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February 14th, 2002:

What to do about liberal professors?

Megan McArdle has an interesting thread going about a survey commissioned by David Horowitz which claims that professors at Ivy League universities are much more liberal than the American population at large. The thread starts here, with followups here, here, and here.

I’m going to make one side comment first, just to get it out of the way. David Horowitz is, in my humble opinion, a complete nutbag. He sees Left-Wing Conspiracies everywhere he looks. He’s a shameless publicity hound, and as his slavery-reparations advertisement debacle showed last year, an expert in playing the Professional Victim game. It’s very difficult to believe that he commissioned this survey with an open mind, especially given that he hired Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who’s been known to bend facts to suit his beliefs (see this Virginia Postrel archive page, and search for “Luntz”).

All that said, it’s certainly possible that they’re right and that Ivy League professors are in fact way out of step with the rest of us Just Plain Folks. Well, then what? McArdle isn’t sure:

It’s important to look at the whole academy, but especially at humanities at elite schools, because that’s where a majority of the media, especially the major media, derive their ideas, and there is data that suggests that they perceive the world to be centered considerably to the left of the country’s political center, and that they tend to discount the bona fides of conservative intellectuals. Moreover, it would be better for the academy as a whole to have all sides represented in debates, so that students could develop sharper analytical skills. However, while it is important to address hiring bias, or self-selection due to perceived discrimination, it would be folly to enact remedies that lower the rigorous intellectual standards of the academy. The only caveat is that we must ensure that the existing professors don’t set up the rigorous standards to exclude conservative thought.

Now, how do we bell the cat? Any suggestions?

There’s a cheap joke about affirmative action for right-wing professors to be made here, but it’s not what I came here to do. I’m genuinely interested in what sort of remedies might be acceptable to address this problem (and I’m not yet willing to concede that there is a problem; more on that later).

After all, why isn’t the Free Market the solution here? Let everyone know the political leanings of every professor and institution, and thus let the informed consumers (i.e., those who plan on going to college) decide what best suits them. If the Ivies are too damn liberal, start your own college with a greater diversity of viewpoints, or just one which only allows right-wing professors. It’s not like there’s any restriction on founding a university. It simply takes money and people. Sure, you may not have the cachet of Harvard or Princeton, but if you truly believe that those schools are doomed to obsolescence by their slanted politics, then the market is ripe for a competitive alternative. Who’s to say that in twenty or fifty years Reagan University can’t be a top ten school? One of the commenters on Megan’s last post explicitly makes this point.

Getting back to this issue of whether this is a problem at all if Horowitz’s claims are true: I didn’t go to an Ivy League school, but I did go to a very good private liberal arts institution. At the time I attended, many of the professors were relatively new hires. Most of them were children of the 60s, with the liberal creds to go along. I had my fair share of classes taught by unapologetic lefties. I like to think that my critical thinking skills came out more or less intact. Of course, I was a math major, and I managed to avoid some of the fluffier lib-arts classes.

But even still, my recollection of many of these liberal professors is that they were really good at their jobs. They were good teachers who respected their students and those students’ opinions. I’d have to doublecheck with some of my Republican classmates, but at the time I don’t recall any of them complaining about bias. Was I just lucky? I don’t know.

This is just anecdotal evidence, so take it with the grain of salt it deserves. All I’m saying is that if the evidence does in fact show that Ivy League profs are Too Liberal For Our Own Good, that still doesn’t mean that taking classes from them will turn you into a zombie of the radical left. Whether true or not, the Ivies have had the reputation of being a haven for lefties for years now. Anyone who goes there without knowing this beforehand has no real right to complain about it, and anyone who goes there with this foreknowledge is presumed to be forearmed. So what’s the fuss?

My favorite Valentine’s Day story

My alma mater, Trinity University, featured two all-school semi-formal dances per year, with the spring dance being, appropriately enough, a Valentine’s Day dance. In 1987 during my junior year, my roommate Greg and our suitemates made plans to go to the spring fete, to be held at a downtown hotel.

(Historical footnote: There’s a picture that survives from this event. I had really shaggy hair back then, and my only tie was a blue knit. Thankfully, there’s no scanned image of this photo, so you’re in no danger of seeing it any time soon.)

My roommate Greg drove a little white 1964 Volvo sports car, which I nicknamed Lazarus for its propensity to die and be brought back to life by providential forces. As the day of the dance approached, his car died on him again. He tried to start it but eventually gave up and called his sister Susie, who attended college at Our Lady of the Lake University, which is also in San Antonio. Susie drove over to the TU campus, gave the keys to Greg, hopped in the passenger’s seat so he could drive her back to OLLU, and watched in horror as her car sputtered, gasped, and croaked. Yep, Greg had become an automotive serial killer. Nonetheless, I loaned him my beloved 1969 Nova to take Susie back to her campus, secure in the knowledge that my car could take care of herself.

