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Ideological Affirmative Action at University of Colorado:

The faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder is apparently quite left-leaning, like the faculty at many academic institutions. University Chancellor G.P. "Bud" Peterson fears such a strong ideological tilt compromises the institution's commitment to diversity, of which intellectual diversity is an integral part. So the Chancellor has come up with a rather simple (and somewhat simple-minded) solution: Hire a conservative professor. As the Daily Camera reports, Peterson is raising money to create an endowed Chair in "Conservative Thought and Policy."

Mr. Peterson — a Republican who took over as chancellor two years ago — says he would like to bring a new luminary to campus every year or two to fill the chair, for an annual salary of about $200,000. No candidates have been approached, but faculty and administrators have floated big names like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, columnist George Will and Philip Zelikow, who chaired the 9/11 Commission.

"Like Margaret Mead among the Samoans, they're planning to study conservatives. That's hilarious," says Mr. Will, dryly adding that "I don't think it would be a good fit." Ms. Rice didn't respond to a request seeking comment, and Mr. Zelikow declined to comment.

On campus, the chancellor's fund-raising efforts set off a prickly debate. Faculty members demanded to know whether donors would control the appointment. (They won't.) They asked for a chance to vote on the endowment. (They didn't get it.) "We don't ask the faculty if it's OK if we create a chair in thermodynamics," Mr. Peterson says — so why give them veto power over conservative thought? After all, he says, "It's an intellectual pursuit."

Ken Bickers, who chairs the political science department, says that while he supports the concept of intellectual diversity, he has reservations about the university's strategy. He worries students will get the impression that the "conservative thought" professor speaks for all conservatives. And he resents the implication that ordinary professors don't air conservative ideas in class. Registered as unaffiliated with any party, Mr. Bickers says he makes a point of discussing all perspectives, but because he doesn't stick a political label on each lecture, students "don't realize, 'Oooh, that was conservative.'"

Mr. Peterson agrees that most professors try to be fair. He adds, "I don't know that it always happens."

I am all for efforts to encourage intellectual diversity on campus, but creating token chairs reserved for conservatives is not the way to do it.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Affirmative Action for Conservative Academics Revisited:
  2. Ideological Affirmative Action at University of Colorado:
Ari (mail) (www):
This is absurd. This chair will become the butt of jokes, as have ethnic and science "studies" chairs before it.
5.13.2008 11:08pm
wm13:
I think the project of creating intellectual diversity (or even intellectual interest) on campus is kind of a waste of time. Normally, failed institutions are not reformed from within, but supplanted.
5.13.2008 11:12pm
Ineedtorelogin (mail):
I don't know what's more shocking, 12,000 dead in China or the prospect of 1 conservative at UCB. Brrrrr. The chills. It's a scary world we live in.
5.13.2008 11:12pm
MarkField (mail):

I am all for efforts to encourage intellectual diversity on campus, but creating token chairs reserved for conservatives is not the way to do it.


I guess the very existence of an affirmative action program proves they can't make it on the merits.
5.13.2008 11:16pm
Gringo (mail):
Absurd it is. The only way to get a conservative on campus is an endowed chair? Is groupthink that pronounced?
5.13.2008 11:18pm
OrinKerr:
I guess the very existence of an affirmative action program proves they can't make it on the merits.

That assumes you believe that there is such a thing as "merits." ;-)
5.13.2008 11:26pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
The university seems to be unclear as to whether the proposed chair is to be for the advocacy of conservative views or for the study of conservative views. The title suggests the latter; the motivation, that is, the desire to hire a conservative professor, suggests the former.

A second problem is the fact that "conservative" can mean any number of things. Almost any appointment is sure to outrage some subgroup of "conservatives".
5.13.2008 11:41pm
AndrewK (mail):
"I guess the very existence of an affirmative action program proves they can't make it on the merits."

"Making it on the merits" here means winning a popularity contest amongst left-leaning faculty. I don't like the idea at all, but to imagine that the process for selecting your average tenure-track professor is anything close to "merit-based" is absurd.

