Monday, May 9, 2016

Nick gives himself a sad

H/t PJ for the idea.

Buster Keaton and Roscoe Arbuckle in Oh, Doctor! (1917), via SilentWeeks.
Shorter Nicholas Kristof, "A Confession of Liberal Intolerance", New York Times, May 7 2016:
Golly, folks, we progressives are supposed to be so open and accepting, so how come conservative intellectuals in our academic institutions are forced to use separate drinking fountains and bathrooms and summer camps? I've been thinking about this because I wrote about it on Facebook. 
That last bit is practically verbatim:

I’ve been thinking about this because on Facebook recently I wondered aloud whether universities stigmatize conservatives and undermine intellectual diversity. The scornful reaction from my fellow liberals proved the point.
He tried saying something about it without thinking, and that didn't work out, so now he's looking at this alternative approach. What strikes me here is something I've never noticed about Kristof, which is that he's really not very good at thinking; his idea of thinking is to assert that something is bad, enumerate many examples of its badness, and declare that something needs to be done about it, for which he may or may not have some specific suggestions which may or may not be of some use; there's no dialectic between, for instance, different ways of approaching the problem.

Because he normally chooses to write about something that is unarguably bad, like poverty, disease, or sex trafficking, we don't see that he isn't arguing at all, just whacking us over the head with his concern. I have a sense we mostly tend to ignore him in a particularly respectful way, agreeing that his feelings are very important but not reading beyond the first paragraph. But this weekend's plea—closed-minded people need tenure too!—irritates his Facebook followers and forces him to argue, and the argument is remarkably weak, an amalgam of almost Douthatian faux-cleverness and bad faith.

The argument is basically that if "we liberals" or "we progressives" (he doesn't distinguish the two, showing he shouldn't be given tenure in any political science department himself) really believe in our beliefs, how come we're not agitating to have more conservatives on the faculty rosters just the way we agitate to have more women, or black professors? Because it creates a dangerous lack of diversity for conservatives to be underrepresented in certain disciplines:

Four studies found that the proportion of professors in the humanities who are Republicans ranges between 6 and 11 percent, and in the social sciences between 7 and 9 percent.
Conservatives can be spotted in the sciences and in economics, but they are virtually an endangered species in fields like anthropology, sociology, history and literature. One study found that only 2 percent of English professors are Republicans (although a large share are independents).
In contrast, some 18 percent of social scientists say they are Marxist. So it’s easier to find a Marxist in some disciplines than a Republican.
The bad thing is the threat of a kind of intellectual monoculture, where if we allow our universities to concentrate on the cultivation of a single kind of mind to the exclusion of others we will be impoverishing our seed stock and unable to respond to environmental change, and it's pretty hard to argue with that at the abstract level.

But then if that's an inadequate percentage of Republicans, how many should we actually have? Something like the 30% found in the general population? I'm asking because it looks like the beginnings of a quota system, and I'm not sure we want to go there—I'm positive I don't want to be looking at restricting the Jewish professorate to 1.4% of the total, or Asian Americans to 5.6% either. Why exactly is 10% Republicans too few? Why exactly would 18% Marxists be too many? Surely the number of Republicans we have is enough to keep the stock alive, and visible; they're in no danger of extinction.

Kristof goes on to express the fear that the cause of this underrepresentation is discrimination, of the same sort that has historically been used to keep women, African Americans, gay people, and so on in subordinate positions:

One peer-reviewed study found that one-third of social psychologists admitted that if choosing between two equally qualified job candidates, they would be inclined to discriminate against the more conservative candidate.
Yancey, the black sociologist, who now teaches at the University of North Texas, conducted a survey in which up to 30 percent of academics said that they would be less likely to support a job seeker if they knew that the person was a Republican.
The discrimination becomes worse if the applicant is an evangelical Christian. According to Yancey’s study, 59 percent of anthropologists and 53 percent of English professors would be less likely to hire someone they found out was an evangelical.
But it is obviously not the same sort of discrimination: not against the way people were born, but the way they have chosen to be. Conservatism really is, so to speak, a "lifestyle", and from the general social-sciences-and-humanities disciplinary standpoint an unhealthy and intellectually dangerous one, with its doctrinal rigidity and horror of "relativism". The conceptual framework of social psychology depends on assumptions—that the construction and temper of your individual mind is deeply affected by the social situation within which it develops—that conservatives regularly deny. Within cultural anthropology, the dominant anthropological subdiscipline, it is an article of faith that there is no single correct way to think or behave and that every tribe has an equal dignity and value to every other one; it's perfectly proper to study white evangelical Christians as a tribe, with absolute love and respect for their voices and way of life, but they really can't teach the subject if they believe that every word in the Bible is true or that Muslims, Catholics, and Druids are all subject to eternal damnation.

A university is etymologically an universitas, a kind of very high-class medieval trade guild, with its magistri and doctores and caps and gowns, and discrimination is the basis for all its ranks and promotions. It's very important nowadays, and I totally agree with that, that discrimination on the basis of congenital factors like race or gender not play a part, but political and theological opinions, where they are relevant to the subject, make a difference.

