Economic professor William Anderson is writing about Duke, but his observation applies to most universities — some professors take scholarly work seriously and others use their positions to beat the drums for their ideological causes. He goes back to the ugly lacrosse case and concludes with the recent uproar over a study showing that black students are apt to gravitate away from hard majors and into soft ones. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. Feelings have been hurt and that trumps everything else.
The University of Wisconsin's Professor William Cronon has involved himself in a partisan Wisconsin battle concerning public employees' bargaining. In his blog he bloviates against the Republican Party's open records law request for e-mails he may have sent from his university e-mail account relating to partisan advocacy. I argue that a distinction needs to be made between the GOP's political response to Cronon's political advocacy and academic freedom:
Cronon has chosen to involve himself in the political process . He states that he has been careful to separate his personal e-mails from his university computer, and makes the spurious argument that communications with students constitute records under the Buckley Law....as a public official with a partisan affiliation Cronon has entered the political fray. He ought to expect that he be treated as a political player subject to the same tactics to which Cronon and his allies would subject GOP-affiliated officials. Even in his self-serving bloviation about the GOP's request Cronon cannot refrain from partisan rhetoric.
This week Neil Gross and his colleagues released two new studies analyzing clues as to why the majority of professors are politically liberal. They focus on graduate school. What sort of person goes to graduate school? Does a certain political orientation boost a person's chances of getting in? Of wanting to go in the first place? Peter Wood discusses both reports in articles at the Chronicle of Higher Education's Innovations blog. In one study, which Peter called "well-intentioned" but "essentially worthless," the authors sent fake letters to graduate admissions officers expressing interest in attending the programs. Some letters mentioned working in either the Obama or the McCain campaign. Gross and his co-authors wanted to see whether these letters would get responses that indicated encouragement or discouragement according to which candidate was mentioned. The other study sought to analyze the reasons people have for seeking Ph.D.s. Peter wrote:
Why is the professoriate predominantly liberal? A. Because “There is an intrinsic link between liberalism and intelligence such that the more liberal views of those with advanced degrees reflect liberals’ greater academic potential.” [The liberals-are-smarter theory] B. “Because cognitive development occurs with additional years of schooling, leading the intelligentsia to find fault with what they see as simplistic conservative ideologies.” [The more-learning-makes-profs-liberal theory] C. Because the professoriate seeks a way to differentiate itself “from both the middle class and business elites.” [The profs-turn-liberal-because-they-resent-the-middle-classtheory] D. Because the entrenched liberals who dominate “knowledge work fields…refuse to hire colleagues with dissenting opinions.” [The liberals-are-biased-against-conservativestheory] E. Because “The professoriate acquired a reputation as a liberal occupation” and liberals today “acting on the basis of this reputation and seeking careers that accord with their political identities, are more likely than conservatives to aspire to become academics.” [The self-selection theory] F. Because conservatives are dogmatic and turn away from disciplines that require open-mindedness. [The liberals-are-more-open-minded theory] G. Because professors tend more than most Americans to reside in cities and have fewer children, which favors their embracing liberal political views. [The lifestyle-liberalismtheory] H. Because professors are, on average, less religious than other Americans, which corresponds with their being more liberal. [The grad-school-appeals-to-seculariststheory] I. Because conservatives are more materialistic and are drawn to private-sector jobs; while liberals, concerned more with their “sense of meaning,” are more likely to be drawn to academic work. [The conservatives-prefer-money-to-learning theory] This catalog of explanations is to be found in the first 11 pages of a new working paper by Ethan Fosse, Jeremy Freese, and Neil Gross, released yesterday. Their answer is an emphatic E. “Self-selection” in their view is the only answer for which they can find robust empirical support. If they are right, this should change one of the longest-running and often most bitter debates in contemporary higher education.
Peter concludes that self-selection by no means rules out the possibility of bias: "The most effective way to keep out a whole class of people who are unwelcome isn’t to bar entry, but to make sure that very few in that class will want to enter."
