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Are Professors too Liberal?

David Horowitz has now targeted liberal arts and social science departments at U.S. universities as being "one-party" institutions. He wants this situation changed, and is pressing for something like affirmative action for what he sees as excluded conservatives and Republicans. "You can't get a good education if you only get half the story," he has said.

Horowitz was once a civil rights activist, but over the years he gravitated further and further to the political right Now that he is a conservative, he wants set-asides for conservatives in academic departments. But he does not want race to figure in college admissions.

Horowitz commissioned a poll that found that more than 90 percent of professors who taught arts and sciences in elite universities vote Democrat.

His findings are likely true as far as they go, but his argument is bogus in almost every way imaginable. His premise, that a balance of political party affiliation is necessary or desirable in major sectors of American life, would lead to an almost totalitarian quota system.

For instance, Corporate Executive Officers of major corporations are vastly more powerful and influential than are mere college teachers. And yet, it has long been known that CEOs are heavily Republican in their voting patterns. Shall we make a law that half of all persons chosen CEOs of corporations must be registered Democrats, and must give their campaign donations to that party?

Or, let us take the officers in our military services, who have grown increasingly rightwing in the past thirty years. Polling data show that in 1976 only one third of military officers said they were Republicans. By 1996 two-thirds of officers identified with the GOP, and only ten percent were Democrats. This development is truly worrisome. Would President Bush have been so successful in pushing his joint chiefs of staff to put away their objections to an Iraq campaign last summer if he knew two thirds of his officers had voted against him? Did not the open contempt many in the armed services expressed for Bill Clinton weaken our democracy?

Then there are the major political foundations that provide talking heads to cable television news shows. These began being founded in the 1970s by hyper-wealthy and very rightwing families such as the Coors. Conservative think tanks --the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Cato Institute, the Middle East Forum, the Hudson Institute, and Horowitz's own "Center for the Study of Popular Culture"-- have come to dominate political talk. By the mid-1990s they outspent their liberal counterparts by five to one, and were mentioned almost eight times as often in newspapers, radio and television transcripts..

Conservative think tanks do not hire liberal scholars and do not produce liberal reports. They often publish their own books, with no double-blind refereeing or other quality controls. The studies they produce concerning social issues are driven by partisan politics and are often sloppy (failing to incorporate a control group, for instance). They can be enormously influential. Ronald Reagan adopted two-thirds of the proposals put forward by the Heritage Foundation in its "Mandate for Leadership." Why does Horowitz not propose that half of the influential and best-funded think tanks always be liberal in orientation? Surely this is an imbalance that needs to be addressed?

The study of professors left out the business and other professional schools, which are central parts of the university, and focused on elite institutions. It does not consider the possibility that fewer conservatives seek academic careers in the liberal arts. Like most of these think tank studies, it was poorly designed and poorly analyzed.

Hiring at most universities is primarily done at the departmental level, and is therefore a grass roots affair. No search committee I have ever seen or heard of in nearly 20 years of teaching has ever inquired into the party affiliation of the candidate, and doing so would be considered gauche if not actually illegal. There is no way to keep Republicans out, or to induct them, either.

Horowitz's assault on campus liberalism grows out of the frustration of the political right in the U.S. that they have been unable to translate their increasing hold on national politics into true cultural hegemony. They do not want more diversity of voices to be heard, they want to silence the ones they do not like.