Conservative professors in the closet

Conservative students and professors have long felt the need to downplay, disguise or hide their true political leanings. We have long known that the university campus and large parts of the academy are a hostile environment – an unsafe space, if you will – for those of a conservative mindset, student and professor alike.

One recent study identified just eight right-leaning academics in the field of social psychology and a ratio of 36 liberal to 1 conservative-leaning professors.

Emma Green at The Atlantic introduces an interesting conversation with the authors of “Passing On The Right”, a book about the difficulties faced by conservative university professors who find themselves very much in the minority on campus:

The assumption that most college campuses lean left is so widespread in American culture that it has almost become a caricature: intellectuals in thick-rimmed glasses preaching Marxism on idyllic grassy quads; students protesting minor infractions against political correctness; raging professors trying to prove that God is, in fact, dead. Studies about professors’ political beliefs and voting behavior suggest this assumption is at least somewhat correct. But Shields and Dunn set out to investigate a more nuanced question: For the minority of professors who are cultural and political conservatives, what’s life actually like?

Finding out wasn’t easy, in part because so many conservative professors are—as they put it—closeted. Some of the people they interviewed explicitly said they identify with the experience of gays and lesbians in having to hide who they are. One tenure-track sociology professor even asked to meet Shields and Dunn in a park a mile away from his university. “When the sound of footsteps intruded on our sanctuary, he stopped talking altogether, his eyes darting about,” they write. “Given the drama of this encounter, one might think that he is concealing something scandalous. In truth, this professor is hiding the fact that he is a Republican.”

These professors – the vanishingly small number of conservatives who even bother pursuing careers in the social sciences – are not only scared of their students. That much is a relatively new development. They are also scared of their peers in academia, and their bosses in university leadership roles.

For example:

A historian at an elite research university, for example, said he was initially denied tenure on account of his political views. He discovered that a colleague had in a letter referred to him as an “appalling Eurocentric conservative” for suggesting to students that North Korea should be blamed for the Korean War. Another extremely productive sociologist was voted down for tenure by his colleagues and dean, only to have the vote reversed by a provost — due in part to some liberal colleagues who cried foul at the process. One such colleague reportedly told the sociologist in question, “Your religion, your politics, entered into the discussion for tenure and basically a lot of extraneous things were not relevant to [your] performance were questioned.” That professor and others with similar experiences said they initially — and perhaps naïvely — thought that their research, teaching and service records would speak for themselves come tenure time, and that writing occasional essays for conservative publications or otherwise “showing” their views wouldn’t matter.

So this is the famous liberal tolerance. And now, compounding this hostile environment, we have the cult of social justice and identity Politics to contend with.

The Right cannot afford to continue surrendering the academy to their opponents. Neither it is in the interests of the Left to wield such dominance, for their ability to debate and innovate sensible new policy is already starting to atrophy through lack of a conservative counterpoint.

Samuel Hooper is a journalist and blogger. He is passionate about politics, free markets and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter here.

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