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, we feature two sharply differing views on the hotly debated topic of faculty unionization. Arguing in favor is the AAUP's Cary Nelson. Arguing against is Professor Charles Baird, who fought against mandatory unionization in the Cal State system. Comments encouraged!
Naomi Schaefer Riley writes in USA Today about the ongoing unionization of public higher education. The sprawling labor force of an ever-expanding academy has become a fertile recruiting ground for the labor movement. The results could be unfortunate for scholarship, schools and the public. Riley and others have cited the recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report indicating that public sector union ranks continue to swell and now exceed the total number of private union members (7.6 vs. 7.1 million). While overall union membership rate dropped from 12.3% to 11.9% in 2010 according to BLS, the writer notes that faculty and graduate student membership in collective bargaining units has increased 17% over the last five years. Educators, administrators and policy actors should resist public university system collective bargainning, as Gov. Scott Walker is doing in Wisconsin. In the long run, higher-ed unionization threatens not only state budgets but the ability of public universities to compete deftly with private counterparts.
John Tierney's article in Sunday's New York Times describes the most-talked about speech from the recent annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Jonathan Haidt gave a talk in which he asked members of the audience to raise their hands to identify themselves politically. When he asked for conservatives, only three hands went up. Haidt concluded, “this is a statistically impossible lack of diversity”
In April, Hamilton College American history professor Robert Paquette published an NAS article describing how the campus left insulates itself and bullies dissenters. As evidence, he cited the case of his former colleague Chris Hill, a libertarian teacher/scholar who was eliminated early from consideration for a tenure-track position. A few weeks later, Hamilton's Dean of the Faculty Joseph Urgo wrote Paquette a letter reprimanding him, demanding that the article be removed from the NAS website, and denying Paquette the right to serve on faculty search committees. National media took notice of the controversy this summer. Mark Bauerlein has a multi-part series at The Chronicle on questions surrounding the incident, and Scott Jaschik published "When Faculty Aren't Supposed to Talk" at Inside Higher Ed. Yesterday Professor Robert Paquette responded to the controversy in a new article, "Dictatorships and Double Standards, Part II." He gives his side of what happened, sets a few things straight, and provides evidence of further double standards at Hamilton. His story is well worth reading.
Tom Blumer observes that our leftist universities and their ilk possess and abuse their power to destroy careers and control people's lives. The communists, he says, constructed checkpoints, whereas our leftist leaders use "chokepoints":
Those who occupy positions in university systems, government bureaucracies, as well as certain union and professional organizations, often with the active assistance of the courts, serve as the system’s “Chokepoint Charlies.” You can’t get through or move on unless you jump through their hoops, comply with their demands, or behave according to their established norms.
Here is Blumer's take on campus chokepoints:
In university systems, the most obvious chokepoint is tenure. If you achieve it, you have a position for life; if you don’t, your career is essentially over. Not surprisingly, leftist-dominated universities have used denial of tenure as a principal means of culling promising conservative professors, or even usually reliable liberals who utter occasional center-right thoughts, from their faculties’ ranks. Other university chokepoints are in the classroom. For the most part, it’s still true that if you’re bright enough, apply yourself, keep your head down, and avoid making too many waves, you’ll get through. But if you happen to incur the wrath of an intolerant radical prof by expressing a dissenting view, no matter how well-supported, you may find yourself with a failing grade, a lengthy redress or appeals process with less than assured results, and perhaps the inability, at least at that university, to go on to the next step in your desired major. Perhaps the most dangerous chokepoint at universities is in research. If your line of inquiry leads to conclusions that are contrary to established beliefs — say, just for the heck of it, if you find evidence that the earth really hasn’t been warming, or even if it is warming that it’s not significantly influenced by human activity — there’s more than a slight chance that your “peer reviewers” won’t be impressed and that your next funding request may not be granted. Just like that, you’re on the outside looking in.
