothman, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Rothman: Pleased to be involved


FP: What motivated you to research your article?


Rothman: It is part of a study comparing American Canadian Universities. The article is one small segment of the study.


FP: Tell us about your findings.


Rothman: Academics have become much more liberal and radical since the 1980s. More importantly, the evidence suggests that conservatives, practicing Christians and women may be discriminated against in the academic market place.


FP: Tell us some ways that conservatives, Christians and women are discriminated against in academia.


Rothman: We interviewed a random sample of academics at four year colleges in the US and Canada. Among our questions were two scales, one of university quality and a second rating faculty achievement. Both were developed by SM Lipset and Everett Ladd. We assumed that other things being equal, faculty with the same achievement scores should be teaching at colleges of roughly equal quality. They were not. While achievement scores played the most important role in accounting for the quality of the institution at which an academic taught, the next most important variable was ideology, followed by religion and gender. In short, being liberal significantly improved one's career prospects and being conservative diminished them to a significant extent. The same was true, to a lesser degree, for academics who were active Christians or women. Our evidence suggests that discrimination may take place in choices of whom to hire, promote and award tenure.


FP: Why do you think the Left has such a stronghold in institutions of higher learning?


Rothman: There are more of them, they are more ideological and they thrive on conflict.


FP: Why do you think the Left thrives on conflict and why are conservatives such a failure in fighting political war? Why don't they know how to stand up for themselves? It took David Horowitz, a former leftist, to do what conservatives should have been doing years ago.


Rothman: Part of the answer to that, it seems to me, lies in the nature of radicalism The left is persuaded that collective political action can remake the world, and political action gives meaning to their lives. To many of them, human beings will be perfectible once the reactionary forces of evil are destroyed. Theirs is a Manichean view.


Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to believe that love, work, family and culture are the stuff of which life is made. They turn to politics reluctantly and, only as a last resort, to defend themselves. They are also persuaded that civility plays an important role in the preservation of a decent community, and are reluctant to violate the rules of civility. While radicals also believe that they can achieve immortality by remaking the world, conservatives do not believe that immortality is possible except through religion and/or their children.


FP: What do you think can be done to nurture academic freedom in universities?


Rothman: I do believe that Joseph Schumpeter was right when he suggested that the left will dominate the academy in a bourgeois society because smart conservatives will more likely choose business as a career. Some liberals, with their usual modesty, think that businessmen are not as smart as academics. That is simply not true as any academic who plays duplicate bridge can testify. The game is very much like chess and I found, to my chagrin that I could not match some of the business men involved. Their memories and judgments were quite superior to mine.


I personally do not believe that self selection is quite as important today as it once was, but it still operates.


One way I can see to nurture academic freedom is to make the Left aware of its own   prejudices. Some liberals and lefties are just nasty and authoritarian‑‑ as are some conservatives, but some will be fairer if they become more aware. A good general “academic bill of rights” statement in college catalogues may be useful. However I have reservations about too much intervention by politicians. After observing how various groups have used charges of discrimination by faculty, administrators and other students to create a climate and a chilling effect on academic freedom, we should be careful not to add to a climate in which teachers, administrators and students are afraid to speak up.


 I do not believe in affirmative action for blacks, Hispanics or any one else, including conservative professors. And academic self governance today is probably the worst form of organizing a university except for all the others, though I would consider replacing tenure by long term contracts.


I don't feel particularly sure about all the issues involved and am open to persuasion.


FP: Mr. Rothman, with all due respect my friend, I think it is a little naïve to suggest that we will fertilize academic freedom on campuses by enlightening leftists about how totalitarian they are. This is like saying that the way we could have prevented Stalin's, Mao's and Pol Pot's killing fields is if we had just patiently informed them that their ideology and practices were not allowing dissent and intellectual diversity and then they would have understood and become more tolerant.


The Left is not totalitarian by accident; totalitarianism is its life‑force. Without its totalitarian feature, it would not exist. The purpose of the Left is, as you point out earlier, to build a new and perfect world, which means that this present existence must be destroyed, so that the slate can be wiped clean to start building the earthly paradise it dreams of. The objective for education for leftists, therefore, is indoctrination. They have appointed themselves as social redeemers and see their duty as building revolutionaries. We aren't going to come up to them and say: "Hey you guys need more readings by Thomas Sowell, Paul Johnson and David Horowitz to balance things out," and then they are going to respond: "Oh you are right, we have only been telling one side of the story all these years and didn't realize it."


The whole reason the Left is resisting the Academic Bill of Rights is because it does not want the other side of the story told, since it would interrupt the path toward the utopian world it is building. This is precisely why there has to be an Academic Bill of Rights in the first place, since the Left will never allow intellectual diversity voluntarily, just as there is no rational reason for Castro to allow dissent when his very existence depends on despotism.


