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CryingProfEvery now and again a left wing academic (pardon the redundancy) states his prejudices so baldly and unselfconsciously that he provides a highly useful insight into the mind of his class. Such is the case with an essay published in the Raleigh News & Observer by William Snider, a professor in the department of neurology at the University of North Carolina. Dr. Snider was upset that a local state legislator, Phil Berger, blamed the 12:1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans in faculty positions at the University of Norther Carolina on partisan anti-Republican attitudes. Mr. Berger even “suggests that Republican job candidates are discriminated against when they apply for university positions unless they ‘toe the line from the left.’”

Dr. Snider rightly points out that there is no overt questioning of the political affiliation of candidates for academic positions at most universities. Then again, many of us who call ourselves conservative, and are called “right-wing” by our ever-so-open-minded colleagues, are not affiliated with either political party. The question asked by faculty at interviews is not, after all, “are you now or have you ever been a Republican?” The question, at interviews and at faculty meetings and informal gatherings right up until tenure, is rather “do you hold the proper, ‘enlightened’ views we demand on all important questions of the day?” Or, more accurately “you agree with all of us right-minded people on issues of race, sex, sexual-orientation, and the government’s role in enforcing good, leftist policies in all these areas, right?”

More entertaining, in an unselfconsciously ironic way, is Dr. Snider’s assertion that “it seems likely that there may be other, more objective explanations for the imbalance of party affiliation.” What are those explanations? Why, the stupidity and anti-science bigotry of right-wingers, of course. And there are facts, Dr. Snider insists—facts! “A Pew Research Survey in 2013 found that only 43 percent of Republicans believe that humans have evolved over time.” What is more, Republican presidential candidates these last few months did not express explicit support for evolutionary theory, with the exception of the non-starter, Jeb Bush. And this means that Republicans have no place in academia.

I’m sorry, how does that follow?

“The theory of evolution is the central organizing principle of modern biology,” Dr. Snider insists, and Republicans deny it, even sending voucher monies to schools that teach the theory as false. Now, as a Catholic, I have no dog in the evolution fight; as a religious matter it makes no difference to Catholics whether evolution is “true” or not in the sense of providing some grand, consistent explanation of the development of human life. But to claim that this theory is “the central organizing principle of modern biology” is to raise scientific theory to the level of political ideology. Whether a particular gene therapy is beneficial, for example, has little to do with whether the scientist working on it buys every speculation advanced by evolutionary theorists concerning how natural selection produced broad trends of evolution or specific human traits. To claim otherwise is to insist on blind, affirmative obedience to a rather intricate and abstract theory, not diligence and adherence to the scientific method.

There is more, of course. According to Dr. Snider, Republicans are Climate Science Deniers. The science tells us that the earth is warming, that it is the fault of manmade carbon emissions, and that the results will be disastrous. This is settled, Dr. Snider tells us, even though he confesses that he has not looked into the actual data. Our intellectual leaders at the National Academy of Science in the U.S. and the Royal Society in the U.K. have told us that the science is settled, and therefore it is settled. And this makes any further questioning of climate models or policy prescriptions based on them a matter of conspiracy theorizing and capture by economic interests. So much for that liberal mantra telling us all to “question authority.” After all, UNC has its own new center to staff (and use as a source for grants and other, I am certain, purely scientific, non-moneymaking purposes), so, he explains, “shut up.”

Finally, there are social issues. Dr. Snider chooses to leave aside the latest assaults on traditional values, the LGBTQ agenda and the campaign to take away the rights of students accused of sexual misconduct. Instead, he focuses on discussions of abortion—or rather, the need to police said discussions. He swings away at “catch phrases like ‘protecting women’s health’” which he asserts lack merit, being merely “manufactured to appeal to a political base.” In other words, we can talk about controversial issues, provided we do so only using arguments and facts of which Dr. Snider approves.

“The life of the university depends on rational discourse,” Dr. Snider asserts. But this rational discourse could not possibly include discussion of women’s health in the context of the abortion debate. Statistics regarding the impact of abortion procedures on mothers’ ongoing physical and mental health apparently are by nature “manufactured.” Perhaps the Royal Society has made a declaration on these issues as well? Doubtful, for these statistics are real, if inconvenient.

And this is the thrust of Dr. Snider’s problem with “Republicans.” Anyone who disagrees with him on issues he would like to treat as if they are settled is an ignorant conspiracy theorist. How convenient.

There is a 12:1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans on campuses like the University of North Carolina (the disparity is even worse in places like New England, especially at prestigious institutions). This ratio exists because people like Dr. Snider are not just running the universities; in important ways they have become the universities. When you have a 12:1 ideological advantage you need not take seriously the ideas of those with whom you disagree on political, philosophical, or moral issues. The positions of the few dissenters clearly are “stupid” because you know of no one, or almost no one, in your class (intellectuals) who shares them. Thus, you can safely demonize people who hold these views and see to it that almost none of them get onto your faculty, or get hired as petty administrators running the dorms, for example. As to anyone from the outside who tells you that you are being an intellectual bigot, they clearly are ignorant themselves. After all, Mr. Berger, the state legislator who piqued Dr. Snider’s ire, may not even hold a higher degree. And if he does, well, it is probably just a law degree, and we all “know” that people with law degrees who are not left wing professors are merely rabble rousers seeking their own political power.

It must be nice to be one of the nation’s elite, too smart to be fooled into, you know, questioning the smart elites. Now, if we can just get those stupid and evil Republicans to stop messing with our budgets, we can really get some good things done. If these attitudes are not clear examples of intellectual bigotry, then there is no such thing as intellectual bigotry. And I think we all are aware that that is not true.