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, Professor Donald Downs (author of Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus) discusses the lawsuit UNC-Wilmington professor Mike Adams has brought against the school, in which he argues that its refusal to promote him was grounded in hostility to his writings and thus an infringement upon his First Amendment rights. Downs doesn't think the case is clearly black or white, but worries that the district court's ruling in favor of UNCW (the case is now on appeal to the Fourth Circuit) represents a further erosion of First Amendment protection for speech by public employees. I don't think this is an easy case either. We have here a collision between the First Amendment (or at least "First Amendment values" of uninhibited speech in the public realm) and another consideration that has, unfortunately, been given short shrift for most of the last century -- freedom of contract. I'm strongly inclined to say that employers and employees, public and private, should be free to enter into whatever contracts as they mutually agree. Professor Adams thought he deserved a promotion (a modification of his contract with the university), but the UNCW administration didn't agree. Should that decision be overridden in the courts because Adams' writings bothered the administrators? Does the First Amendment mean that public employees can never suffer any adverse consequences because of things they've said or written? Suppose we turn this case around so that the professor who wants the promotion is a rabid, hard-left socialist whose posts on, say, The Daily Kos, cause heartburn among the school's administrators. Would it be a blow to free speech if they told him that he won't get a promotion because his outside writings are such an embarrassment? Or would it be a sensible and harmless exercise in freedom of contract?
Is there a strong bias against conservatives in higher education? Researchers have produced numerous studies to examine this question. They have sought to measure bias quantitatively through various surveys. Usually they conclude that there is little evidence of bias, and that people who say there is are merely crying wolf. In a new in-depth essay at NAS.org, NAS Chairman Steve Balch argues that the burden of proof should rest with those who deny bias: they must prove that it does not exist rather than demanding proof that it does. Dr. Balch's timely essay comes the week after NAS published "They So Despise Her Politics - Do Conservative Faculty Members Get a Fair Shake?. That article describes the case of Teresa Wagner, who believes she was denied a teaching position because of her conservative politics. There we published documents from Wagner's lawsuit against the University of Iowa College of Law. What do you think? How can we know for sure whether conservatives face systemic discrimination in the Ivory Tower?
Writing in the Wall Street Journal (June 18), Timothy Knowles, “a former teacher, principal and district leader” laments the difficulty of eliminating “low-performing teachers.” Granted, there are abundant reasons for tenure reform at the K-12 level. College, however, is a different matter. Marketing his new book, Cary Nelson, spear point of the AAUP, says
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, devout believer that you only have academic freedom and free speech if you have job security. If you don’t have job security, you can’t speak out forcefully, and I think that means academic freedom will be diminished.
I rarely agree with Dr. Nelson, a fellow I find usually animated by left-wing, social constructivist, and Sixties sentiments, but in this case he is right. Mr. Knowles paints administrators as ex-teachers called to a higher mission. However, in college, many administrators have little or no classroom experience, and Mr. Knowles seems oblivious to just how political, punitive, and self-serving careerist administrators can be (just look at how many of the cases at FIRE originate from administrative excesses). Without tenure, my campus would have no discernible conservative voice at all. I would have been fired by at least three different college presidents for a variety of transgressions: organizing the faculty union, suing the college, publically criticizing multiculturalism, openly opposing “student learning outcomes.” Students can survive a poor teacher (how many great teachers are there?), but they can’t survive a university monoculture that is an ideological echo chamber. Tenure may sometimes protect incompetent knaves but, where it still exists, tenure also protects vital intellectual pluralism.
In "Why Professors Are Liberal: Explanation or Apologia?" NAS Chairman Steve Balch dissects recent research by sociologist Neil Gross on why so few conservatives choose an academic profession. Gross has come to be seen as an authority on this matter, and his studies are often cited to disprove what are seen as exaggerated claims of bias in higher education against conservatives. Dr. Balch has responded to each of Gross's reports, and his latest analysis is well worth a read.
