Sunday, April 3, 2016

Conservatives in the closet

In a recent piece for Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle recounts her experience as a student of the humanities at the University of Pennsylvania. It's a sad and oft-told tale of shameless political bias on the part of academics.

... “Conservatives can safely study ancient history but not modern American history, economics but not sociology,” writes my colleague [Virginia Postrel]. “Literature, largely a politics-free zone until the 1980s, has become hostile territory.” This resonates with me, and not just for ideological reasons.

The politicization of the humanities was well under way when I was an English major in the early 1990s, and my education suffered as a result. This wasn't because I was so oppressed as a conservative, but because in roughly half my classes, there was no easier route to an A than to argue that some long-dead author was a sexist pig, racist cretin or homophobic jerk. Being, like so many college students, not overfond of unnecessary labor, I’m afraid I all too frequently slithered along the easy path to the 4.0.

It's no wonder that academics have lost the general respect they once had. Far too many are mere ideologues and certainly not professionals serving the public. The only surprise is that the public has put up with this situation for so long.

And, as McArdle points out, in certain subject areas the few conservative academics left standing must keep their conservatism well hidden.

Every time I write about bias against conservatives in academia, I can count on a few professors writing me to politely suggest that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Sometimes they aren’t so polite, either. How would I know what goes on in their hiring meetings, their faculty gatherings, their tenure reviews? They’re right there, and they can attest firsthand that there ain’t no bias, no sir!

But none of them can explain why, if that bias doesn’t exist, so many of their conservative and libertarian colleagues feel compelled to hide in the closet. Deep in the closet, behind that plastic zip bag of old winter coats in mothballs, and sealed, with many layers of packing tape, in a box marked “Betamax Tapes: Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon 1981-1987.”