Ideological Discrimination in Academia
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
 Education and the Arts
April 11, 2013 02:05 PM | 5062 views | 10 10 comments | 77 77 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Every professor under whom I’ve studied in graduate school has been positioned on the left side of the political/religious spectrum. I am acutely aware of this because I am positioned on the right.

I do not say this to condemn my professors. I have learned a great deal from many smart and gifted scholars who have given me the opportunity to examine important perspectives that are different from my own.

However, when every book on every syllabus in every class makes baseline assumptions of ideological truths that run counter to core conservative principles, students on the right are marginalized.

Additionally, when a left-leaning bias turns into outright workplace discrimination, I must believe even my most liberal professors would join me in saying there is a problem.

Along that line Kennesaw State University hosted a small panel discussion April 1 exploring the experiences of conservative academics in Georgia.

Bringing to mind Teresa Wagner, who recently sued the University of Iowa for passing her over for a promotion because of her conservative worldview, Dr. Mary Grabar, Dr. Timothy Furnish and Dr. Melvin Fein spent two hours describing their experiences as part of an ideological minority within academia.

Dr. Grabar is an adjunct professor who founded the website Dissident Prof to examine the impact of academia’s ideological gatekeepers on the quality of American free thought. She opined that critical theory has politicized the humanities and undermined the Western canon. (Writing about dead white men is simply not in vogue unless one is disparaging dead white men.) She is right.

Cherokee's Dr. Furnish, a former assistant professor at Georgia Perimeter and guest lecturer at the Joint Special Operations University who works now as a geopolitical analyst of Islam, recalled his amazement when a hiring committee felt comfortable enough with ideological discrimination to tell him outright that he was simply “too conservative” to join a faculty despite the merits of his work. He then decried the very serious impact of the tunnel vision that is created by any politically correct approach to scholarship, which no longer analyzes action but apologizes for it. (Jihad isn’t jihad because liberals say it isn’t jihad?) He is right, too.

Adding much needed levity to the evening, Furnish cracked the audience up with quips like, “The national debt makes me want to buy a hemlock latte.”

Dr. Fein, a tenured Sociology professor at Kennesaw State who organized the panel, discussed how his Jewish heritage had — ironically — protected his tenure from being derailed by “tolerant” colleagues who didn’t like his politics. (In academia, those openly on the right are socially ostracized and professionally blackballed.) This is not OK.

However, when Dave Gethings, a young doctoral student, challenged the panel with instances in which they had framed the left in an overtly dismissive and antagonistic way, he highlighted how the evening’s format had fostered the deployment of reductionist rhetoric that did not invite open dialogue.

Unfortunately, he had a point.

For example, when Dr. Grabar called lyrics written by Tupac Shakur mere “scribblings” unworthy of being studied on college campuses, I suspect the young audience stopped hearing what she was saying because she suddenly sounded too abrasive and narrow-minded.

That is a shame because such tone deafness occasionally undermined the panel’s message, which was a good one that needs to be spoken loudly and often.

When only one political orientation is deemed “acceptable” on university campuses, spirited debate and intellectual inquiry are stifled. That is a major detriment to a society that depends upon the free exchange of ideas to function.

Furthermore, when universities feel it is OK to discriminate against job candidates based purely on mainstream ideological outlooks, the concept of diversity, which liberals say they value, is completely undermined.

The truth is there are no fair-minded intellectuals I know who think ideological homogenization in institutes of higher learning is a good idea. Therefore, it is doubly important to have more serious discussions about why liberal tilt exists in universities and what — if anything — should be done to restore a sense of balance.

When this happens, everyone who cares about education will be better served.


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Concerned Citizen
April 23, 2013
Mrs. Lane, it is good to see that you provided an opportunity for people to express their views. It seems to me that you presented the information in a fair manner. I believe that there is statistical as well as anecdotal evidence to support the idea that there is disproportionate support for liberal political candidates and for liberal ideas in universities today. Otherwise, how could Kathy Boudin and Bill Ayers achieve tenure? I find it objectionable that they would be hired. As a former teacher, I attempted to present both sides of an issue and to encourage my students to think for themselves. I pray that is what teachers of impressionable young people are doing, but I often hear the opposite of that. I do not believe that you are motivated by any hope of employment. You have stated your positions quite clearly and honestly. Keep up the good work, and continue to keep your mind open to views that are correct, be they from a liberal or a conservative. I know that you will.
B D Lane
April 13, 2013
Sure, Dr. Grabar.