If there were a blind application process--- perhaps with a test, a scan of rateyourprof.com feedback, an SSRN download count, and a citation count (all of which are only approaching objective), and weighting for self-selection--- if after all that conservatives were outnumbered by liberals, an affirmative-action program would still be ridiculous.
5.13.2008 11:41pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
I don't understand how intelligent people came up with this idea and thought it would be smart. Affirmative action is bad enough without adding an overtly political aspect to it.
5.13.2008 11:44pm
M (mail):
It doesn't seem an inherently bad idea to me. Chairs are endowed for all sorts of purposes and surely "conservative thought and policy" is a legitimate field of study. (I say that as one who doesn't favor such policy most of the time and finds most conservative thought wrong, even when interesting.) Many of the comments here seem to not understand how chairs work. That's fine, but perhaps ought to make one hesitate before commenting. Certainly such a chair need not imply that this is the only conservative needed. (Think of the example of thermodynamics given in the article- if there's an endowed chair to study that that's probably not the only person who does it.) Rather, it's a way to get a top talent to come. That said, the idea of a rotating chair holder (and the people suggested) seem like bad ideas to me, especially since the suggested people are not really academics of the sort that could make the chair worth-while. (I know Rice was provost at Stanford but my impression is that she wasn't pricked for that spot because of her outstanding academic work.)
5.13.2008 11:51pm
Smokey:
A second problem is the fact that "conservative" can mean any number of things. Almost any appointment is sure to outrage some subgroup of "conservatives".
Very true. The only way to avoid getting a 'token' conservative is to allow a major conservative organization, rather than the university, do the choosing. Otherwise it will be tantamount to claiming that having a house negro on the plantation = racial tolerance.

One more point: if CU wants diversity, they should do it like everyone else: hire only conservatives until the balance is roughly 50/50.

All in all, this is just a sham.
5.14.2008 12:00am
jccamp:
For Bill Poser, more from the WSJ article...answers your question

"Sophomore Marissa Malouff sees the campus as a sort of re-education camp. Sheltered rich kids from out-of-state might come for the snowboarding, but while they're here they get dunked in a simmering pot of left-wing idealism. And that, in her view, is how it should be.

"They need to learn about social problems and poverty and the type of things liberal professors are likely to talk about," says Ms. Malouff, a Democrat.

Chancellor Peterson's response: Not to worry. He's not trying to change the essential nature of CU-Boulder.

In fact, Mr. Peterson said it's not imperative that the new professor of conservative thought be an actual conservative.

"We hire lots of scholars of the French language," he says, "and they aren't necessarily French."


There you go. He doesn't have to be a conservative, or cling to his religion or guns out of frustration.

BTW, the inanity in the article was not limited to the Democrats. It also quoted a Republican graduate, who bemoaned the lack of conservative instruction. "There's a lot more about what I'm about that I'd like to know," Mr. Roldan says.
5.14.2008 12:07am
DangerMouse:
This idea is so stupid that I'm not surprised it came from a University Chancellor, even if the man is supposedly sympathetic to conservatives.

If the guy really wanted to do something about the lack of conservatives on campus, he'd do a full investigation of hiring practices and a media effort demanding that the hiring professors stop blacklisting conservatives.
5.14.2008 12:16am
LM (mail):
Not only is the idea of a token conservative adorable (every school will want one), but it has great performance art potential. They should build him/her a plexiglass office in the middle of the quad.
5.14.2008 12:18am
AndrewK (mail):
M:

See, it's not that clear to me. I agree that "Conservative Thought and Policy" is a worthy "field of study," but it isn't obvious if the chair will STUDY the phenomenon of conservatism or will simply BE an alleged conservative. Hiring Rice makes it look like it is the latter, which is a ridiculous notion. Studying Communism might warrant a chair--- having a chair that much be occupied by a Communist is nuts. It's a university, not a zoo.
5.14.2008 12:22am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

In fact, Mr. Peterson said it's not imperative that the new professor of conservative thought be an actual conservative.