So Greg called Dana, his date, and confessed his plight. No problem, said Dana, I just got my car back from my dad. Dad’s a mechanic and he just tuned it up, so we’ll use my wheels. Little did she know…

Now Greg is nothing if not romantic. He heard an ad on the radio for a Valentine’s Day dinner special at a local Italian restaurant, featuring dinner for two, wine and dessert for a reasonable price. As V-Day was that Friday, the day of the dance, he made a reservation for 8 PM. The dance was slated to go from 9 PM to 1 AM.

We others, too cheap and/or unromantic to follow Greg’s example, got to the dance at 9, just before a torrential downpour hit the River City. We ate, drank, danced, made merry, and as the hour grew later and their absence got more noticeable, speculated with increasing titillation as to just what the heck Greg and Dana were up to. Finally, one AM arrived with no sign of them. We headed home, and I wondered if I was going to find myself locked out of the dorm room.

The door was unlocked when we got there, so my date and I entered my room. There on the couch we found Greg and Dana, both fully dressed, slightly wet, and in Dana’s case, a bit drunk. Greg told the sad tale: On the way down highway 281 in the midst of this biblical rainstorm, smoke and steam started pouring from under the hood of Dana’s car. A radiator hose had burst, and the car had overheated. They were stuck. Fortunately, on such a night, freelance tow trucks cruised the freeways, and they didn’t have to wait long before one showed up to tow them home. They glumly piled into the cab of the truck to discover that the driver’s wife and two small children were also there. Apparently, Mrs. Driver didn’t want her husband to be lonely on Valentine’s Day, so she and the kids accompanied him for the night. Somehow, this made the ride back to campus a little nicer, albeit a lot more crowded. The rest of the evening was spent drying off and drinking wine.

When I first related this story to a coworker, it didn’t strike me until I was finished that these events had taken place 10 years before. It’s now been 15 years, and as I did then I wonder how Mr. and Mrs. Tow-Truck Driver are doing these days. Happy Valentine’s Day to all, especially my old classmates and extra-especially to Greg, who only killed one more vehicle that year as far as I can recall.

An even better Valentine’s Day story

An even better Valentine’s Day story can be found here, in this tale of a WTC survivor and his wedding ring.

The readers write back

I got a reply to this post from Joe Morales, brother of Democratic candidate for US Senate Victor Morales. With his permission, I’m reprinting his note to me:

It is not unusual that a lot of people don’t know of Victor Morales’ strength in this year’s primary. What most people don’t know is that for the last 5 years Victor has been touring the state of Texas ( and other states to a lesser extent) as a Motivational speaker, speaking at the major Texas colleges, high schools, and elementaries. All of those kids (which would add up to the thousands) would go home and naturally in some if not most cases tell their parents about their school experiences.

Victor was doing this full time but of course it was not newsworthy so many people did not know except those of us involved, such as family, friends and students, that his name and face was out in the public eye almost non-stop since 1996. That was one of the main reasons given our discussions, that Victor decided to run. Many hundreds of adults still remembered him, liked his sincerity and knowledge of issues (which were never reported in the media) and encouraged him to run again. After all, he was a high school civics and government teacher for years and years so he had more knowledge than given credit for.

So his strength to those close to him was no surprise even to the Democratic higher ups who were calling him trying to get him to not run for office. One Democratic leader went so far as to offer a high government office (which I won’t divulge to prevent embarressment for that person) if he would support their candidate, work in his campaign and not run for office. Even Mayor Kirk called to ask for his support. I could go on and on about what happened behind the scenes but let’s just wait and see where this Senate race ends up. I’ll bet more folks will be surprised by the outcome. After all, the polls show Victor only 5 points behind The AG in a head to head matchup in Nov.

This article in Roll Call mentions the mere 5-point gap between Victor Morales and presumptive Republican nominee (he’s unopposed in the primary) John Cornyn. Of course, the same poll shows Ron Kirk trailing by six points and Ken Bentsen by eight, so it may be more about Cornyn than Morales. Still, given what a GOP stronghold Texas has become and given that the Attorney General and former judge Cornyn is a well-known name, that’s encouraging for the Dems.

Whether you viewed Victor Morales’ 1996 quest as quixotic or energizing, the fact that he scored 45% of the vote against a powerful incumbent who outspent him 14-1 is impressive. If he wins the nomination, he’s once again likely to do better than anyone thinks. I sure won’t make the mistake of forgetting about him again.