Herewith a link to the most recent posting by the excellent legal journalist Stuart Taylor. In a book co-authored with K.C. Johnson, Taylor had chronicled in detail the enormous travesty of justice at Duke when a black stripper falsely accused white male lacrosse players of rape -- the denial of due process to the laxers was reminiscent of Jim Crow days, but with racial roles reversed. [I discuss the case and the book in an Academic Questions article entitled "Durham's Disgrace" - subscription required]. Taylor's recent posting details the continuing rise to glory of the Duke academics who had tried to "lynch" the laxers. It makes for riveting and depressing reading. Duke alums, if you haven't yet suspended your donations, now's the time.
At a northeastern college the chair of a department also chaired a tenure and promotion committee that made a negative decision on an untenured associate professor. The associate professor under consideration had published many books and articles, and his publication record was better than the majority of tenured faculty at the institution. However, he had offended other of the senior faculty politically by outshining them. He was accused of lack of collegiality. The promotion committee rejected the tenure application, and that became news. Ultimately, the university's chancellor rescinded the committee's decision. Fast forward five years. Another professor, this time a full professor, offends the same departmental chair. The chair accuses the full professor of harrassing a female professor. The accusation of harassment is not referred to a personnel or EEO office, but is raised in a public, departmental meeting without investigation or hearing. The charges are discussed publicly. The departmental chair demands that a vote of censure be taken against the full professor. The full professor states that he was helping the untenured female professor and discussing a course with her, and that she does not claim that she was harassed. In other words, he was acting collegially. I deduce a simple conclusion for the politically incorrect: if you are collegial, you will be called a harasser. If you are a talented hard worker, you will be said to lack collegiality.
The November-December issue of CCA Advocate contains a front page story on how Lassen Community College is challenging Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) with the California Public Employment Relations Board:
In what may be the first test case, the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) will decide whether a college can require instructors to submit Student Learning Outcomes without having bargained them into the contract. The case stems from a charge brought by the Lassen College Faculty Association against the Lassen Community College District in December when the college administration unilaterally changed its policy and started requiring certificated employees to submit a student assessment plan whenever they submit a course syllabus. When the administration topped off the demand by proposing that faculty be evaluated based on its Student Learning Outcomes, (SLOs) the chapter took the matter to PERB.
For the full story, click here.
Barbara Bowen, the president of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the faculty union of the City University of New York (CUNY), circulated an e-mail asking union members to protest creation of a fifth pension tier that would reduce pension accruals for future New York State workers. The bill might reduce CUNY's and SUNY's competitiveness in attracting new faculty. Two flies in President Bowen's ointment are the state's parlous economic condition and current benefit structure. CUNY retirees still receive retiree health benefits, unlike two-thirds of the 2005 American workforce, according to the Kaiser Foundation, with a lower percentage today. But between 2000 and 2007 1.5 million New Yorkers exited the State as tax increases made $1,000 per month burdens on homeowners common and jobs fled. Stock market bubbles have subsidized New York. Even if the stock market does return, the St. Louis Fed reports potentially inflationary increases in the money supply. The State's Constitution forbids reduction of accrued retirement benefits. However, it does not require a crystal ball to consider that pension and health insurance bills may lead to bankruptcy. This occurred in the mid-1970s. The State has been resuscitated by a 30-year long Wall Street bubble, but the public will protest the bubbly monetary expansion should inflation accelerate. At that point, retiree health insurance and other future and non-funded benefits are likely to become a thing of the past. If the state does not get costs under control, collapse is possible. If so, CUNY faculty will say goodbye to retiree health insurance.
Adam Kissel, director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, has an excellent op-ed in the Virginia Tech student newspaper Collegiate Times, arguing that "the university often crosses the line when it coerces faculty members to conform to the university's 'diversity' mission." Kissel is referring to a Virginia Tech policy which NAS exposed this spring, that requires faculty members to prove their commitment to "diversity" to keep their positions and for promotion. This policy is plainly political and geared toward weeding out faculty members that dissent from the politically correct norm. Kissel explains that "the Diversity Committee of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences has invested the term 'diversity' with a specific, ideological meaning that binds the academic freedom and conscience of faculty members." The Diversity Committee defines diversity as:
acknowledging and respecting that socially constructed differences based on certain characteristics exist within systems of power that create and sustain inequality, hierarchy, and privilege.
