The AAUP’s Ringing Defense of Diversity

March 29, 2005

This morning’s Washington Post contains news of another study demonstrating the overwhelming ideological dominance of the left in America’s university faculties. According to the new data:

By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

The disparity is even more pronounced at the most elite schools, where, according to the study, 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.

In response to this startling evidence of political and intellectual uniformity on our nation’s campuses, the American Association of University Professors issued a strong call for a renewed emphasis on diversity and an end to viewpoint discrimination:

A diverse educational environment challenges [students] to explore ideas and arguments at a deeper level, to see issues from various sides, to rethink their own premises.

We learn when shaken by new facts, beliefs, experiences, and viewpoints. The student assimilates the new data so that they fit the existing conception, or revises the conception to accommodate the new data. [Emphasis added.]

My mistake. Those comments were not from the AAUP’s response to the ideological uniformity on campus. The comments instead come from the AAUP’s amicus brief in the case of Gratz v. Bollinger and relate to racial diversity, not intellectual diversity. When it comes to intellectual diversity, the AAUP’s response is a bit different:

When asked about the findings, Jonathan Knight, director of academic freedom and tenure for the American Association of University Professors, said, “The question is how this translates into what happens within the academic community on such issues as curriculum, admission of students, evaluation of students, evaluation of faculty for salary and promotion.” Knight said he isn’t aware of “any good evidence” that personal views are having an impact on campus policies.

“It’s hard to see that these liberal views cut very deeply into the education of students. In fact, a number of studies show the core values that students bring into the university are not very much altered by being in college.”

No evidence that personal views are having an impact on campus policies? Has Knight read a modern speech code lately? If the statements made in the Gratz case are true, then—by the AAUP’s own criteria—we have a problem in American higher education, where students views are not shaken by “new facts, beliefs, experiences, and viewpoints” but instead by the same beliefs and viewpoints stated over and over and over again. If the AAUP truly wants students to “rethink their own premises,” isn’t Knight admitting the failure of the current system by arguing that students core values “are not very much altered by being in college”?

UPDATE: Todd Zywicki in the Volokh Conspiracy had much the same thought:

This is consistent with what I hear from many of my own students—university campuses have become so cartoonishly left-wing that many students are essentially just tuning out their professors. Students report that they just go through the motions of pretending that they are converted, then they just regurgitate the mantra on exams in order to get a good grade. Meanwhile, many students dismiss their professors as risible ideologues (a good example here).

Perhaps the fact that students are largely unchanged by their university experience is the most damning comment of all about what is going on at universities today.

The AAUP will soon have to face this problem honestly or it will continue to lose credibility as a public voice for academic freedom.