By LINDA SEEBACH
Scripps Howard News Service
August 01, 2005
An example I encountered this week is especially odious, and I am happy to bring it to the attention of a wider, non-academic audience.
The authors are four political scientists at the University of Pittsburgh, Barry Ames, David Barker, Chris Bonneau and Christopher Carman, and their paper is a critique of a study published earlier this year examining the statistical evidence that not only Christians and conservatives but also women in higher education tend to teach at less prestigious institutions than their scholarly qualifications would suggest.
The original paper, "Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty," was by Stanley Rothman, S. Robert Lichter and Neil Nevitte; it appeared in Vol. 3, No. 1 of an online journal called The Forum, published by the Berkeley Electronic Press. The critique, plus a response by the original authors, is in Vol. 3, No. 2. All at www.bepress.com/forum -tiresome but free registration required.
The critique authors, who titled their paper, "Hide the Republicans, the Christians, and the Women," refer to the first study by its authors' initials, RLN, and RLN return the favor by referring to the critique as ABBC. This is not a courtesy, but it is a convenience.
ABBC say "It is difficult even to imagine ideological discrimination occurring at the point of hiring. ... (A department) has (ital) no (endital) idea about ideological affiliation unless the candidate deliberately brings it up in conversation."
As Rothman et al. comment, "If we try to surmount the difficulty of imagining how a candidate's ideology can sometimes be discerned, we might examine her CV, her publications, the reputations of her advisors, references, and granting agencies. Increasingly, personal information can also be gleaned by examining her blog or personal web sites and by Googling her to pick up any stray comment that wandered into the Internet."
ABBC say that some of RLN's findings "contradict their inference that the correlation between certain political identifications and the quality of institutional affiliation is a function of discrimination." They apparently overlooked the fact that RLN's paper made no such inference (or implication either) and indeed, specifically disavowed it.
They offer self-selection as an alternative mechanism - though in the best tradition of academic neutrality, they describe it as "the likely culprit."
Actually, self-selection is a likely factor. Any conservative smart enough to be a college professor is going to self-select out of a career where his colleagues think as little of him as ABBC do of people like him.
However, it's their explanation of how self-selection works that is so revealing.
There may be an urban/rural divide, they say. "Conservatives may want to live in communities whose ideological climate is more consistent with their own belief structure ... it would not be surprising if conservatives, academic or otherwise, (ital) prefer (endital) to work in smaller, more rural areas."
Also, lots of small, "lower-tier" liberal-arts colleges are located in those rural areas. Moreover, they're too poor to fly in faculty job applicants, so Midwesterners and Southerners, who are "more conservative, more religious, and less Jewish than Northeasterners," tend to stay put in places where there are "proportionately fewer elite universities and colleges."
With their third point, they take aim at religion: "many conservatives may deliberately choose not to seek employment at top-tier research universities because they object, on philosophical grounds, to one of the fundamental tenets undergirding such institutions: the scientific method."
Look, I lived in Northfield, Minn., home of St. Olaf and Carleton colleges, for 27 years. I knew scores of faculty members there, and I never met anybody who objected to "the scientific method," not even in church. St. Olaf, in particular, is among the nation's leading producers of Ph.Ds in mathematics and science.
In their rebuttal, RLN also point out that nowadays, objections to the scientific method are far more likely to be found on the left, not the right.
ABBC go on digging themselves in deeper. "Furthermore, cultural conservatism, as revealed in antipathy toward gay rights, the women's movement, and abortion rights (among other things), has been shown to stem in large part from an embrace of Christian fundamentalism as a dominant worldview."
Could be, but who brought up "fundamentalism"? These are college professors we're talking about. RLN went back to their data, and estimate that the term might apply to somewhere between 1 percent and 2 percent of their sample, not enough to alter their results significantly.
But ABBC explain that there's no difference. "In other words, the faith-based reasoning of Christian fundamentalism (and by extension, of most socio-cultural conservatives) is essentially incompatible with the mission of contemporary research universities."
The footnote to that remarkably sweeping statement reads, "It should be noted that we are not suggesting that fundamentalist Christians have less intellectual acumen than non-fundamentalist Christians or non-Christians. We merely note that fundamentalism is, by definition, anti-intellectual in the scientific sense."
Yeah, right. You have to wonder whether these people actually know any "socio-cultural conservatives" who aren't Christian fundamentalists.
Come to think of it, you don't have to wonder at all.