We’ve all heard of the obfuscating fog of war. Yesterday there was an article by Crispin Sartwell in the LA Times entitled “The Smog of Academic Consensus.”
Sartwell notes that the University of Colorado is proposing to endow a chair in “Conservative Studies,” much like those for other special interest minority groups. This is not as peculiar as it may seem at first blush: in academia, conservatives are most definitely a minority. And this particular university may be trying to make up for such previous affronts to critical thinking as its former professor Ward Churchill, who became chair of its Ethnic Studies department despite a singular lack of credentials, qualifications, or even basic common sense.
How much of a minority are conservatives in the field of higher education? At Colorado, this much:
…one professor found that, of 800 or so on the faculty, only 32 are registered Republicans. This strikes me as high, and I assume they all teach business or phys ed.
Sartwell points out that the consequences of such a profoundly closed shop in our universities are that students not only get a skewed vision of the world, but that the situation tends to perpetuate itself and close down even more, becoming the accepted and unremarkable norm. It’s a fallacy to think that teachers are somehow immune to their own biases and that they can compensate and present an objective vision; especially in the humanities such as literature, political science, and history, as opposed to accounting or math.
The heart of the matter is that the bias is so profound, long-lived, and global in academia that it has become virtually unnoticed by its perpetrators:
And because there’s a consensus [in so much of academia], there is precious little self-examination; a slant that we all share becomes invisible… Academic consensus is a particularly irritating variety of groupthink. First of all, the fact that everyone agrees and everyone has a doctorate leads to the occasionally explicit idea that all intelligent people think the same thing—that no one could disagree with, say, Obama-ism, without being an idiot…[A] professor has been educated, often for a decade or more, by the very institutions that harbor this unanimity. Every new generation of professors has been steeped in an atmosphere in which the authorities all agree and in which they associate agreement with intelligence—and with degrees, jobs, tenure and so on. If you’ve been taught that conservatives are evil idiots, then conservatism itself justifies a decision not to hire or tenure one. Every new leftist minted by graduate programs is an act of self-praise, a confirmation of the intelligence of the professors.
I’ve noticed this myself, although I’m not in academia. Time and again I flummox people who meet me by seeming to be articulate, intelligent, pleasant, well-informed, and also (by their definition) conservative. I can almost hear the wheels of cognitive dissonance grinding in their minds as they try to parse these seemingly contradictory characteristics of the person in front of them, causing them to wonder (and sometimes to voice aloud) “How can it be?”