In study after study, university faculty members overwhelmingly lean toward the political and cultural left. In some departments, Democrats outnumber Republicans by thirty to one. Over 70% of faculty describe themselves as liberal, in contrast to 18% of the nation as a whole. And when asked to name the greatest threats to international security, university faculty placed the United States at #2, ahead of Iran.
But why is this? Well, Jere Surber (a philosophy professor) attempted to answer this question recently Chronicle of Higher Education, and in the process provides the latest shining example of the echo chamber that is modern academia. The answer in his mind is real simple:
It is because we liberal-arts professors have a personal stake in our relative economic status; we have carefully studied the actual dynamics of history and culture; and we have trained ourselves to think in complex, nuanced, and productive ways about the human condition that so many of us are liberals. Most of us agree with President Obama that there is a “right side of history,” and we feel morally bound to be on it. Although we’d like to see some parity in compensation with our colleagues, we chose our fields with full awareness of the tradeoff. Part of our compensation lies in knowing that our studies can complement our standing on the “right side,” rather than having our basic commitments dictated to us by the limitations of other, narrower professions. (emphasis added)
Translation: “We just know more, think more, and care more. By the way, you should pay us more. So, we are leftists.”
The rest of the article merely amplifies this self-righteous theme while providing almost an all star lineup of contradictions, oversights, and straw-men arguments. For example, after griping about how other professions earn more than professors, Dr. Surber writes: “We don’t mind the lower pay (well, not that much). . . .” Well, which is it? Are faculty members leftist because of an instinctive income-envy? Or, like the monks of old, does their income reflect their moral superiority?
While discussing faculty members’ greater understanding of history, Dr. Surber notes with bracing objectivity: “Conservatives, who tend to evoke the need to preserve traditional connections with the past, have nonetheless contributed least to any detailed or thoughtful study of history.” Right. After all, as conservatives try to “preserve traditional connections with the past,” they naturally have to ignore the past altogether. But then again, when he relies on a definition of history only slightly tinged with the faintest whiff of leftist bias—the drive “of underprivileged or oppressed groups to attain parity with the privileged or the oppressor” (rather than, say, the study of past events)—it is not exactly shocking that only leftists qualify as historians. But what then do we make of conservative historians and scholars like Paul Johnson, Victor Davis Hanson, Dinesh D’Souza, and F.A. von Hayek, not to mention lightweights like Winston Churchill and Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Maybe they just did not study enough.
But no all star team of faculty follies would be complete without the ad hominem straw-man arguments. When citing examples of successful conservatives, who tops the list? Dick Cheney, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, and (of course) Sarah Palin. After all, anyone as “open minded” as Dr. Surber realizes that all conservatives are either evil or stupid. And no one who has his “tremendous” grasp on the nuances of conservativism would even think of luminaries like William F. Buckley, Ronald Reagan, Dinesh D’Souza, or Thomas Sowell, just to name a few.
All in all, Dr. Surber provides an invaluable service by answering such a perplexing question in such an objective, dispassionate fashion. At last, we know that academia tilts so far left simply because professors earn so little, know so much, and care even more. Oh, if only we conservatives could be so pure, virtuous, and intelligent. But then again, if we were, we would be leftists.