Do Facts Matter? Liberal Academia and Stupid People

Inside Higher Ed nicely summarizes a recent story about your regular “liberal academia” bashing fact-double-checking criticism: 


It’s the kind of quote that sums up the worst fears of some conservatives about academe: “No. We don’t hire Republicans because they are stupid and we are not. Why should we knowingly hire stupid professors?

Attributed to a Duke University department chair, the quote has been getting nice play in recent weeks. It appeared June 17 in a column in American Thinker, attributed to the chair of Duke’s psychology department. On Monday, the quote was part of a slightly reworked version of the column appearing in The Jerusalem Post, this time with the quote attributed only to “the chairman of one of its major departments.” That column in turn was praised Tuesday, with the quote highlighted, in the higher ed blog of The National Review, where the statement was cited as evidence of “just how brazen and arrogant this power grab [of academe, by the left] has become.”

As the quote has gained currency, it has also been questioned on blogs such as Notes From Evil Bender and College Freedom, which speculated that the quote was based on a very different quote from a very different chair (philosophy, not psychology).

The author of the much-discussed column is Edward Bernard Glick, an emeritus professor of political science at Temple University. Inside Higher Edlocated him to ask for the source of the quote and in an interview Wednesday, Glick confirmed that there is no such quote.

The quote was very different, although not as accommodating and nice as conservative critics would want it to be, namely:

“We try to hire the best, smartest people available. If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire. Mill’s analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too.”

I think this is where the “experimental philosophy” with its handy clipboards can really do some damage – go ask professors at a university about their political affiliation and make conclusions. I know it’s mostly irrelevant, as we are told, but still – wouldn’t that be one good “common sense” oriented research? The argument – “Smarter people tend to be non-Republicans” – is flawed, of course, because it assumes that there’s one kind of smartness out there and it’s mostly “academic” kind, you know, nerds reading books kind of knowledge. However, I sort of sympathize with the whole systematic approach here: Let’s study the issue and categorize academics according to their political affiliation and see what happens! The main presupposition, in the US, seems to be a double one: there are only two political affiliations (Dem or Rep, liberal and conservative, period) and they are diametrically opposed, so you can be either one or the another. If one has to ask a question like “what would a smart person’s politics be?” I think the answer is pretty clear – most smart people I know are Marxists… 

Again, the comments section is the best part of the post: 

After nearly a decade of empirically documenting the grossly obvious political bias in academia — isn’t it time to just call it a day? Just admit there is a problem that would take billions of dollars and decades to fix, break up the public higher-ed funding monopoly, and let the non-Democrats/Socialists go their own way? And let everyone focus on the task at hand — education — before the Saudis, Japanese, and Koreans buy GM, Ford, IBM and Cisco? This has gotten beyond surreal. It is just absurd and ridiculous.

L.L.Escapee at Public Education Monopoly, at 7:55 am EDT on July 10, 2008

Yeah, damn Japs and other non-whites of the world will buy all of America’s stuff and then have their brown babies everywhere and that will be the end of the free and the brave – I think L.L. here clearly forgot the Jews, gotta keep your racism/anti-Semitism straight, buddy…

Glick fabricated a quote and admitted it (when he had little choice, really). Let’s set aside ideological defensiveness, be honest, and say, “this is wrong and he was wrong.” By the way, before I’m accused of being another effete intellectual liberal I am a life-long Republican. It’s too bad that this seems to matter but it probably does.

Is being a life-long Republican means that you would vote Republican no matter what their policy is? What kind of political stand is this? Or does it mean you’ve voted Republican so far in your life? Then it would be “so-far-in-life Republican” – being a life-long Republican also apparently allows one to criticize Republican party, otherwise it’s prejudiced, right? Plus this life-long Republican knows some fancy words like “effete” so don’t accuse him of being stupid – as a life-long effete intellectual I quietly and weakly protest…

I served on many search committees in my 35-year career in the academy and I do not recall anyone raising or discussing the political party or orientation of any candidate. In fact, the idea of even raising party affiliation as a consideration never occurred to me or, as far as I know, my colleagues.

That’s because you’re the “insider” and you know the general rules of the interview process – cannot many other questions like: are you gay? how old are you? are you a citizen? why this shirt? are you married? and so on – kinds of questions people outside of the academic world would ask, right? I think there needs to be more education about what kind of process the hiring process in the academia is. But then again I can see the accusation of elitism – what? you only hire smart people? that’s discrimination against the non-smart people!

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