Show Me The Money: Stanley Fish vs. University of Colorado.

Here’s a new blog entry from freshly-from-New-Zealand Stanley Fish. The most interesting part of the blog, however, is the comments. Let’s start from the blog entry itself – Fish ridicules the decision by the University of Colorado (Boulder) to propose to establish a Chair in Conservative Thought and Policy – a deserved ridicule, I think. But Stanley Fish is again misunderstood and most comments don’t seem to engage the blog post at all – they should have some sort of “stupid filter” there or good old fashioned moderation: 

I’ve just returned from New Zealand and find that in my absence the University of Colorado – the same one that earlier this year appointed as its president a Republican fund-raiser with a B.A. in mining and no academic experience – has gifted me again, this time with the announcement of plans to raise money for a Chair in Conservative Thought and Policy.

Why? The answer is apparently given in the first sentence of a story that appeared in the May 13th edition of the Rocky Mountain News: “The University of Colorado is considering a $9 million program to bring high-profile conservatives to teach on the left-leaning Boulder campus.”

Embedded in this sentence is the following chain of reasoning: The University of Colorado, Boulder, is left-leaning and therefore it is appropriate to spend university funds (technically state funds) in an effort to redress a political imbalance. The rest is here

The comment though are priceless – my favorite line of argument: Because university professors are poor, they “turn liberal” while in graduate school or trying to survive being a junior instructor.

Comment #20: Mr. Fish puts his finger, obliquely, on one reason why university professors tend to lean left: money. Most professors do not take up their calling based on a profit motive. Their skills could generally earn far more money outside the academy. Conservatives tend be much more interested in individual financial gain. The $200,000 salary might be low for Prof. Fish who was and perhaps still is in the top echelon of the pay scale for humanities professors. But for most (left-leaning and other) academics, the salary is huge. If salaries like or even better ones were more typical in academia, a lot more right-wing intellectuals would be attracted to the profession.

Comment #23: Seriously, this raises an important point, because money is one of the many reasons why the humanities and (to a somewhat lesser extent) the social sciences tend to be dominated by the left. Obtaining a PhD in these fields, which entails about 7 years of doctoral study followed by very precarious employment opportunities, requires that a person place a very low value on financial rewards. Lest readers be misled, the current average salary for a history professor in the US is about $62,000 (with full professors averaging $81,000). There is surely a high correlation between those who question the values of laissez faire capitalism and those who spurn the material rewards provided by an MBA or a JD. So just as there are relatively few socialists in this country’s business schools, so are there relatively few die-hard free-marketeers in the humanities. 

Comment #32: 1) Conservatives are not smart enough to cut in liberal-arts areas. They get flunked out at lower levels, and never get the Ph.D.
2) Smart conservatives are more interested in money, so do not pursue academic careers.

Comment #37: I worked at the university and a great majority of the top administrators are republicans. They make much more money that the professors. Since administrators set the pay and policy, maybe they need to include more liberals in their numbers.

Comment #46: Yes, we liberals do work cheaper than conservatives, so there’s your liberal bias right there. And in a town where the average house seems to be selling for right around $450,000 you’ll find that even your $200,000 salary (which will be significantly shaved by that assistant and the cost of benefits) won’t go so far in Boulder, CO. Try Iowa City, where I live. 

… and my favorite comment

Comment #51: Dentists are largely Republican… [ME: I KNEW IT!] 

Comment #62: Only 23 faculty members were registered Republicans. The first point I would make would be that most Republicans don’t go into public service and are not interested in the low salaries that teaching brings. 

Comment #100: For the record, a 2007-2008 report on the economic status of public university professors cited $110,000 as the average salary for a full professor. The average salary for all faculty is even less, though by how much I don’t know. With such low salaries relative to the amount of time and training required to attain these positions (e.g. average age of starting faculty position in biomedical research ~40), it is no wonder that most faculty tend to lean to the left. As another commenter astutely pointed out, liberals tend to value intellectual pursuits more than personal compensation, while conservatives tend to value the opposite.

Consistent with this notion, most graduate students lean to the left . In other words, the underlying cause of the disparity at the level of faculty lies not in unfair hiring practices but in degree of interest in such jobs. If conservatives want to be better represented in academia, the answer is simple: apply and compete with everyone else. That is the same principle underlying capitalism and their arguments against public assistance. Perhaps they want special treatment?

P.S. Where is “R. Vangala” when you need him? I could use a couple of links to some encyclopedia that would explain everything once and for all…


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