Conservatives in the Academy II: Making them want?

While some have raised concerns that Marxism is a dire problem in higher education, a more realistic concern is that higher education is dominated by liberals (or at least Democrats). Conservatives (or at least Republicans) are in the minority, sometimes to an extreme degree. Such a disparity certainly invites inquiry. One motivation, at least for liberals, would be to see if there is any injustice or oppression behind this disparity. Another motivation is intellectual curiosity.

While sorting out the diversity problem of higher education might prove daunting, a strong foundation of theory and methodology has been laid by those concerned with the domination of higher education by straight, white males. That is, professors like me. These tools should prove quite useful, and beautifully ironic, in addressing the worry that conservatives are not adequate represented in the academy.  But before delving into theories of oppression and unfair exclusion, I must consider that the shortage of conservatives in the ivory towers is a matter of choice. This consideration mirrors a standard explanation for the apparent exclusion of women and minorities for other areas.

One possible explanation is that conservatives have freely chosen to not be professors. This does make considerable sense. While not always the case, conservatives tend to be more interested in higher income careers than lower income careers. While the pay for full-time faculty is not bad, the pay for adjuncts is terrible. Professor salaries, with some notable exceptions for super-stars, tend to be lower than jobs with comparable educational requirements. So, someone who is interested in maximizing income would not become a professor—the same amount of education and effort would yield far more financial reward elsewhere, such as in the medical or financial fields. As such, conservatives would be more likely to become bankers rather than philosophers and accountants rather than anthropologists.

A second possible explanation is that people who tend to become professors do not want to be conservatives (or at least Republicans). While there have been brilliant conservative intellectuals, the Republican party has adopted a strong anti-expert, anti-intellectual stance. This might not be due so much to an anti-intellectual ideology, but because the facts are often against the Republican ideology—such as is the case with climate change. Republicans have also become more hostile to higher education. In contrast, Democrats tend to support higher education.

Since becoming a professor generally requires a terminal degree, the typical professor will spend six or more years in college and graduate school, noting the hostility of Republicans and the support of Democrats. As such, rational self-interest alone would tend to push professors towards being Democrats. There is also the fact that those who want to become professors, almost by definition, are intellectuals and want to be experts. As such, the attacks on experts and intellectuals would tend to drive them away from the Republican party. Those pursuing careers in the sciences would presumably also find the anti-science stances of the Republicans unappealing.

While my own case is but an anecdote, one of the reasons I vote for Democrats and against Republicans is that Democrats are more inclined to act in ways that are in my interest as a professor and in the interest of my students. In contrast, Republicans tend to make my professional life worse by lowering support for education and engaging in micromanagement. They also tend to make things harder for my students. The anti-intellectualism, rejection of truth, and anti-science stances also make the Republican party unappealing to me. As such, it is hardly surprising that the academy is dominated by liberals: Republicans would tend to not want to be professors and potential professors would tend to not want to be Republicans.

But perhaps there is a social injustice occurring and the lack of diversity is due to the unjust exclusion of conservatives from the academy. It is to this concern that I will address in a future essay.

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