Mr. Rothman, I spent a decade in academia and was ruthlessly discriminated against because I am an anti‑communist whose heroes include Ronald Reagan. I'll save the long story, but let's just say that I was blacklisted on many realms.  The intolerance that I faced was not the result of something that my victimizers were unaware of in their own psychology. They didn't exploit their classrooms for soap boxes to indoctrinate their students unintentionally. Today, like Ward Churchill, they see America as Satan and wish for it to lose to Islamist terror because they have an agenda. And so it is not by some accident that they force their views on their students. 


The only way to protect non‑Left students and faculty from this leftist agenda on campus is to guarantee them some rights when they, like I did, get bad marks and face dismal employment opportunities because they might like Republican presidents and consider capitalism a superior economic system to forced collectivization.


What do you think of what I have said here?


Rothman: What you say is very difficult to answer in a few sentences. My history is a bit different than yours. I entered CCNY in 1944 and flirted with the AYD (a Communist front group). When I returned to City College after service in the Navy, I was educated by two anti Communist Austrian Social Democrats to fight the left. We did, and in the 1940's and early 1950's we seriously weakened them. In graduate school and, in my first teaching positions, most of my colleagues were liberals and Social Democrats. We dominated the places at which I learned and taught. One of our big mistakes was to lean over backwards to admit radicals to our company. We thought that their hearts were in the right place and assumed that we could civilize them.


My ideas about the collapse of the Center and Center right are still not completely formulated, and I can send you some essays which may explain part of the story. If I live so long, I may yet do a book.


I do not believe one can educate those who would support Pol Pot or other totalitarian types. I hope to educate the center left (the "marsh") without whose tolerance the crazy left's influence would be sharply reduced. Horowitz and other’s arguments have had an impact.  At least some of my liberal colleagues are now saying that it is important to have some conservatives aboard. We have not achieved Nirvana but conservative intellectuals have had some impact.


Many of my friends and colleagues, over the years, have been on the left. I regard most of them as very decent (if misinformed) people and have managed to influence some of them about some issues. They think the same of me, and we can talk even though some of them believe that I am a benighted reactionary.  


If we get to the point where large numbers of us take a Manichean view of those with whom we disagree we will be in deep trouble. For then bullets will replace words with terrible outcomes. I still prefer to lean somewhat over backwards to emphasize civility and to try to persuade colleagues to listen and think.


I should add that I have never been a good strategist. I became an academic with the firm belief that understanding the world will help us make moderate improvements. I still believe that but I am aware my ability to suggest useful steps to take does not go very far.


I also believe that both radicals and anti‑radicals can see things in a distorted fashion. Not every charge that someone has browbeaten students or discriminates in one way or another is true whether it comes from radicals or conservatives, and the greater the animosity the more likely that people will see their opponents as lacking integrity.


I don't think I am naïve. I am fairly pessimistic about the present and near future. The course I suggest is the best I can do though I am not optimistic as to its likely success.


Incidentally, I write for myself only. I don't know my co author's views on these issues


While I tentatively support the movement for an Academic Bill of Rights, it can be used in the way that the left and various minority groups have used statements theoretically designed to reduce discrimination against minority groups and women. Charges of racism and sexism have been used to intimidate those within the Academy who disagree including the President of Harvard. I fear that proposal for an Academic Bill of Rights could be used by some on the right in the same way.


FP: Paul Krugman has argued that conservatives make up only a small minority of professors in academia because of self‑selection. What do you think of his argument? How does self‑selection explain the declining presence of conservatives on faculties? Could you narrow in specifically on this decline? Since conservatives are growing in the population as a whole, shouldn't there be an increase in conservatives on faculty’s ‑‑ self‑selection notwithstanding?


Rothman: There is something to that Joseph Schumpeter made the point many years ago. For a variety of reasons, American culture has always encouraged practical knowledge related to production. Until a relatively short time ago (and even today) intellectuals have lacked standing. They were (are) considered "eggheads," except in New York, and increasingly at colleges and universities around the country. Their status has improved as the result of a number of factors which I cannot detail here. The point is that those who are satisfied with the society are still likely to choose producing things rather than probing for their meanings. The decline of religious belief has, also, as Max Weber noted, contributed to the development of secular ideologies which promise salvation.


It is possible that the conflicts we face now are leading more conservatives and moderates to consider an intellectual life. However, given the state of the academy, it cannot seem very attractive to conservative intellectuals. One piece of evidence is quite clear: during the 1980's and l990's there was a distinct shift to the left in the academy as the rebels of the sixties were tenured. This was not part of a plot of any kind but rather of a natural affinity. However, I am sure that it has discouraged some conservative and centrist intellectuals from seeking an academic career, as have various affirmative action and "diversity" initiatives, to some extent at least.


FP: Have you by any chance measured the degree of radical ness on the campus and compared it with the past? There has never been a large contingent of political extremists on faculties before. How do you explain this?


