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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:
46 Comments
Affirmative Action for Conservative Academics Revisited:

Last fall, I wrote a post criticizing the idea of affirmative action for conservative academics. At the time, I didn't think that any university would actually adopt this extremely dubious proposal. However, the University of Colorado's plan to create a "Chair in Conservative Thought and Policy" has proven me wrong. Therefore, this may be a good time to reair my objections to the idea:

Among other things, [AA for conservatives] would require universities to define who counts as a "conservative" for affirmative action purposes, a task that they aren't likely to do well. Affirmative action for conservatives would also give job candidates an incentive to engage in deception about their views in the hopes of gaining professional advancement. Moreover, conservative professors hired on an affirmative basis despite inferior qualifications would find it difficult to get their ideas taken seriously by colleagues and students. They might therefore be unable to make a meaningful contribution to academic debate - the very reason why we want to promote ideological diversity in hiring to begin with.

One of the above objections may not be applicable to the Colorado plan. It is much less likely that job candidates will engage in deception about their views to gain a two year temporary appointment than to get a permanent tenure-track position. However, the other points certainly are relevant. As I discussed in more detail in this series of posts, lack of ideological diversity in academia is a real problem. However, affirmative action for conservatives is a poor solution.

UPDATE: I do not object on principal to a chair intended for a scholar who studies conservatism, even if he isn't necessarily one himself; such a scholar might well be a liberal, radical, or libertarian. However, the Colorado plan seems clearly designed to ensure that only conservatives are hired for the position. If the goal were to simply study conservatism as a political movement or ideology, that is probably better done within the confines of existing academic disciplines, such as economics, political science, law, and philosophy.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Affirmative Action for Conservative Academics Revisited:
  2. Ideological Affirmative Action at University of Colorado:
55 Comments