Leiter’s Tunnel Vision:

It would be too tiresome to reply to Brian’s Leiter’s rant about me point-by-point. So let’s just focus on one statement: “But how many times in the last 50 years have ‘liberal’ politicians and interest groups outside universities successfully mobilized to get someone fired or even threatened that person’s tenure because of ‘conservative’ views?”

Well, let’s start with Larry Summers, whom Leiter mentions, oddly enough, in the same post. Sure, Summers is actually a liberal Democrat, but to his leftist critics at Harvard, his views on, among other things, feminism and Israel, were too “conservative” for their taste, and they got him fired from the Harvard presidency. Of course, if Summers were truly and publicly conservative, the odds of him getting the Harvard presidency to begin with would be virtually nil (and the same goes for just about every other leading university).

Which leads to my broader point, that the Left doesn’t mobilize against conservatives and libertarians in the universities because they do such a good job at keeping them out to begin with. Let’s take law school deanships. Erwin Chemerinsky’s job at UC-Irvine was threatened, after it was offered, by outside “conservative” forces. But in the past several years, I’ve had three calls from colleagues at other law schools about current or former George Mason colleagues who were up for deanships at these schools. In each case, my correspondent noted that there was significant “concern” about the candidates’ ideology, such that an entire faculty bloc was opposing the candidate as “too right-wing.” None of these candidates got the job.

And then there are the anecdotes that one has personally experienced, that one hears from one’s friends, and so forth–do liberals have to pass a quiz about
their political views on affirmative action before they get hired? Do liberal international law scholars frequently get negative outside tenure or hiring reviews explicitly based on the premise that their ideas are dangerously left-wing? Do liberals frequently get told that a law school will consider hiring them when one of their current liberal faculty members retires or dies, so they can keep the same “balance” on the faculty? If so, then I’ll grant that when such things happen to people on the “right”, they aren’t facing institutionalized discrimination.

But then there is George Mason, which in Leiter’s mind apparently makes up for the other 190 ABA-approved law schools because we hire great candidates who are undervalued on the market on ideological grounds. If there were 50, or even 25, George Masons I’d acknowledge that Leiter has a point, but Mason can only absorb 35 or so of the 8,000 faculty slots available at American law schools.

I focus on law schools because that’s familiar turf, but all indications are that law schools are actually much more open-minded, and much more tolerant of right-of-center views, than are other university departments, including many economics departments, Leiter’s embodiment of the “right-wing”. (Do we have any libertarian economics professors in the audience who want to comment on Leiter’s ridiculous claim that “free market utopianism” “dominates economics?”)

Leiter bemoans the controversy over poor Joseph Massad at Columbia, without noting the unlikelihood that someone like him would ever get hired by an institution like Columbia to begin with but for his ideology, and the related impossibility that even a top-notch scholar sympathetic to Israel would get hired in Massad’s Edward-Said-influenced department. Top universities have found it necessary to create special “Israel Studies” programs and chairs because Departments of Middle Eastern Studies are so closed to anyone who wants to do objective, much less sympathetic, scholarship on Israel.

In fairness to Leiter, if one’s worldview is to the left of Noam Chomsky’s, the whole world, even academia, is going to look very “conservative”. Even then, it would be hard to believe without willful blindness that economics is a more “ideological” subject than is “Women’s Studies,” even though economics professors range all over the ideological map, and Women’s Studies professors, well, don’t, and even though economics departments don’t declare themselves to have an ideological mission, while Women’s Studies departments often do (e.g.).

So even if I did share Leiter’s worldview, I might be embarrassed to advertise my tunnel vision.

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive. A study of the views of 264 academic members of the American Economics Association concludes that “[o]nly a small percentage of AEA members ought to be called supporters of free-market principles. Whether the AEA is, in this respect, representative of the economics profession is an interesting matter, but we doubt that the AEA is skewed to any great extent.” Thanks to reader “Lowell” for the pointer.