Note how the questions in those survey studies asked about pairs of candidates who were equal in other respects. Nobody was asked if they would reject a Republican who was plainly better qualified than the Democrat. A candidate for a job in an earth science department who denies the existence of global warming should face a higher bar for hiring than someone who accepts it, not just because that's how the guild feels, but that's how the guild operates, applying standards of scientific judgment that the global warming denier explicitly rejects or fails to understand. A candidate for a biology post who believes that the fossil record of life on earth doesn't show the earth to be more than 6,000 years old has to be harder to hire than somebody who takes the dominant view. They shouldn't be rejected out of hand, if their paper qualifications look good, but they should expect to be asked to explain why they think so differently from everybody else on the central issues of the field.

Conservative scholars in history or economics are often able to do that, because there's such a long and distinguished conservative tradition in the fields. But they can't do it in sociology, because there isn't. Marxists thrive in both, for the same reason. It's really that simple.

Some liberals think that right-wingers self-select away from academic paths in part because they are money-grubbers who prefer more lucrative professions. But that doesn’t explain why there are conservative math professors but not many right-wing anthropologists.
Actually it does, though I wouldn't use a word like "money-grubber". People go into mathematics for all kinds of reasons, of which hoping for financial success could be one. There are math professors who thought as kids that they could become financiers or bond traders, or who went into math because their parents hoped they would. There aren't any anthropology professors like that. And it wouldn't be simply about money-grubbing but about security, college math being a field where you can still ease yourself into tenure followed by a comfortable retirement without a lot of publications or star turns, where career potentials in the non-STEM fields have become really chancy over the last 30 or 40 years. Kristof is living in a worse bubble than I thought if he's not aware of that.

And in addition to money, there's power and influence: disciplines favored by conservatives such as law, economics, and international relations are where the action is. The university may be on the road to being run by anarcho-syndicalist experts in West African cinema (if only it were true!), but the world is definitely going to be run by David Brooks's students in Grand Strategy at Yale, I'm afraid.

In that connection, a much more worrisome problem than discrimination within the community of scholars is pressure applied on it from outside, from industries creating platforms inside the university for climate change denial (Kristof of all people really ought to be able to recognize this), or private funding preventing the hiring or promotion of academics who favor Palestinian independence. Financially strapped colleges all over the country are allowing themselves to be co-opted into serving conservative agendas (between 2004 and 2014 the Charles Koch and other Koch foundations spent $109,778, 257 on universities, and that's just the tiniest fraction),

“I am the equivalent of someone who was gay in Mississippi in 1950,” a conservative professor is quoted as saying in “Passing on the Right,” a new book about right-wing faculty members by Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr. 
Buddy, you're not. Nobody's going to beat you to death if they see you walking out of a conservative bar some night, for one thing, or seduce you into soliciting a conservative blow job from an undercover leftist policeman. And they can't take away your tenure, either, thanks to the efforts of leftist scholar-activists over the decades who created academic freedom to apply to people like you. As Shields and Dunn actually said, as opposed to the hysterical writing coming from newspaper columnists, life for conservative academics is still pretty sweet.

It’s also liberal poppycock that there aren’t smart conservatives or evangelicals. Richard Posner is a more-or-less conservative who is the most cited legal scholar of all time. With her experience and intellect, Condoleezza Rice would enhance any political science department. Francis Collins is an evangelical Christian and famed geneticist who has led the Human Genome Project and the National Institutes of Health. And if you’re saying that conservatives may be tolerable, but evangelical Christians aren’t — well, are you really saying you would have discriminated against the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.?
That's the most idiotic strawman I've ever seen, I think. Nobody ever said there aren't smart conservatives, unless it was somebody in Kristof's Facebook feed. Though the more-or-less for Posner is important, he's very far from being a doctrinaire conservative, as is the fact that Francis Collins is an unbending proponent of Darwinian evolution (in which he very reasonably sees the hand of God), not the kind of blinded Pat-Robertson evangelical that has been running today's Republican party—that's the kind of evangelical I'd mean to discriminate against, the anti-scientific, narrow-minded, purse-lipped and nasty kind.

Rice of course has her professorship and associated gigs at Stanford and the Hoover Institution, but I don't think she has made any interesting contributions since her specialty died in the 1980s. She's clearly very smart, but she sold herself many years ago. The intellectual side of her work in the second Bush administration—
"the policy of Transformational Diplomacy directed toward expanding the number of responsible democratic governments in the world and especially in the Greater Middle East" (Wikipedia)
does not encourage me to think she would "enhance" her department thanks to her experience, unless through an event involving public confession and perhaps self-flagellation.

As for Dr. King, he was no kind of evangelical at all, unless you mean in enthusiasm for the Gospel, which in his case was absolutely the social gospel. He was the very type and emblem of the liberal Christian, except for his being so much farther left than most liberals.

Should universities offer affirmative action for conservatives and evangelicals? I don’t think so, partly because surveys find that conservative scholars themselves oppose the idea.
I should think so! Their best arguments against affirmative action don't apply very well to cases of race discrimination, but they apply to cases of ideological discrimination perfectly. So what exactly do you think, Nick? Why are you bothering us about this?

But it’s important to have a frank discussion on campuses about ideological diversity. To me, this seems a liberal blind spot.
OK, we had a discussion about it. Now shut up and get back to your sex trafficking, where you might end up accomplishing something useful some day.

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