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13 replies to this post
  1. My grandfather is a tenured university professor in Kentucky, and even in this relatively conservative state he must deal with an academy that is vocally biased against anything that even remotely hints at conservatism. The most recent silliness has been his resistance to placing a “This is a safe space” sticker on his office door, which has not only resulted in two academic deans being fired over their misconduct towards my grandfather (changing the locks to his office, emailing security to have them falsely have my grandfather’s car towed, etc) but also making a man who built one of their academic programs from the ground-up give up on doing good research.

    As a young conservative who once dreamt of one day going on to get my Ph.D, I just don’t see the battle being worth it anymore.

  2. Conservatives can be and often are excellent teachers but being conservative ought not be linked to denying the validity of the scientific method. It is a tragedy peculiar to the United States that such a large percentage of Americans doubt the Darwinian theory of natural selection as an explanation for evolution.

    • There’s nothing tragic about it. There are plenty of problems with Darwinism, not least that it insists that life created itself and that, all on its own, managed to keep improving itself until it got to, well, us. No, Americans are wise to be skeptical of Darwinism just as they, far more than Europeans, are skeptical of that other bit of scientific bunkum, global warming.

      • I don’t understand. What is problematic about understanding that living things can reproduce or replicate? What is problematic about meiosis and mitosis? As for global warming, that is a seperate subject. With regard to global warming there is consensus about data but no verifiable way to know the future, only probability at best. With regard to evolution there is paleontological and cosmological evidence about the past.

        • I guess you could say I’ve become skeptical about Darwinism generally, and more so of the notion of Darwinism as the *sole* explanation for all life on Earth.

    • In the first place, while I have always found the sizable number of young-Earth believers in the U.S. odd, I have difficulty grasping why this is so “tragic.” I could rattle off a long list of other mistaken or dubious beliefs of far more practical consequence that are held by vast numbers of people (in the U.S. or elsewhere), especially (not exclusively) on the left.

      In the second place, most people who express problems with evolution to pollsters are not actually young-Earth believers but people who reject the idea that God is inactive in the world and that there is nothing to life but random mechanical processes. The number of people who flat-out reject evolution is much smaller than some statistics may lead one to believe.

      In the third place, the ideological discrepancy in academia is lesser in the natural sciences than in the social sciences and humanities, not greater. Yet, this issue is presumably far more critical in the sciences than in English, history, political science and such.

      In the fourth place, and most fundamentally, this entire thing is a straw-man argument. In my experience EXTREMELY few conservative or “Republican” academics, in any field, reject the idea of evolution. And those that do tend to seek employment in fundamentalist/evangelical Christian colleges.

      It is just plain not the case that the reason (or even “a reason” of significance) why conservatives/Republicans are blocked from hiring, denied tenure, or persecuted in academia is that they reject evolution.

  3. @ Mark: I’m not sure if you’re being serious or just putting up an act. Either way, good job. My impression of your post is someone who’s off his rocker. You also forget that with “correcting” dogmas you create a new dogma. It’s sociology 101.

    @Peter: You’re talking about two different groups. The general American public who do not believe in the scientific method and therefore do not believe in evolution and conservatives who want to earn a PhD in order to teach at the university level. Apples to oranges. But I’ll give you some elbow room. If a professor of English who so happens to be a conservative does not believe in evolution I do not care one wit nor will it negatively affect my learning; I care what he knows about the books he assigns and the philosophy of teaching the subject.

    Note: Mark’s and Peter’s posts aren’t too surprising given the topic. One thinks that conservatism needs to be corrected and the other, seemingly trying to apologize to the world, pushes the popular and common complaint that a majority of Americans do not support evolution, as if that somehow hinders America’s contributions to science and higher education.

  4. I actually do not agree Goldrushapple, though the article makes a similar point (about specialists in a field not needing to “believe” in evolution). Naturally I concede we cannot be expected to know it all, but I do believe that specialization is a hinderance to good general education and that a teacher ought to try to understand all subjects even if he specializes in only one. In other words I advocate the liberal arts.

    As such, an English literature professor should not be clueless about basic science (evolution is basic science nowadays). Likewise scientists ought to have some general orientation in the great books.

    • “Likewise scientists ought to have some general orientation in the great books.”
      Academia would all the better if natural scientists had the slightest bit of reverence for the Great Books; if we use the university that I belong to is any indication, the overwhelming majority do not.

  5. However, as soon as a conservative (whatever that might mean) becomes a teacher, he (the pronoun is inclusive) is immediately stereotyped as an enemy. It is as if a missionary arriving at his post in a predominantly pagan nation is then condemned by his fellow Catholics as a worshipper of idols.

  6. The liberal academic mind claims diversity yet abhors it. The enlightened mind claims all is morally relative to one’s own foundation yet denies that the absolute truths found in the universe (the physical) may very well apply to ideas of the mind and spirit. The truth is that the mind, especially the young mind, is malleable and once hardened into thinking one way only loses critical thinking skills. With loss of discernment also comes loss of free will to some degree, intellectual curiosity, and inspiration. Anyone that has a traditional, old-fashioned sense of liberal thinking should fear what is happening on college campuses today, because in old age these young folks will determine how you live and die, and it may not be to your liking.

  7. It could also be that conservatives tend not to go into academia for the same reasons liberals tend not to join the military, meaning, they find the culture doesn’t fit their personality. I mean, for liberals, the modern campus is a near nirvana, a socialism that works where you make a comfortable living with generous benefits and, once you make tenure, you have a Soviet style job for life. For the it’s heaven, for us, it would be more like hell.

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