To me this means that the proposal is not "affirmative action". It is merely adding a field of study.
5.14.2008 12:24am
MarkField (mail):

That assumes you believe that there is such a thing as "merits." ;-)


Touche'.
5.14.2008 12:28am
Volokh Groupie:
They should build him/her a plexiglass office in the middle of the quad.

I like this idea so much I think it should be put in place for every professor who hasn't yet been granted tenure.
5.14.2008 12:29am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

The only way to avoid getting a 'token' conservative is to allow a major conservative organization, rather than the university, do the choosing.


That may solve the tokenism problem but I don't see how it solves the problem that "conservative" means various things. If, for example, they allow a libertarian organization to make the choice, social conservatives are going to be unhappy, as will be the authoritarian spendthrift warmongers.
5.14.2008 12:38am
Humble Law Student (mail):
Ugh, I feel sorry for the poor sap that takes the position. On second though, maybe I shouldn't feel sorry for any "conservative" that takes such a position.
5.14.2008 1:03am
Jerry F:
I am not a fan of having a chair in conservative studies, but how about colleges offering a class in "Conservative Political Thought" thought by a conservative professor? Does any school offer this? As I envision it, the class would teach conservative arguments on key issues, and require students to articulate these arguments. (Unlike homosexual or feminist classes, students wouldn't be required to pledge that this is what they actually believe; they would get a good grade so long as they make the conservative case well).

It seems to me that every student, whether liberal or conservative, should be able to know what are some key arguments against progressive taxation, homosexuality or illegal immigration, or what are some key arguments in favor of gun rights or the death penalty (just like any student at top schools, whether liberal or conservative, would be able to articulate the liberal arguments on all of these issues).
5.14.2008 1:17am
ithaqua (mail):
"Mr. Peterson — a Republican who took over as chancellor two years ago — says he would like to bring a new luminary to campus every year or two to fill the chair, for an annual salary of about $200,000."

$200,000?? To study conservative thought? Here, I'll put a radio on the chair and tune it to Limbaugh and Hannity. Now pay up :P

I mean, sheesh:

Point 1: any competent political science department is going to study modern 'conservative thought'. Any competent philosophy department is going to study the history of 'conservative thought'. If those two schools are doing their jobs, a Chair of Conservative Thought is redundant; if they aren't, the university has problems one single chair isn't going to fix.

Point 2: as many previous commenters have pointed out, hiring a token conservative is, indeed, tokenism, and it's as offensive to me when it's my people being tokenized as it is when anybody else is. It's honestly not that difficult to hire professors who happen to be conservative; just stop discriminating against conservative views, and poof, they come out of nowhere. It's like magic.

Point 3: as someone also pointed out, you don't need to be a Communist to study Communism, any more than you need to be a Martian to study Mars. Hiring a well-known conservative - especially Rice, who is a renowned expert on the Soviet Union, and who has no special insight into conservative thought (beyond basking in the radiant glow of Bush's brilliant mind for the past however many years) - just emphasizes the token nature of the position. I mean, George freaking Will? What does he know about conservative thought that any Free Republic commenter doesn't? And if you hire a non-conservative who's spent his career studying conservative philosophy, then the chair fails in its stated purpose (diversification of faculty views).

tl;dr version: as a conservative, I recognize this idea as a stupid, stupid waste of money. Unless they hire me :)
5.14.2008 1:27am
ithaqua (mail):
"The only way to avoid getting a 'token' conservative is to allow a major conservative organization, rather than the university, do the choosing. "

I think you misunderstand the idea of 'token'. It doesn't matter what sort of conservative fills this chair; the chair's presence is the important thing, because it lets the university claim to be unbiased and welcoming to conservatives while systematically barring conservatives from other positions. A token creates a public 'false face' of inclusiveness while helping to uphold the genuinely discriminatory culture.

"Ugh, I feel sorry for the poor sap that takes the position. On second though, maybe I shouldn't feel sorry for any "conservative" that takes such a position."

At $200,000/yr, my sympathy rapidly dissolves. Especially if they insist on hiring big-name conservatives (like Rice or Will) who are unqualified for the position and chosen for the sake of publicity.