Because it has an ideological meaning, therefore, "involvement in diversity initiatives" does not belong in a university policy as a requirement for faculty promotion and tenure. Since uncovering the policy this spring, NAS and FIRE have gathered documentation, written letters to the university, and responded firmly to Virginia Tech's weak defenses of its litmus test. Kissel's op-ed invoking freedom of conscience is the newest of our efforts to urge Virginia Tech to revise its policy and allow professors to choose their own personal values.
Last Sunday the New York Post reported that Martha Stark, who had resigned as New York City Finance Commissioner because she was accused of hiring relatives and dating subordinates, has been hired as a public policy professor at Baruch College, the business school of the City University of New York. In New York State, public universities have been viewed as a source of political plums. The Post suggests that this was the case with respect to Ms. Stark, an attorney. My father recently e-mailed a Money Magazine survey that claims that being a professor is the third best job despite the stiff competition for tenure track openings. It falls right behind physician's assistant and systems engineer. Ms. Stark's salary was cut by 53%, from $190,000 as NYC Finance Commissioner to $100,000 as Baruch College professor. But the hours are likely better at Baruch.
Brown University this fall added Chinua Achebe to the faculty of its Africana Studies Department. Achebe is a prominent postcolonial writer from Nigeria who has called Joseph Conrad a "bloody racist" and claimed his classic work, Heart of Darkness, celebrates the dehumanization of Africans. Achebe believes this reflects a widespread, deep-seated atttitude by Westerners toward Africa. This is all the more alarming because the university says Achebe is the first of many hires it plans to make, in order to expand Africana Studies, according to the Brown Daily Herald. As the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity points out, it's not like the University has been ignoring Africana Studies:
At the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity, we have to wonder what could possibly lead Brown administrators and faculty to think they have neglected Africana Studies. Brown has a Department of Africana Studies with 14 full-faculty members—not counting seven visiting and affiliated professors. In addition, Brown has the Third World Center, The Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, the Africa Group Colloquium, and the university recently sponsored the Focus on Africa speaker series as well as the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. All are related to Africana studies.
For the full press release click here. The Providence Journal also ran a story in today's paper about this issue and the Ocean State Policy Research Institute has been blogging about it as well.
We've reached the tipping point in human resources where administrators now outnumber teaching faculty. Things have been sliding quietly in that direction, aided by the addition of new positions such as Chief Diversity Officer and Dean of Multicultural Life. Although the trend has gone largely unbeknownst to the larger university community, NAS has been on task to end such disregard. To that end, we are organizing a core of academy watchers, who will penetrate the obscurity that veils such questionable practices. Keep the tipping point in mind as you hear of newly created positions at your institution, and please consider becoming one of those who will be "eyes" for us as the NAS tracks trends and events in higher education.
A group calling itself The Ad Hoc Committee to Defend the University is circulating a statement and a petition decrying "the intrusion of partisan politics into universities' hiring and tenure practices." Inside Higher Education reported on it here and the statement and petition issued by the Committee are here. The Committee seems mainly exercised by critics of Middle East Studies professors. The petition, however, takes the position that matters involving faculty appointments should be the exclusive province of scholars within the relevant disciplines. The petitioners reject the idea that "balance" and intellectual "diversity" ought to be significant considerations in shaping university faculties. The Committee's states that, "It is university faculty, not outside political groups with partisan political agenda, who are best able to judge the quality of their peers' research and teaching."
"The Social and Political Views of American Professors," a working paper released recently at a Harvard symposium by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons, is being vigorously spun by its authors as a new, sophisticated take on the intellectual alignments of American academe, undercutting exaggerated claims by conservatives of liberal/left hegemony. But if defenders of the academic status-quo expect Gross and Simmons's discoveries to rescue them, they're in for a crushing disappointment.