Your book is Exiled: Stories from Conservative and Moderate Professors who have been Ridiculed, Ostracized, Marginalized, Demonized and Frozen Out.

The collection of essays look interesting. While I have not read it at this point, I'd encourage people who want to learn more about instances of bias in academia to support a local writer/editor/educator and give it a look.

Mary Grabar
April 12, 2013
Dear Ms. Lane,

I started writing a poetic analysis of Tupac Shakur's lyrics--rhyme, meter, but then when I got to diction I realized that I couldn't quote him in a family newspaper.

Anyway, that was not the gist of the conversation, and I also included as an example of the degradation of standards by liberals the fact that entire classes on freshman composition are devoted to Lady Gaga. But no one seemed offended by that.

I find your points quite interesting: if your liberal professors are so fair, then they would hire Tim Furnish, who was told that he was "too conservative" to work at Kennesaw State. Dr. Furnish is an outstanding teacher; I know because he gave a guest lecture on the Koran to my world literature class at Georgia Perimeter College. I doubt that any student would have been able to guess his political views from the lecture. What they would have known though is that he knows his subject.

I understand that KSU hired instead someone who did not even have a completed dissertation.

I hope you'll read my book. You may be in for a shock when you enter the job market and you're beat out by a historian who studies cookbooks or the "crisis of masculinity" or medical attitudes towards masturbation as happened to one of the contributors to "Exiled."
EM Buckner
April 12, 2013
Well, as I wrote before, my experience at Kennesaw State is only external--hearing public lecturers, taking a few noncredit courses, etc.--but I have had experience at Emory, in the graduate school there (though not recently). The professoriate was quite varied as to ideology and approach--and I'd be willing to wager serious money that it still is. Anecdotal evidence on these matters is notoriously inadequate.
B D Lane
April 12, 2013
Ms. Trent,

Of course I know what you're talking about and could describe some of the same idiocy at Georgia State. I can only hope those professors I respect--those who are "fine and fair mentors" despite not being conservatives--would and should be disturbed by the hiring practices as related by the KSU panel. I've had the discussion with some about liberal tilt, and several have conceded it's a real problem. Can I not take them at their word?

However, my purpose was not to attack Dr. Grabar. Certainly not personally! I mention in the article that I AGREE with her. I am actually on her side! She's is absolutely right about the Western canon being undermined in schools. And I want her message to be HEARD by more than just conservatives in her audience. If the point was to persuade, I simply think she sometimes got the tone wrong. The Tupac comment was just an easy example. My point was meant to be constructive criticism. Not dismissal of her overall argument, which is very valid.

As for looking good to the right people... I assure you, I am the world's worst panderer. If anyone is going to hold my views against me, those views are well documented. And I'm never quiet in class. ;)

Best wishes to you,

B D Lane
April 12, 2013
Thank you very much for your comments. I appreciate different viewpoints. I have, of course, learned from people who do not share my ideology/politics while I've been a graduate student. But it has been my experience--anecdotal or not--that conservative views are often marginalized in graduate school. (I am currently earning a second masters degree.) This may not be intentional, but it happens. I don't feel victimized either. I am simply making an observation based on my experiences.

That said, the criticism that I do not present statistical data to bolster a bias view seems fair. I do not cover those numbers in this article because of space, but the KSU panel did present some evidence that went far beyond the anecdotal, i.e. numbers on political orientations of faculty at elite universities, which show a sharp liberal tilt.

Additionally, I would refer those interested in this topic to look at the thoughts of Larry Sumners, hardly a man of the right, as well as studies looking at specific disciplines and drilling down on the data about ideological bias in hiring. From an abstract of one of these, "...conservatives fear negative consequences of revealing their political beliefs to their colleagues. Finally, conservatives are right to do so: In decisions ranging from paper reviews to hiring, many social and personality psychologists said that they would discriminate against openly conservative colleagues. The more liberal respondents were, the more they said they would discriminate" (Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 496-503.)

Mostly, I would hope that anyone would be open to having this discussion rather than simply dismissing the experience of someone else. I mean, I suppose I could say just because a student has told me some horrific story of racial discrimination he's personally experienced, I could dismiss that story as isolated. But I wouldn't do this out-of-hand. Instead I would try to determine if there is an institutionalized problem.

Surely, no one would argue with the panel (or me) for wanting to have a discussion about perceived biases in academia? Perhaps these perceptions aren't legitimate in a broader context. But maybe they are. The question deserves some study, yes?