"I am not a fan of having a chair in conservative studies, but how about colleges offering a class in "Conservative Political Thought" thought by a conservative professor? Does any school offer this?"

Debate class, maybe? Kinda hard to argue two liberal positions against each other there. ("Franklin D. Roosevelt. Great president? Or greatest president?")
5.14.2008 1:39am
Kazinski:
It depends on your reasoning for affirmitive action, the traditional view that it is to redress previous discrimination and level the playing field just isn't operative here; a conservative needs no mans pity. If however you are using the University of Michigan/Supreme Court ruling the purpose of AA is to foster diversity, and expose students and faculty to views they otherwise wouldn't experience, at least for the next 25 20 years.
5.14.2008 2:11am
Kevin P. (mail):
The only way to reform the imbalance in the university is to take the power to hire and grant tenure out of the hands of faculty and administrators altogether and pass it back to representatives directly elected by the people.

Institutions don't reform themselves easily, particularly when they smugly believe that they are correct.
5.14.2008 2:33am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
I don't have a tenured doofus in this fight, but that's not going to stop me from commenting.

Ari-

This is absurd. This chair will become the butt of jokes, as have ethnic and science "studies" chairs before it.

Regardless of how much ridicule those chairs draw, the practice works. They get to frame the debate, set the agenda, etc. for a significant number of students. Works get published. A certain amount of credibility is granted, etc. I'm not saying what's being proposed is a good idea, but all those liberal studies fields that have been created have worked pretty well as far as getting exposure and framing debates.

Although if the chair isn't libertarian it's not going to help libertarians much, except maybe if some decent economics are taught.
5.14.2008 4:00am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The diff in jokes is, you can't make jokes about ethnic and gender studies departments on campus. Other places, sure.
I don't think that courtesy/fear will extend to the lone conservative.
5.14.2008 9:00am
IB Bill (mail) (www):
Guess I'll point out the obvious: Isn't there a contradiction inherent in a conservative accepting an affirmative action post?
5.14.2008 10:13am
Uh_Clem (mail):
Isn't there a contradiction inherent in a conservative accepting an affirmative action post?


Why don't you ask Clarence Thomas?
5.14.2008 11:07am
Brian Mac:

Guess I'll point out the obvious: Isn't there a contradiction inherent in a conservative accepting an affirmative action post?

They should really call it the RINO chair.
5.14.2008 11:34am
Thales (mail) (www):
As long as the U is committed to this pretty dumb idea, why necessarily fill the post with a conservative? Why not someone like Mark Tushnet or Stanley Fish, a committed man of the far left or a postmodernist, respectively, that nonetheless take conservative ideas seriously. This would be similar to the non-religious study of religion, as exemplified at the excellent University of Chicago Divinity School, and would at least make the post plausibly objective (like Margaret Mead among the Samoans, as Will put it).
5.14.2008 11:41am
Rickm:
Jerry F-

I was reading your post and was thinking, hmm.... that sounds reasonable. Then you said this:

"It seems to me that every student, whether liberal or conservative, should be able to know what are some key arguments against progressive taxation, homosexuality or illegal immigration"

As long as you continue to define conservative as anti-homosexual, conservatives will be continued to be rightfully reviled on campus'.
5.14.2008 12:08pm
kevin (mail):

Why not someone like Mark Tushnet or Stanley Fish, a committed man of the far left or a postmodernist, respectively, that nonetheless take conservative ideas seriously.


You mean the same Stan Fish who was caught trying to blacklist members of the NAS (pedagogic conservatives) from Duke's faculty committees.

NYT Story

Yeah Right.
5.14.2008 12:10pm
Brian Mac:

"As long as you continue to define conservative as anti-homosexual, conservatives will be continued to be rightfully reviled on campus'."

So are Christians, Muslims, and the like "rightfully reviled on campus"?
5.14.2008 12:34pm
Rickm:
Brian Mac-

They are not reviled (despite Horowitz' best efforts), and if they were, it would not be rightful.

