Why is academia ideologically imbalanced?

Why is academia ideologically imbalanced?

Most academic papers contain little of value, and are of interest to very few people. The average academic article is read by fewer than ten people. Such articles are not authored by the best or smartest people.

Most academic articles are of no use to society. For example, lawyers and judges seldom find law review articles useful in practicing law or deciding court cases, as Chief Justice Roberts has noted. The dwindling usefulness of academic papers coincides with stifling ideological conformity in the academy. As economic historian Phillip Magness notes,

survey data point to a sharp and overwhelming leftward shift in faculty political self-identification starting around the year 2000 and persisting to the present day. While self-identified liberals comprised a relatively stable plurality of about 40 percent [in the 1970’s], that number grew to a clear 60 percent majority in the last two decades. Conservative faculty, by contrast, dwindled away from one-third of the faculty as recently as 1984 to just 12 percent today. Furthermore…the recent shift does not come from gradual ideological drift toward mainstream left-of-center politics. Its primary driver is an explosion in the number of faculty who identify on the far left — a category that includes Marxists, socialists, and adherents of derivative ideological positions such as critical theory.

Non-academics routinely contribute more to scholarship and the store of human knowledge than academics do. I am not an academic, but even I have written articles read and cited by far more people than the typical academic paper. My law review article about the Supreme Court’s decision in Morse v. Frederick has been cited by at least three dozen law reviews, including a leading progressive First Amendment scholar, and it has been read by well over a thousand people. It has also been cited by academics in other disciplines, like political science. My ratings of state attorneys general have been read by thousands of people, and have been cited by law professors, lawyers, journalists, and newspaper editorial boards.

Many academic articles consist largely of repeating stale ideological cliches, reflecting little creativity. A smart person could do far better. Yet, academics fancy themselves to be much smarter than people in society generally.

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Prof. Robert Brandon, chair of the philosophy department at Duke, argued that conservatives are rare in academia because they are stupid, while academia hires the best and the brightest. He is quoted as saying:

“We try to hire the best, smartest people available,” Brandon said of his philosophy hires. “If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire…Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this.”

In truth, a professor notes, “Mill never said that stupid people are generally conservative” (although he did dislike the British Conservative Party).

Brandon is wrong that the reason conservatives don’t get academic positions is because they are stupid. Academia sometimes snubs highly intelligent conservatives and moderates, even while hiring second-rate leftists.

My highly-intelligent former boss at the Center for Individual Rights, who was not a progressive, never got offered a good position in academia. That was so even though he had a prestigious degree from Yale Law School, had successfully practiced law for years, and had published in well-read academic law reviews about legal topics such as civil rights and standing to sue. But he was unable to find an academic position at a high quality law school. Meanwhile, left-wingers who had never practiced law and published unoriginal articles that said essentially nothing new got hired as law professors and received tenure at some of the very schools he interviewed at.

The conservative think-tank scholars who get disinvited or disrupted when they try to speak on college campuses are generally far-more widely read and intelligent than the left-wing professors who object to their presence.

Years ago, back when moderate Democrats still existed in appreciable numbers on college campuses, I would get invited to give students the conservative perspective on certain education law topics like racial preferences in college admissions. Now, those moderate professors have retired, and the more left-leaning professors who replaced them have no interest in hearing from a conservative perspective. As a result, I have not spoken on a college campus in many years. (I used to also do things like attend academic conferences on campus to critique draft academic papers about subjects such as administrative and constitutional law).

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for CNS News and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”


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