Rothman: As I noted, we have clear evidence for the 1980's, but we also have fairly good evidence for earlier periods. Despite the conventional wisdom19th and early twentieth century academics were pretty conservative. The academy moved clearly to the left during the 1930's and even more sharply in the 1940's through the 1960's. The data is not conclusive, but it is pretty good. This happened for a variety of reasons which I have touched on in a number of articles and books, and reflected changes in the society (some of which were influenced by the academy) as well as in patterns of academic recruitment. And I'm sorry to keep talking about a number and variety of reasons, but the causal causal pattern seems to me to be very complicated.


FP: Do you think your own statistics refute the Krugman view of the present miniscule percentage of conservatives? After all, you show a great decline in their representation on faculties in the last ten or twenty years when conservatism has been growing as a movement.


Rothman: Krugman is more interested, I fear, in making an ideological point than he is in understanding what is going on. For one thing he  exaggerates the hostility to science on the part of conservative religious intellectuals The Catholic Church, for example, is not opposed to evolutionary theory, nor are  many Evangelicals. Further, whatever they think of evolutionary theory, most Evangelicals accept, as do other Americans, current thinking in other scientific fields as these are reported in the media.


It is not true that conservatives are no longer the party of ideas that they were in the 1970's.  They are as creative today as they were 35 years ago. On the other hand it can be argued that it is the left which, as Martin Peretz, of The New Republic suggests, is bereft of interesting new ideas. Peretz is too harsh, though It seems to me that some of the left’s thinking about science is quite irrational. They are irrational in other ways too. Just consider the stupidity and irrationality of the campaign against “globalization.” The stance taken by radicals and the kind of action in which they engage or not models of rational thinking.  There are, of course “no‑nothing" conservatives as there are sensitive and balanced liberals and vice versa. The moderates in both camps are surrounded by supposed friends who are really enemies.


Much of the leftward drift on the part of those who dominate the academy partly reflects generational change. So far as my colleagues and I can ascertain, the big shift in the academic profession occurred between 1984 and 1997 and is largely a function the growing power of the generation of the 1960's in the university.


Our evidence further suggests that the increasing polarization in the academic community derives less from economic policy  disagreements (though these are not unimportant) then  from powerful,  deep seated cleavages on such issues such as abortion, marriage, homosexuality, the role of religion in public life and the nature of political authority. 


FP: Does the decline of Conservatives on faculties coincide with the arrival of the Sixties and boomer generations to tenured positions? These circumstances would allow the Left on campus to block the hiring of Conservatives, no?


Rothman: I believe that this hypothesis explains more about the condition of the academy than does Krugman's, but the issues are very complex. For some Afro American and Hispanic groups a radical position is often chosen for reasons of clearly stated material self interest. Many on the left, however are committed to establishing a purely secular society in which religion is absent from the public square. They hope for a society which lacks public authority and in which there are no restraints placed on the search for personal pleasure. That theme has been implicit in many radical movements since the middle of the 19th century and was a prominent feature in the New Left. Underlying the libertarian façade of such movements, however, as the partisans of Stalin and Mao Zedong demonstrated, can be the desire to dominate and control.


FP: Just a second Dr. Rothman, your own data shows that Krugman is wrong ‑‑ indeed, how can there be dramatically fewer conservatives during a period when conservatives are growing? Surely this can't be explained by self‑selection. 


Rothman: Jamie, the conservative movement is growing in general, but is it growing among academics? Is it growing faster than the shift to the left? The evidence indicates that from 1984 to 1999 faculties became more and more liberal. We can try to explain why but we can't be sure. Some of it may be self selection; part may be the freezing out of conservatives by Liberals, We must also remember that there has been a decisive movement to the left among journalists, lawyers and the professions in general  I'm not sure why you think I am contradicting myself. We did not attempt to determine why people are or are not becoming conservative academics. All our data permits us to say is that our evidence suggests that there may be discrimination against conservatives in hiring and promotion. As I say that may have turned some young conservatives away from the academy, i.e., they do not even try to become academics.


I know of eight or ten cases where conservatives have been discriminated against. It is reasonable hypotheses but we can not prove it on the basis of our data, and anecdotal evidence is not enough for a variety of reasons.


FP: Let me try to crystallize this again. Since you show that conservatives are being increasingly excluded or are increasingly absent from faculties while they are increasingly prevalent in the population, isn't this a prima facie case that this is the result of a systematic exclusion of conservatives?


Rothman: Your hypothesis is plausible but there other plausible hypotheses. Our data can not really answer your question. I taught at Smith for almost 40 years. Increasingly job candidates in the social sciences were on the left and eventually those hired were also on the left and more or less took over the relevant departments. People like me became a minority. We may be on the verge of a reversal of that pattern but we have no evidence on that either.


FP: Why do you support the Academic Bill of Rights?


Rothman: As I have said earlier, I do believe that conservative academics  are discriminated against, and I want to level the playing field a bit, provided can develop mechanisms which do not encourage discrimination in the other direction or have a chilling effect on the discourse of liberals and radicals.


FP: Dr. Rothman, it was a pleasure having you with us. We hope to see you again soon.


Rothman: It was a pleasure to be interviewed by you. You have forced me to rethink some of my ideas. Thanks.

Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.

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