Sarah Palin: Professor of Freedom?

Sarah Palin and Conservative Bias

Every now and then we read allegations that colleges and universities exhibit a significant bias toward liberal and progressive viewpoints, resulting in a lack of academic diversity and a consequent inability to provide students with a wide range of opinions on critical issues of the day.

So I wasn’t surprised when Richard E. Redding, a professor at Chapman University School of Law, in his October 25, 2010 op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times (p. A15), cited statistics indicating that “on average, liberal professors outnumber conservatives and libertarians by about 8 to 1, with the imbalance being much greater at elite institutions.”

Redding concludes that “our colleges and universities [are] unimaginative places” and strongly implies that these institutions deliberately exclude and disrespect “a wide range of political ideas.”

For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll grant Redding’s statistics. What I won’t grant is his “reasoning” or his conclusion.

Let’s stop for a moment and think about what the job requirements are for being an academician. First, one must normally have a doctorate. In order to earn such a degree, one must demonstrate (among other things) critical thinking skills and the ability to articulate an original research project in a comprehensive, rigorous, and intellectually consistent dissertation.

I don’t know as much about critical thinking skills as I would like to. But I strongly suspect that articulating one’s position using ill-defined name calling and broad over-generalizations does not qualify. Nor does ignoring well-established facts. Nor does a string of nicely alliterated words necessarily constitute a persuasive, well-reasoned argument, regardless of how clever the writing. On the other hand, intellectual consistency would be a virtue.

I have close friends who are conservative, intelligent, and articulate. But they are the exception, not the rule.

Witness George Will’s recent comment (2/21/10) on global warming — which is established beyond a doubt as a factual and potentially catastrophic, largely man-made phenomenon — accusing scientists of “trying to stampede the world into a spasm of prophylactic statism.” Is this argument worthy of academic circles?

Examine, if you will, the statement made on Fox News several months ago by one of George W. Bush’s former press aides that no terrorist attack occurred in this country during that President’s tenure. Talk about “political Alzheimer’s disease” — this one tops the charts. And this clearly fallacious comment was not even challenged by the Fox News anchors who witnessed it! Do they all deserve academic appointments?

I once encountered California State Senator Bob Dutton at the airport. Since we have a passing acquaintance due to my professional position, we had a brief conversation. In less than two minutes (literally), he was blaming Democrats for every political problem under the sun. (I didn’t have the guts to disagree — I just rolled my eyes and kept my mouth shut.) Would Dutton’s statement conceivably be considered an over-generalization? Might it indicate the lack of ability to think in nuances? Is he qualified for an academic position at an “elite” university?

Redding claims that he values innovative solutions, creativity, and quality decision-making. Most conservatives and libertarians probably value them as well. Why, then, does the conservative-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce spend millions of dollars backing political candidates who then devote their careers to protecting the self-interests of existing businesses? Don’t they believe in the capitalist dream — the power of creative thinking and entrepreneurship to guide them through challenging and changing times without the help of the government? Where is the intellectual consistency?

Finally, Redding can’t help using a buzzword from conservative circles intended to be derogatory — the word “elite” — without bothering to define it. While his transgression is minor compared to Sarah Palin and others who promulgate “freedom” in the broadest possible terms without giving the word a microsecond of intellectual analysis, he is nevertheless typical of the political ilk rapidly gaining a frightening constituency in this country.

Occam’s razor — a philosophical and decision-making principle of long standing — suggests that, when theories compete to explain a known phenomenon, it is best to select the one that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities while still sufficiently answering the question. In other words, keep it as simple as possible.

In accordance with Occam’s razor, I suggest that it is not necessary to postulate bias against conservatives as the reason for the preponderance of liberals in academia. The simpler answer is that conservatives (with exceptions! I don’t want to over-generalize!) are less able (or at least less inclined) to engage in critical thinking worthy of an academic environment. People who are unwilling to think carefully, consider all known facts, and construct intellectually consistent arguments don’t deserve academic positions. Maybe that’s why they don’t get them.

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Comments

  1. kelly says

    Tenure allows devotion of untold hours to ‘critical thinking’. Running a business, making a payroll, and surviving outside of the insulation and womb-structure of academia requires thinking on one’s feet, making decisions and letting the chips fall where they may.

    I once hired an academic to work for me. He had a doctorate in something or another (didn’t really care as I was doing a favor for a mutual acquaintance and he seemed like a decent fellow) Took him 4 days to decide where to hang his degrees in his office. After watching this with amusement – on the 5th day I put them in a moving box for him – told him the real world really doesn’t give a fuck about those, just job related results.

    So you see, one can sit around and think about the conundrums and philosophical issues of the world all they want whilst collecting an alphabet of crap behind their names, but actually doing something and making a damn decision is what the majority of producers do on a day to day basis. And if one makes a mistake, learn from it. But what do I know, I have a real business and a real payroll and I vote the less tax candidate, so I guess that makes me an unedumecated dum dum.

  2. Wes Tipton says

    Most conservatives are far too busy working and dealing with the day to day grind of life to be involved in critical thinking. After 5 years of college and numerous long term friendships with academics, I can tell you that they are far too insulated from reality and their intellectual thinking is out of sync with the mainstream.
    This author seems to have a smug perception of professors and scholars in general as superior intellectually. I see most of them as narrow minded snobs who have no reference point in understanding the conservative mind. Few of thenm have ever worked in the private sector, only a select few can even comprehend what it is like to run a business and survive in the corportate field, but most are quick to tell us how to do it. Hiring employees, paying high taxes for the privilege of providing a service to the nation and being responsible for the welfare of others is not a concern of those tucked away in their ivory tower classrooms and offices. They have no concept of the reality the majority of us deal with everyday, and as far as elitists, they fit the definition, and that’s where it stops.
    What bothers me is their opportunity to ‘teach’ or more accurately to influence our young and draw them to that illogical liberal side that will not serve them well after they move into real life.

    Elitist n. snob, higbrow, oligarch, social climber, snoot, egotist.

  3. concerned in portland says

    I am glad that you and other “progressively minded” intellectuals believe that politically conservative individuals are not capable of forming crital thinking arguments. I am how ever, bothered by the unballanced number of conservative professors in universities. But then, I remembered that most classes are not taught by the actual professor. They are conducted by a selected graduate student. It is reasonable to believe that the listed professor is comitting fraud by not actually teaching the class. The students should receive a discount because a lesser individual is actually presenting the information. Buy we will leave that for your lawyers to discuss.

    You will find many conservative minded individuals with Doctorate degrees working in business. You know, those industries which gererate the wealth for students to attend your universities.

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