February 16, 2002
Let's try this again

Megan misses the point when she responds to my question "why is it a problem if Ivy League professors skew left?" She starts by asking how I'd feel if the shoe was on the other foot:

The first is to ask how you would feel if Oral Roberts and their ilk were the gateway to the good life for your children? Would you be happy that the only way you could get your children the most prestigious education was by sending them somwhere where the political center was around, say, the National Review -- and there were no professors in many departments with any other point of view?

Are you suggesting that an Ivy League education is the only gateway to the good life? I'm sure all of the graduates of UT and Texas A&M here will be surprised to hear that. You are overvaluing the prestige of an Ivy League education, which is something that folks on the East Coast tend to do relative to the rest of the country. The way to get ahead here in Texas is to go to UT or A&M, where you'll get a perfectly decent education at a low cost, and where you'll plug directly into the good ol' boy network. I guarantee you that in business and in politics, both here and in a lot of non-Northeastern states, being an alum of one of the state schools will carry more weight than being a Harvard grad would.

Before anyone points to our president as a counterexample, I'll remind you that Bush was plugged into the good ol' boy network here long before he started college, regardless of where he went. And in the 2000 Presidential election, which candidate was generally portrayed as a stuffy egghead, and which one was thought to be the kind of guy you could have a beer with? Dubya got no bonus from his Ivy League education. He overcame his Ivy League education.

The reason why I say that Horowitz's survey is meaningless is because any college education is a good start to the good life, though of course it's far from the only way to acheive it. Ivy League alumni comprise a tiny percentage of the American population. If they're the only ones who can truly succeed, then our capitalist system isn't working too well, wouldn't you say?

Look, an Ivy League diploma is considered more valuable than a diploma from another school because an Ivy League education is perceived to be better than that which can be had from other schools. Now, either the Ivy League education is in fact better or it isn't. If it is, that invalidates the hypothesis that there's something damaging about an excessively liberal faculty. If it isn't, then the market will adjust to correct for that. I can't believe I have to explain this to a libertarian.

And to a certain extent, the market is already moving that way. There are a fair number of schools that now position themselves as offering an equivalent education to the Ivies at a much lower price. Take a look at the US News rankings of best value, where you'll find Rice right up there with Harvard. The more expensive Ivy League tuition becomes, the more people will look for good alternatives. I daresay the same thing will happen if people begin to believe that the Ivies are just a refuge for empty liberal rhetoric.

Megan then goes on to say

The total dominance of the left is encouraging intellectual complacency, shutting down debate in many areas, and in general creating an unhealthy atrophy in the intellectual atmosphere of many humanities departments -- just as it would be if 94% of the academy hailed from the right.

Wait a minute - Horowitz only surveyed Ivy League profs. How do you get from there to the claim that all colleges are 94% liberal? If there's a flaw in Horowitz's survey, it's taking the results of a specific sample and generalizing it to people who are not part of that sample. You'll have to show me a survey that includes profs at Brigham Young, Baylor, and Notre Dame before I grant you any validity here.

I'll say it again. Horowitz commissioned this survey for one reason: to validate his worldview that the liberals are out to get him. The result, which I'm perfectly willing to concede is statistically valid, means nothing.

One last thing: If you're going to cite my arguments, please cite them correctly. I made a joke about affirmative action for right-wing profs. I even called it a "cheap" joke. If I had really been advocating that position, I assure you that I'd have had more to say about it than a single throwaway quip.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 16, 2002 to Society and cultcha | TrackBack