But I applaud the effort to conflate religion with conservatism.
5.14.2008 12:40pm
Brian Mac:
Rickm:

I guess my question was why being "anti-homosexual" is enough to make one group "rightfully reviled," but not others.
5.14.2008 12:52pm
Iolo:
any competent political science department is going to study modern 'conservative thought'.

So, just out of curiosity, can you name such a department? Link to a course description? Should be pretty easy if "any" department will do this...
5.14.2008 12:54pm
Rickm:
Iolo-

At Temple University, I took a grad course in the political science department that dealt exclusively with Michael Oakeshott's writings.
5.14.2008 12:55pm
Adam J:
I wonder if it's a little bit of schaudenfraude that conservatives frequently experience a similar bias in academia to the bias that blacks &other minorities frequently experience in the other jobs.
5.14.2008 12:59pm
Rickm:
Here's a course at Georgetown.

Johns Hopkins' has a course:
American Conservative Political Thought
This course examines the different strands of American conservative political thought. Readings from Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Michael Oakeshott, Russell Kirk, T.S. Eliot, Friedrich Hayek, and others help students to delineate the intellectual foundations of modern conservative thought. Students focus on the trajectory of American conservative political thought from the founding to the present and compare Southern conservative, neoconservative, religious conservative, and libertarian writers.

Here's Duke.

University of Richmond.

Here's one for Yale.
5.14.2008 1:03pm
SIG357:
I am all for efforts to encourage intellectual diversity on campus, but creating token chairs reserved for conservatives is not the way to do it.




Then what do you think is the way to do it, given that the existing liberal faculty act as gatekeepers to prevent people with different views from gaining tenure?
5.14.2008 1:39pm
Rickm:
SIG357- could you backup that assertion?
5.14.2008 1:40pm
Adam J:
SIG357- So I take it you are a proponent of affirmative action when groups are discriminated against in all cases, not just affirmative action that benefits your own ideological interests.
5.14.2008 1:41pm
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmmm.

This "debate" is an amusing example of conservatism as described by liberals.
5.14.2008 3:02pm
Phaedrus:
"It seems to me that every student, whether liberal or conservative, should be able to know what are some key arguments against progressive taxation, homosexuality or illegal immigration ..."

Simply baffling. I understand arguments against types of taxation or illegal immigration, as these are grounded in policy behaviors, but homosexuality? Name one key "argument" in the classical sense that is "against homosexuality". I'm all ears.


"The only way to reform the imbalance in the university is to take the power to hire and grant tenure out of the hands of faculty and administrators altogether and pass it back to representatives directly elected by the people."

Uh huh. So let's follow that reasoning to another sector of working life: let's confer upon the legislatures the sole power to decide which doctors are hired out of residency for permanent positions as attending physicians and the like. After all, who understands satisfactory progress in the field of medicine better than the public's representatives?
5.14.2008 3:07pm
odi (mail):
Phaedrus:

1. Homosexuality. One biological/epidemiological argument against it would be that the male homosexual sex involves high physical effort with greater risk of spreading diseases than heterosexual sex (both partners transmit high amounts of fluid; higher chance of contact with blood also) without any tangible resultant benefit to the species (procreation being the obvious one). Most major religions and almost every culture in history that has lasted more than a couple hundred years also have arguments/taboos against homosexuality. Not saying I agree with any of this, but the fact that you don't acknowledge the existence of any arguments indicates you probably should broaden those intellectual horizons to at least understand that with which you apparently disagree.

2) Professors vs. Doctors. Your comparison of attending physicians to tenured professors is inherently flawed. In the end, the vast majority of doctors are employed in the private sector. Whereas the taxpayers who foot the bill for a STATE university have reasonable claim to the performance of a tenured professor and/or board of regents, they do not pay the salary of the typical attending physician in the USA. Your analogy would be more accurate in a communist or socialist system, however. But luckily, most Americans still get to make their own decisions regarding health care without the "benefit" of direct government intervention.

Kind regards,

Odi

(but you may call me "Socrates" to your Phaedrus if you like, heh heh)
5.17.2008 2:45pm