Again, thanks for reading. And engaging in civil discourse.
Tina Trent
April 12, 2013
Ms Lane,

So what, precisely, will your fine and fair mentors do now that they know that a professor has been denied a job because he was too conservative? They'll laugh and do the same thing tomorrow.

I don't know if you're naive or simply trying to play it safe in the hopes of getting a job -- I suspect the latter -- but let me recommend that you had better get a lot better at pandering to the fierce dictates of leftist identity politics and better, too at apologizing for harboring a single conservative thought, if you wish to compete in the liberal arts job market.

Regarding Dr. Grabar's "tone." At Emory graduate school, I was subjected to an exercise in which I was made to listen to a deeply perverse song by Sister Soljah accusing white women of desiring sexual services from black women -- I was then supposed to stand before the class and explore the "hidden racisms" in me allegedly exposed by the song. It was an exercise straight out of Kafka and entirely normal in the real of race sensitivity as academics practice it. In another class, I was berated for being heterosexual, and in a third, I was castigated for an hour by a woman who claimed that she was the victim of an entirely novel form of oppression consisting of having been offered too many jobs because she was black. My job was to apologize there, too.

I suspect that you have witnessed many such incidents but know better than to complain of them here because you desire work. I suspect you also realize that attacking Dr. Grabar in such a personal and anti-intellectual manner is a good way to look good to the right people.

I recommend that taxpayers take some time perusing the publications and research interests of Kennesaw faculty -- they will astonish you. And they will reveal Ms. Lane's complaint for what it really is: a desperate plea to avoid being purged by participating vigorously in the latest two-minute hate.

Conservative Student
April 12, 2013
Doesn't the writer go out of her way to say that she has benefitted from hearing other perspectives? She says her experience is that her own perspective isn't often presented as legitimate, but her main point is that no one should be barred from getting a job on a university campus because they are a conservative. The evidence for this sort of prejudice in hiring existing in Georgia comes from the panel, not from the writer. What's unreasonable about that?
EM Buckner
April 11, 2013
It has been awhile since I've been in academia, and I've never been a formal part of the academy at Kennesaw State, so I cannot comment on that portion of Ms. Donnelly-Lane's remarks that apply to KSU. But as a set of generalizations, her remarks miss the mark pretty dramatically, in my opinion. Academe is filled with people with egos and agendas and biases, to be sure, but I've seen no more evidence of those being in support of socialism than of capitalism, pervaded by atheism more than theism, etc. University level students should be exposed to a rich variety of perspectives and, in the main, I think most are. Their current perspectives, habits of thought, life philosophies, and ideas should be challenged--and that is as true of a Marxist as of a fundamentalist Christian, of a student who thinks the market can solve all problems as of one who blithely assumes there is a government program for every problem. What I did see when I was in academe, often but not pervasively, were people--profs and students--who thought their own perspective should be privileged, should escape serious questioning. That happened from across the religious and political perspective, but was more likely, in my experience, from religious zealots than from any other sort. We don't need ideological homogenization in academe, for sure. But claims that there is a threat along those lines are hard to take seriously absent serious evidence. --Ed B.
Oliver G. Halle
April 11, 2013

We agree that an ideological litmus test vice proven academic scholarship should never be used for hiring in a college or university. This is especially so with regard to public universities. Today almost all private universities get federal tax dollars, too, for research or other projects, and have to comply with EEO laws.

You perceive a bias towards hiring liberal professors and professors who may also be religious skeptics or atheists. Perhaps in some instances there is, but your commentary is annecdotal and doesn't cite any evidence to give your conclusions some support. I should point out that you completely omitted the egregious bias of hiring only Christian academics at certain Christian liberal arts colleges. A few examples include Shorter College, Bob Jones University, Regents University, Liberty University, and Oral Roberts University. These are all schools that profess to provide a strong liberal arts education. But Shorter College, and probalby the others, require students and faculty to sign loyalty oaths concerning social issues, that they will not support or advocate gay marriages, abortion, deviations from Christian doctrine, and other areas. I don't dispute their right to do it. I only question this notion that conservatives are the victims of liberal academia. And I would ask how many non-religous schools require some kind of written loyalty oath to a particular doctrine(s) and still call themselves liberal arts collegess?

Recall too the scandal in the Bush administration when a Department of Justice lawyer applied an unofficial religious litmus test that she applied to hiring attorneys. A disproportionate number were gradutaes of Pat Robertson's Regents University School of Law. There almost certainly are biases in both political camps, but this notion that Christians and conservatives are being marginalized and victimized is grossly exaggerated.
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