Bryan Caplan  

Discrimination in Academia: Lessons Beyond the Ivory Tower?

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More than one attendee at the Social Philosophy and Policy conference voiced dismay over David Horowitz's promotion of the Academic Bill of Rights. A typical plank:

Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate. While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints. Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.
What's not to like? According to its critics, the ABOR damages academic freedom by forcing professors to respectfully present viewpoints that they consider unworthy of respect. In fact, it is a thinly veiled order to give "equal time" to disreputable right-wing views.

But isn't ideological discrimination against non-leftists (another key issue in the Bill) a serious problem? The ABOR opponents admitted that it does happen, but maintained that it is incredibly rare - and already against existing university policies. Right-wing students who cry "ideological discrimination" are probably just angry that they got the grade they deserved.

As far as ideological discrimination against students goes, I actually agree. What's interesting, though, is that left-wing academics are so quick to dismiss the importance of the kind of discrimination with which they have the most personal experience. I found myself thinking: Gee, if ideological discrimination is rare, and accusations of ideological discrimination are primarily a tactic for shifting responsibility for one's own failures onto others, maybe there's a broader lesson. Maybe if you ran a business instead of a classroom, you'd start to see all "discrimination" in a similar light.

In fact, as I've argued before, since they are non-profits, universities are likely to feature unusually high levels of discrimination. If you don't see it there, you have to wonder if it really exists.

P.S. Want to learn more about ideology in academia? Don't miss my colleague Dan Klein at next week's AEI conference on "Reforming the Politically Correct University."


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Troy Camplin writes:

What the universities need is a high dose of discrimination -- against students who have no business being at a university, because they are not academically prepared. Only when universities raise their standards will high schools raise theirs, and so on down the line. This is where the problems really lie in our universities - -though the source, in postmodernism, is the same.

PrestoPundit writes:

I've been a TA for a (leftist) professor who encouraged his TA's to give grades based on the ideology contained in the answers. I'm guessing a good percentage of the hard core left have no problem doing this at some level -- a "right wing" answer is just a bad answer, and most leftist have a quasi Marxist view that the task of social science and the humanities is to "unmask" false ideologies, i.e. every correct answer is an unmasking and every wrong answer is continued commitment to "right wing" ideology. So by definition a non-leftist view is a D or C grade idea. In many Women's Studies classes it's simply an F -- and this too is well documented, for those who've paid attention

Punditus Maximus writes:

I would imagine that right-wing answers to Women's Studies questions would receive 'F's, since the purpose of those courses is explicitly to require students to examine ideas which are not misogynistic.

I would also imagine that, say, explicitly Communist answers to Economics questions would also receive 'F's, for similar reasons.

That's not ideological discrimination, it's requiring students to actually process the material at hand, whether or not they find it pleasing to them.

TGGP writes:

Hmm, Women's Studies versus Economics. Which is more likely to be indoctrination and which is likely to be information? If only there were some indicator of the practical usefulness of a degree...

Punditus Maximus writes:

By that logic, Philosophy degree programs must all have the Little Red Book as their core text.

8 writes:

I would imagine that right-wing answers to Women's Studies questions would receive 'F's, since the purpose of those courses is explicitly to require students to examine ideas which are not misogynistic. I would also imagine that, say, explicitly Communist answers to Economics questions would also receive 'F's, for similar reasons.

Academic bias in a nutshell. Switch ideology for truth and then declare opposing ideology as untruth.

Obviously very easy to do when an entire major is simply an ideology, like Women's Studies, but not impossible either when working in social sciences. The reason there is so much less bias in the hard sciences is that it would be quite laughable if someone tried to say 2+5=7 is misogynistic because the number seven is a phallic oppressive symbol, which is why it is used as a lucky number in the patriarchal West. The decrease in bias in economics is likely due to the increase of math in the discipline.

John Fast writes:

There's an almost-amusing post on Gawker about "The Republican of Bard College."

Hat Tip to
What Would Phoebe Do?

Punditus Maximus writes:

8 -- you say "decrease in bias," I say "libertarian bias." To-ma-to, to-mah-to.

The problem with this evenhanded approach is that it assumes that both conservatism and liberalism have roughly equal validity -- that each is, in fact, essentially as truthful a way of looking at the world as the other. This is an heroic assumption, especially given the fact that societal consensus continues to drift farther and farther left. Especially for social issues, which are the precise issues we are discussing.

Universities tend left because, for all their horrific flaws, they tend to be in search of the truth. This is a liberal value more strongly than it is a conservative vale.

Troy Camplin writes:

You can make the argument that the hard sciences search for truth. You can even make the argument that the social sciences moastly try to search for truth (though even that is questionable with many of our academics). But sadly, you cannot say that about the humanities at all in American universities -- and I have my Ph.D. in the Humanities! Though one can point to a few who are interested in truth -- Frederick Turner, Lou Marinoff, Martha Nussbaum all come immediately to mind -- the vast majority in the humanities have declared truth off-limits and even unaccessible. More, they have replaced any search for truth with proselytizing for neo-Marxist views against all facts against those views. Neo-Marxist, neo-Fascist postmodernism is the prevailing religion in our universities, particularly in the humanities, and increasingly infecting the social sciences. The fact that one cannot even raise certain questions without being in danger of being shouted down or fired speaks volumes about whether our universities are interested in the pursuit of truth. Our universities have trended Left precisely as they have abandoned the pursuit of truth.

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