Do Ph.D Programs in the Humanities Teach a Secret "Liberal" Handshake?

Many conservatives think that they do.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik discusses Neil Gross’s new book Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?  Based on sociological research, Gross concludes (big surprise here) that most professors “lean to the left.”  But he also concludes that “most faculty members are not as radical as many believe and there is a larger center-left following in the academy.”

Here is a taste of Jaschik’s piece:

Gross also considers why the idea of a liberal professoriate is so powerful with some conservatives. He includes history of the William F. Buckley critique of professors as liberal and anti-religion, and notes that much of the frustration has come from people who care about ideas and who (in the case of Buckley and some of the National Review crowd) can hardly have been called populists.

But he also notes the strong resonance for many in the general public with the idea of professors as elite, liberal and disconnected. While he reviews the extent to which conservative foundations have funded organizations that have made a big deal out of professorial politics, he suggests that the views of many people about academics operate independently of anything David Horowitz said or did.

In an interview, Gross discussed why he sees it as crucial for academe to have a better handle on issues of faculty politics — and it’s not because it answers critics who say that academe imposes an ideological litmus test on professors. Rather, he thinks the findings pose challenges for those across the ideological spectrum.

For those who are conservative, and profess to care about a partisan imbalance in academe, Gross said, there is the question of whether their own statements are discouraging young conservatives from going to graduate school to prepare to become professors. The conservative undergraduate who reads about alleged liberal academic outrages all the time may simply come to view academe as a less-than-hospitable employer — even if that’s not necessarily the case.

2 thoughts on “Do Ph.D Programs in the Humanities Teach a Secret "Liberal" Handshake?

  1. simply come to view academe as a less-than-hospitable employer — even if that's not necessarily the case.

    But it is the case. Period. Ask Harvey Mansfield. Harvard. ;-P

    “I live in a one-party state and very much more so a one-party university,” says the 80-year-old professor with a sigh. “It's disgusting. I get along very well because everybody thinks the fact that I'm here means the things I say about Harvard can't be true. I am a kind of pet—-a pet dissenter.”

    Partly his isolation on campus has to do with the nature of Mr. Mansfield's scholarship. At a time when his colleagues are obsessed with trendy quantitative methods and even trendier “identity studies,” Mr. Mansfield holds steadfast to an older tradition that looks to the Western canon as the best guide to human affairs. For him, Greek philosophy and the works of thinkers such as Machiavelli and Tocqueville aren't historical curiosities; Mr. Mansfield sees writers grappling heroically with political and moral problems that are timeless and universally relevant.

    “All modern social science deals with perceptions,” he says, “but that is a misnomer because it neglects to distinguish between perceptions and misperceptions.”

    And there it is, John and “CG.” The rest is smokescreen.


  2. In my Am Hist survey last night we discussed the Second Red Scare and how William F. Buckley's charge about godless academics in elite universities entered the conservative critique at that time. Connected that with Pat Robertson's quote from last week about how the sophistication of higher education precludes the incidence of miracles in America. That took us into Max Weber's observation about the “disenchantment of the world.” It was a good discussion. Wish I had had this article at hand to inform it.

    I tease my conservative friends about the length of time this dissertation is taking… ever since Obama was elected, not only do we have to memorize Marx, Lenin, and Mao, but Castro, Chavez, and Alinsky have been added to the reading list. A good chuckle there.


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