The New York Times and the Washington Post must be under some kind of obligation to run an “academia is biased to the left” piece once or twice a year (excluding, of course, the regular appearance of this theme in the columns of David Brooks and George Will, to give two examples). And yesterday’s Outlook section in the Washington Post has another one.
According to the formula, it begins with an unverifiable anecdote:
>A sociologist I know recalls that his decision to become a registered Republican caused “a sensation” at his university. “It was as if I had become a child molester,” he said. He eventually quit academia to join a think tank because “you don’t want to be in a department where everyone hates your guts.”
>I think my political views hurt my career some years back when I was interviewing for a job at a prestigious research university. Everything seemed to be going well until I mentioned, in a casual conversation with department members over dinner, that I planned to vote Republican in the upcoming presidential election. Conversation came to a halt, and someone quickly changed the subject. The next day, I thought my final interview went fairly well. But the department ended up hiring someone who had published far less, but apparently “fit” better than I did. At least that’s what I was told when I called a month later to learn the outcome of the job search, having never received any further communication from the school. (A friend at the same university later told me he didn’t believe that particular department would ever hire a Republican.)
>Now there is more data backing up experiences like mine. Recently, my Villanova colleague Richard Redding and my longtime collaborator Frederick Hess commissioned a set of studies to ascertain how rare conservative professors really are, and why. We wanted real scholars to use real data to study whether academia really has a PC problem. While our work was funded by the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute, we (and our funders) have been very clear about our intention to go wherever the data would take us.
For those of you who don’t know what it’s like to look for a job in academia, the experience he mentions is completely common. Having been on both sides of hiring committees, “fit” considerations (not merely publications) can play a very central role. Besides, how can the author tell that he was rejected because he said he would vote Republican? He can’t read the minds of that committee, and no amount of research of the AEI is going to vindicate him. That anecdote, in other words, illustrates nothing other than the lazy way this guy reaches conclusions.
Of course, I’m just saying that because I’m biased.
There’s a better discussion of this piece (and this type of piece) at LGM.