Tuesday, March 29, 2005


A friend and colleague of mine chaired a faculty forum recently on whether UNCG is infected with the kind of "liberal groupthink" that Mark Bauerlein wrote about in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

About 20 faculty and staff attended. The discussion didn't start off auspiciously, from my point of view, when one faculty member pointed out that, since America's politics is so far to the right of Europe's, the campus really needs to reflect even more left-leaning views than it does now.

This colleague (a very kindly and engaging person, by the way) also denied on statistical grounds that "groupthink" could possibly exist on campus, since studies show that there's a viable minority of conservatives at universities, and hence intellectual diversity must be present.


I piped up and shared a few personal anecdotes about what Bauerlein calls the common assumption: "The assumption is that all the strangers in the room at professional gatherings are liberals." In my experience, this often manifests itself by faculty using a Bush-bashing joke as a social ice-breaker, which actually works quite well -- for everybody else in the room. Actually, it works quite well for me, too, since I know they're doing it to reach out and be friendly. I appreciate the effort, and usually find some way to change the subject.

After an hour or so of discussion at the forum, only one other faculty member spoke up to agree with me that it might be a good idea to invite more conservative speakers to campus. One person wondered why we would want to do that, since we have such a great line-up of distinguished speakers this year: Maureen Dowd, Julian Bond, Cornell West. Another faculty member thought that instead of being "led by the nose" into a "false political dichotomy," we should read What's The Matter With Kansas? instead (nods of agreement).

Hmmm, again. If you know those speakers, and that book, you might be inclined to detect a bit of groupthink here. I guess I didn't expect my colleagues to smack themselves on the forehead and say, "Of course -- let's invite George Will!" but it was disappointing to see them actually resisting the idea of bringing conservatives to campus, however politely they were doing so.

At any rate, all this is by way of introduction to a new political science study in The Forum that indicates that conservatives, Christians, and women may be being denied advancement because of bias:

A multivariate analysis finds that, even after taking into account the effects of professional accomplishment, along with many other individual characteristics, conservatives and Republicans teach at lower quality schools than do liberals and Democrats. This suggests that complaints of ideologically-based discrimination in academic advancement deserve serious consideration and further study. The analysis finds similar effects based on gender and religiosity, i.e., women and practicing Christians teach at lower quality schools than their professional accomplishments would predict.
UPDATE March 31: I've deleted the comments on this post, since (well-meaning) commenters began discussing UNCG faculty by name. My post was about a public forum where the press was present, and everyone understood that their views would be a matter of public record. But I don't want this discussion to devolve into a critique of individual faculty in their classrooms. That's a matter that students should take up with the faculty themselves or their department heads.