Bryan Caplan  

Klein, Laughter, and the Academy

Are Social Security Commitment... Highlights from The Rationa...
Dan Klein considers, then rejects, the analogy between male nurses and non-left professors:
In their paper, Gross and Fosse are suggesting that men don't want to become nurses because people will giggle at that. Perhaps there is something to that. There may be a path-dependence that has gendered nursing and works to keep it largely female. But for the non-left professor--by "non-left" I mean in particular classical liberal, libertarian, or conservative, not centrist or neuter--the analogy does not ring true.

I've never dreaded telling an acquaintance I'm a professor. I don't fret that he'd figure I like FDR or The West Wing or single-payer healthcare. Why should I care if he did? As for people I care about, they get past any professor stereotype.

I hang out with a lot of non-left professors. I've never heard any say he dreaded people's reaction to the professor revelation.

Most elite chess and poker players are men. Are those fields gender typecasted? Would a woman dread reactions to the revelation that she is a chess or poker player? Might not such a woman find a special pride in having cracked a male field?

Indeed, sometimes the non-left professor may feel that way. Also, the non-left professor has the comfort of blaming leftist bias for his not being more eminent.
Since the plural of anecdote is data, I'll second Klein's career-long non-observation.  I too have never heard a non-left academic complain that non-academics assume they're liberal and/or laugh at them.  Non-left academics' primary complaint is that other academics are too left-wing.  A few complain that other academics assume they're liberal, but that's far less common.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (10 to date)
Pat writes:

Um, selection bias?

mick writes:

There is also the unspoken but very real rule that you get better grades in undergrad if you are a liberal.

Students gradually learn that the best grade a non-left paper will get is an A- and if they want to go to the really sweat grad school they are just going to have to drop their conservative views and become a good little campus liberal.

Dan Weber writes:

There is also the unspoken but very real rule that you get better grades in undergrad if you are a liberal.

This should be easy to test. Write up equally good papers, but with different viewpoints, and submit them to professors.

Sure, there will be charges of academic dishonesty, but you'll get to take down a liberal hippie professor. And it's established that you can submit false resumes to a company with no legal repercussions.

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

Mick, I had a B in my English Comp class up until the final, and the word was that only one person in class had an A and would likely finish with that. But, of all things, the final essay included a defense of capitalism which I took and ran with, and got an A, even though the teacher had said that just didn't happen unless one already had the grade.

Lori writes:

Perhaps non-right (by which of course I mean left) businesspeople (or even people with impressive corporate resumes) should also take some pride in penetrating a system designed to weed them out.

blink writes:

The analogy may work better in reverse: Perhaps some professors are reluctant/embarrassed to reveal to colleagues that they "non-left" or the depth to which they disagree with "left" conclusions.

Maybe the left side of the faculty is spreading rumors of discrimination in order to keep conservatives out of grad school.

Maybe I've been reading too many conspiracy theories...

Mo writes:

My sense is that many non-left PhD students would be embarrassed in some cases to tell some people they want to be a professor. As an econ PhD student I get this vibe from my upper middle-class friends who are business savy. (I don't want to go into academia anyway and will admit I have this perception about the median grad student in our program.)

The reason is not that they assume I am a leftists but rather because academia is perceived (somewaht rightly) as not understanding the real world/business. Turning out zero marginal value research in the pursuit of pubs is seen as a waste of time. (And let's face it, most economics research below the 90th percentile has zero marginal value!) It's the old adage, "those who can't teach."

frankcross writes:

Well, since you are a professor, your experience isn't much evidence for reasons other people don't become professors. The male nurses are probably those who aren't embarrassed by that job either.

Though the embarrassment argument seems pretty weak to me for professors. There may be other selection biases, relating to the interests and goals of conservatives and liberals. But I'm sure there is some bias against conservatives as well, in at least some disciplines.

But a big part of the problem may be perceived bias. Out of the most likely population for law professors (Supreme Court clerks) a big percentage of the liberals apply to be professors and a much smaller percentage of conservatives do so. They don't even apply. This may be different interests, but I suspect it is perceived bias (which may exceed the actual bias)

William Ruger writes:

Bryan (and Dan),

I wonder how much time you've spent around military folks (a not unsubstantial percentage of the population) or blue-collar workers. Stereotypes of professors are alive and well among those populations - and while I don't complain to anyone about it (what use would such a complaint have?), it can be slightly annoying.


Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top