Saturday, February 14, 2004

Denial. Is a terrible thing:

After two days of venomous, hate filled e-mails from self-described "conservatives," I am convinced that there is a large group of people in the country who are not at all interested in a calm rational discussion of the issues raised by the recent ad in The Chronicle taken out by the Duke Conservative Union.

Robert Brandon, chair of the Duke University Philosophy Department, who, upon being informed that his faculty contained not a single Republican, replied thusly:

We try to hire the best, smartest people available," Brandon said of his philosophy hires. "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.

In other words: we don't hire conservatives because the very fact of one's adherence to conservative ideas proves your inferior intelligence. Charming. I like the "calm, rational discussion" line, I've heard it a million times from professors who have just claimed Israel is a Nazi state, or that the president is mentally retarded and are shocked, shocked that someone might respond with equal ferocity. The only thing worse than a hypocrite is a cowardly hypocrite. This is interesting, though:

I accept that the course content might well be different were it taught by a conservative Republican vs. a liberal Democrat. Different, but not radically different. If you study 20th century political philosophy, you will read John Rawls (the textbook definition of a late capitalist liberal) and Robert Nozick (perhaps not textbook libertarian, but libertarian nonetheless).

This is brilliantly telling. First, anyone who calls John Rawls a capitalist is so far to the Left he's rendered himself irrelevant to the discussion; Rawls was unquestionably a totalitarian statist. Robert Nozick is certainly to the Right of Rawls, but he is no conservative. In other words, what Branson says here simply confirms the charges he's denying: no matter who is teaching your course, you wont be studying any conservative thought. Don't philosophers have to study things like, I don't know...logic?

There seems to be a widespread perception that professors reward students for agreeing with them and penalize those who disagree with them. That has certainly not been my experience; not as a student, nor a professor. Philosophers value good argumentation. If your professor is a Rawlsian and you offer a strong argument for preferring Nozick's position to Rawls' you will be rewarded. You don't need to agree with your professor in order to learn from him or her.

In typically professorial fashion, Branson tells us just to take his word on this. Unfortunately, anyone who's ever been to college knows its wishful thinking at best and an outright falsehood at worst. Some professors can leave their politics at the door, but most are petty, frustrated intellectuals who react violently to any questioning of their political point of view. I and a million other conservative students have horror stories of being attacked and humiliated in class, having one's grades lowered for expressing conservative opinions, and being forced to wade through reams of Leftist readings without a single conservative voice to be found. There is a reason Leftist political bias is becoming an issue: students (both Left and Right) are sick and tired of the oppressive hegemony of a single political ideology, a hegemony which Branson, for all his pretentions, can't even bring himself to acknowledge.

Finally, let me go over what I did and did not say. The DCU seems to believe that the difference in the politics of the faculty vs. the population as a whole is due to hiring bias. The claim is that we liberals only want to hire other liberals. The process for hiring faculty in our university is largely decentralized. The hiring units in universities are departments, not the administration. I did not presume to speak for other departments, but I did categorically deny that there was any such bias in the hiring practices of Duke's philosophy department. None of us would want such a bias to be there, and in virtually all cases there is no mechanism for it to be there.

Typically, we know nothing about the candidates' politics until after they are hired.

This is ridiculous. Not a single Republican on the faculty and he wants us to believe this is purely coincidence? What difference does it make if the hiring process is decentralized? Everyone on his faculty is a liberal. They hire other liberals. This is not difficult to understand. His last line is so absurd I don't think its worth mentioning, most candidates politics would be obvious in their doctoral work.

If one looks carefully at what I was quoted as saying in The Chronicle, I did not say that all conservatives are stupid, nor even that most conservatives are stupid. I will go on the record as saying that some conservatives are stupid, but so are some liberals; there is plenty of stupidity to go around.

Actually, that's a lie. You did not say some conservatives are stupid, you said conservatism is the natural tendency of stupidity and, moreover, that this also explains the political attitudes of most of your fellow Americans. The fact that you are now desperately trying to parse your way out of such a titanically arrogant and asinine statement doesn't change this fact.

If conservative Duke students object to being taught by liberal professors, there is not much they can do about it in the short term. But over the longer haul they could change the political landscape of leading research universities. Study hard, do well in school, go on to get a Ph.D. and get yourself a job teaching at a university. But if you do you might find that political indoctrination is not really what animates academic life.

Well, judging by what you've just written, Mr. Branson, what animates academic life is close-mindedness, arrogance, patronizing platitudes and a monumental self-regard for one's own intellectual and moral superiority. Moreover, your desperate evasions and deliberate distortions of a reality I and many others have experienced first hand do nothing more than convince me of the truth you are so ferociously denying. Perhaps it is you who ought to change the political landscape of leading research universities, by resigning and making room for smarter, more honest intellectuals whose ideas may contribute to a free and diverse learning environment rather than the frigid, intolerant hall of mirrors over which you preside.

[Thanks to Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan for the links]