La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Campus intellectual diversity

Chris links to this article about a proposal in the South Dakota legislature to require that state universities submit reports regarding efforts to support intellectual diversity on campus. Chris jokes about being an affirmative action hire (presumably because he's not a crazy left wing nut like the rest of us), but I wonder if this policy would be more worrisome for the sciences.

Of course, the legislative debate (and the article) make it seem like its about making sure, Horowitz-style, that there are conservatives on the faculty to balance the leftists who are out proselytizing to those young minds about Democrats and Republicans. But could the law be construed to argue that biology departments need to hire ID supporters in order to promote "intellectual diversity"? And what about those post-modern physicists who refuse to admit that gravity exists?

posted by Michelle @ 10:59 AM,


At 2/08/2006 6:16 PM, Blogger mungowits said...

You are using a plausible, sensible form of the argument.

But I have often heard some of my colleagues saying that expecting a social science department to hire a conservative is ALREADY like asking bio to hire a creationist.

You will admit that that analogy is a little disturbing, yes? To say that social science departments SHOULD turn down conservatives, because they have the intellectual status of int. design people have in bio? That is, conservatives are on their face (if you will) idiots.

Still and all, I think you have the better of it here. Even if things are bad, they are not nearly so bad that some meddling by legislatures can't make it much, much worse.

At 2/08/2006 7:28 PM, Blogger Chris Lawrence said...

Where to start? For the record, I am a crazy left-wing nut, except on the issues on which I am a crazy right-wing nut. (In an Inglehart-style policy space, I am a social libertarian and an economic classical liberal; in the good old USA, I'm just an "outlier.")

Even if there were an AA plan for social conservatives, I doubt I'd qualify; for starters, I think the earth is round and don't think Jerry Falwell is God's current representative on Earth.

(I was going to make some joke about putting my SAT and GRE scores on my vita in the future to prove I wasn't an AA hire, but I doubted anyone would get the reference and just assume I was boasting about my ridiculously high standardized test scores.)

To dovetail with my boss's comment, during some discussion with faculty at Millsaps, one new faculty member (with degrees from Johns Hopkins, the Kennedy School, and Princeton - so no idiot) stated flat-out that it was her impression that the purpose of a "liberal arts education" was to make students into political liberals. Of course, any such "conversion" to a particular belief system is the exact opposite of the purpose of a liberal arts education.

I don't know how widespread this sentiment is, but either way I found it rather disturbing.

At 2/08/2006 11:21 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

I guess my context shapes my perceptions. Though some of my colleagues are to the left, I can't imagine my department being overtly anti-conservative in a hiring process. We have a handful of senior folks who are fairly politically conservative, and they are not necessarily the one's you'd guess either. So Tech is perhaps different, being a tech school and all.

I'd be happy to have some reasonable conservatives in my department, just as I'd hope they'd be ok with me as a reasonable lefty--reasonable meaning that I have my strong opinions but I don't impose them on others.

What I wouldn't want is a version of someone I came across at the SPSA meeting--an economic conservative who didn't even seem to understand the market and had several of his facts wrong. When the audience (not me) took him to task, he held his ground despite being factually wrong about certain points. It made me very nervous for the type of education that some GA students are getting south of Atlanta. But, I would have been equally appalled if someone were warping history to support some leftwing ideology. Luckily, grad school weeds out many who would privelige style over substance.

So, I see now Chris, you're hoping for the AA-outlier spot. :)

Conservatives in the social sciences I can handle; I just hope these laws don't lead to flat-earthers in the earth sciences.

At 2/09/2006 12:21 AM, Blogger Chris Lawrence said...

Well, I was hoping my qualifications and credentials would get me the job. Since that ain't happening these days, though, I'll take what I can get :)

Oh, Millsaps also had a couple of geology professors who were young earth creationists. I kid you not. Kind of a weird place!

At 2/09/2006 8:00 AM, Blogger Greg said...

I would think that unless you are a brilliant speaker, dogmatic teaching is dull, repetitive and predictable, and ultimately will convert very few to your chosen cause. However, legislative meddling in teaching can only muck things up even more.


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