In InsideHigherEd today, Towson University English Professor Jennifer Ballengee responds to the charge that academia is biased against conservatives. Perhaps, she concedes, some conservatives don’t get academic jobs, but it’s their fault for expressing their views.
At issue is a proposal at her university to include “‘ideological perspectives’ in the categories protected in the hiring and treatment of Towson employees.” Towson’s Academic Senate rejected the proposal.
Professor Ballengee, who chairs the Academic Senate, explains that “ideological values frame who we are, often without us knowing it.” What we’re seeing, she says, rather than a “reluctance to include conservatives,” is “a reluctance to hire or include anyone of any ilk who is not going to listen and be open-minded and have respectful exchange.”
How would anyone even know that someone was a conservative unless he mouthed off, thereby demonstrating his obsession with ideology, Ballengee implies? She would never express my “political perspective in a job interview,” after all, and seems confident that making a joke at the expense of conservatives would be counted against a candidate to the same extent and in the same way as making a joke at the expense of liberals.
It’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s start here: professors have, in more than one study, indicated a willingness to consider “political ideology” when “selecting a job candidate between two otherwise equally qualified individuals.” In one such study, which was limited to personality and social psychologists, “33.3% of liberals . . . indicated they were somewhat to very willing to discriminate against a conservative job candidate.”
The problem doesn’t seem to be that liberals are more inclined to discriminate than conservatives. In the study of personality and social psychologists, 32% of conservatives indicated a willingness to discriminate against liberal job candidates. But in higher education, those who say they are liberal or on the far left outnumber those who say they are conservative or on the far right by better than five-to-one. Whatever the level of ideological discrimination is, conservatives are catching most of it.
What of Ballengee’s suggestion that discrimination occurs only against those who blurt out their political views during job interviews? It’s absurd. There are many ways that a job search committee could guess at a candidate’s politics. Perhaps the candidate’s research findings tend to support conservative policy prescriptions. Perhaps she trained with a professor or in a subfield with a reputation for relative conservatism. Perhaps she accepted funding from a conservative foundation. Perhaps she spent her undergraduate years at a religious college. Or perhaps she blogs for COMMENTARY Magazine in her spare time. These may not be reliable indicators, but that doesn’t mean those with the power to hire and reject aren’t moved by them.
In other words, Ballengee’s attempt to deny bias against conservatives in academia is at war with evidence that could have been uncovered by a Google search. But I suppose one could guess that from her straight-faced assertion that colleges and universities even-handedly screen out ideologues.
I don’t claim that discrimination against conservatives is the leading reason one finds few of them in the academy. But unfortunately, Ballengee’s denial that such discrimination exists is not uncommon. In Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care, Neil Gross, who doesn’t think that direct discrimination explains much, nonetheless finds that the leading professorial explanations for the relative absence of conservative professors from faculties are attributable, first, to the fact that “liberals tend to be more open-minded than conservatives” and, second, that conservatives “are too interested in making money to want jobs as professors.”
So yes, “ideological values” may “frame who we are, often without us knowing it.” But that doesn’t mean what Ballengee thinks it means.