Saturday, January 09, 2016

Leftist Intolerance in Academia

From Bloomberg News:
Consider this recent account of a graduate admissions committee meeting. An applicant to a linguistics Ph.D. program is a matriculating senior at a small historically black college unknown to some committee members. “Left-wing black nationalists,” one committee member said of the college, while another said, to much laughter, that the college was “the academic arm of Black Lives Matter.”

The committee then spent more time discussing details of the applicant’s GRE scores and background high GRE scores, high-poverty urban school district than it did with some other candidates. The chair of the committee said, “I would like to beat that college out of her,” and asked, to laughter from committee members, “You don’t think she’s a nutcase?”

Other committee members defended her, but didn’t challenge the assumptions about the historically black college or the people who attend it. One noted that the college had a good reputation in the humanities. And another said that her personal statement indicated intellectual independence from her college and good critical thinking. She was eventually passed on to the second round but rejected there, and given the comments of the earlier reviewers, it’s reasonable to think that in that second round, her background probably counted against her.

This is beyond outrageous. Giving a candidate a harder look because they grew up in a high poverty school district, and attended a historically black college? No, no one said “we don’t want blacks in this program”; they don’t have to. They just have to decide that traits common to black candidates, like growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood, or attending a historically black college, disqualify you from being “one of us.”

While characters in movies often make explicit speeches about how they hate black people, in reality they aren’t necessary. Racists build their racist consensus in coded language, perhaps sometimes language so coded the speaker doesn’t think about the true message.

That makes it that much harder to root this kind of pervasive bigotry out of our society. And why it’s so outrageous to hear this kind of racist talk on a graduate admissions committee in this day and age.
“But,” you are thinking, “I can’t imagine a bunch of liberal professors talking this way.” And you would be right. Read on.
Or it would be, if graduate admissions committees talked like that. I changed a few of the important details. In fact, the conversation I’m alluding to concerned a young woman who was home-schooled before attending a small Christian college, which the reviewers of her application dismissed as a place of “right-wing religious fundamentalists” that was “supported by the Koch brothers.”

What happened on that committee is bigotry, plain and simple. And it’s not just a problem for conservative Christians, and people seen as conservative Christians. It’s a problem for academia.
Needless to say, the woman did not get admitted. The author goes on:
In fact, few other professional spheres are as strongly skewed to the right as academia is to the left; when I looked into this a few years ago, the only professional group I could find with a similar rightward skew was Southern Baptist ministers, a comparison that neither group probably finds very flattering. Military officers are weakly conservative (two-thirds to one-third), but the enlisted are less so, and whether your business skews Democratic or Republican varies by industry and job description. Professors really do stand out as extremely politically concentrated on the left in a way that few other groups are, especially in areas like social psychology.

As Jonathan Haidt and the good folks at Heterodox Academy have argued, this makes it too easy for the group to adopt weak theories that flatter consensus beliefs without giving them the rigorous interrogation they’d get from a more balanced profession.

There’s another harm: The leftward skew disconnects academia from the society that it is supposed to serve. The bitter culture wars we’ve been living through, and the increasingly nasty partisanship, are the signs of a society whose factions no longer know how to talk to one another.
This reminds us of a conversation over lunch with one of our colleagues in the Marquette Political Science Department. He was fussing and fuming about the fact that the American Political Science Association convention was being held in New Orleans, in spite of a campaign by the political science gay lobby to have it moved. It seems the good citizens of Louisiana had voted against gay marriage.

It did not occur to him to ask whether the APSA should violate its own constitution, which forbids it to take positions on partisan political issues.

It also didn’t occur to him to ask why the gay lobby should pick on Louisiana, since many other states (including Wisconsin and California) had voted against gay marriage.

When we brought up the notion of political correctness, he responded that he didn’t know what “political correctness” meant.

But of course, fish don’t know what it means to be wet. That’s an apt metaphor for academics. They are so immersed in their insular culture that they don’t know that they have any particular culture.

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