The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty

A new study released this week claims to have found evidence of political discrimination in hiring . I have to read the study more closely before I provide any coherent commentary but I was sorry to see Roger Bowen of the AAUP complain that the survey was no good because the sample size was too small. They surveyed almost 1,700 professors at 183 schools. Seems sizable to me. The more important questions go to how the sample was drawn. And whether the variables included in their regression, as well as the model itself, control for endogeneity. The model controls for how accomplished a faculty member is (potential measurement error there) and finds that the second strongest factor explaining the prestige of a faculty member's institutional affiliation is whether he or she is a conservative or not. What is not clear is whether the authors were able to control for the possibility that conservative faculty select conservative institutions. If they are religious, they may want to teach at a less prestigious religiously affiliated school. Or if they are conservative, they may prefer to work at a George Mason rather than a Harvard.

There is a good deal of anecdotal evidence that political orientation is an important factor shaping life on a college campus. A friend who had conservative Harvey Mansfield as the chair of his dissertation committee felt he was having a hard time getting a job because of his advisor's politics. But then this friend got job offers at Williams and UCLA in the field of political philosophy -- not an area with booming job opportunities these days. The National Association of Scholars complaint that academe is coming to resemble a religious creed certainly finds support in the reactions to the Summers affair. But I am not sure it has yet been demonstrated that conservative students are discriminated against in the classroom or that bias accounts for hiring patterns and the distribution of political affiliations. I would be surprised to walk onto the trading floor at Goldman Sachs and find more than 25% of the people there were Democrats, but I wouldn't come rushing out screaming discrimination in hiring. There is a fair amount of self selection into academe. Then again, a lot of that has to do with the fact that academia requires some rigor in thought and much of the conservative movement hasn't demonstrated much of THAT these days.

This week the Heritage Foundation is hosting a speaker who is an advocate of creative design or whatever it is that they call it. I suppose one way to look at this is to say, "my, look how broad-minded they are that they can entertain such a diverse viewpoint." But I wonder if we would say the same thing if they also had a speaker arguing that the world was flat? Ezra Klein reminds us that Bush thinks the jury is still out on evolution and Dr Frist in the Senate fears that AIDS can be transmitted through tears (not to mention that as a heart surgeon, he can also practice neurology through 4 minutes of edited video).

Personally, I like Brad DeLong's take on it:

"It's acceptable in academia to be a Democrat. It's acceptable to be a libertarian. It's simply embarrassing to be a Republican."


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