In the last two weeks, I haven't been able to post much. I've had several topics I really wanted to write about, but because I've been so busy, I avoided any post that couldn't be completed in a hundred words or so. Things are finally back to normalcy, so I'll probably be blogging regularly again.
During the time of my semi-hiatus, I kept running into posts about the politics of Academe (political-type politics, not office politics). I've discussed this before in this space, but I'll tease it out a bit more.
First off, as I look at these various posts, I find that the authors (on both sides of the political divide) seem to be incapable of thinking of others except in the most caricatured way. Frankly, it's shameful. The low point is when one poster accuses professors of other political views of having "appalling dullness of the spirit." Ah, yes, that's exactly the problem -- since I can't really marshal an argument against another position, it must be dull of the spirit! That's the ticket!
Let's stop pretending, shall we, that the stronger argument always wins out in Academe. Let's also stop pretending that each field doesn't have its own establishment, and that the establishments aren't sometimes highly politicized. The MLA, for example, is very highly politicized, and anyone contending otherwise may want to consider that honesty is a virtue.
Is there a "marketplace of ideas" in Academe? Yes, there is. The stronger argument does not always win out, but it generally has the edge over weaker arguments. The real marketplace in Acadame isn't some platonic place where ideas are traded -- it is the marketplace we are all familiar with, good old-fashioned hard cash. In the end, money wins the day.
In my field, for example, we could offer lots of reasons that the study of English literature is a romper room from leftist politics, and many of those reasons are probably simultaneously true. At the end of the day, though, it all comes down to money. The path to financial success is easier for leftist literary scholars, and so many more pursue that path.
Imagine, for example, a conservative literary scholar has managed to navigate the shoals of graduate school, freshly-minted with Ph.D. Now comes the time to publish that dissertation. Now Jane Scholar finds herself trying to find a publisher, and discovers that not many academic publishers are friendly toward conservative scholarship. Eventually, though, Jane Scholar manages to find a publisher, a few tiers down from the top.
On the basis of her book, what kind of job does she find? If her politics are conservative, she probably can hope for little more than to have her book ignored; if it gets reviewed, the reviews will be hostile. She'll find herself scrambling for work in a tough market, near the bottom of the academic heap.
Once she gets her job, it will probably have a heavy teaching load (a problem that cuts across the political spectrum at the bottom). Her writing of more books and articles will be slowed down because of that load. Journals, too, aren't produced for free; they take money. If Jane Scholar wants tenure, promotion, or a new job at a better school, she needs to get published. Most academic journals are far more friendly to liberal scholars than conservative scholars. Ditto for academic conferences, etc.
What is Jane Scholar's fate? She might not be able to publish enough to get tenure, and she'll fall out of Academe. She might get tenure, and spend her career in the trenches. If she's prudent, she'll do what so many other conservative scholars do -- either fake being liberal (much more common, I think, than most people imagine), or try to do scholarship that is completely apolitical. While there is nothing wrong with apolitical scholarship, her liberal colleagues aren't bound by the same restrictions.
So you are a conservative group/publication/random person who wants to change the politics of Academe, are you? Is legislation going to work? Political pressure? Endless griping in blog posts?
One thing, and one thing only, will change Academe -- money. See your mouth? Put your money in it's current geographical location. Fund some well-paying named chairs. Create some conservative academic publishing houses (Regnery is not enough) and publish some first-tier scholarship. Fund some swank academic conferences in desirable locations. Create grants for research. In other words, put up some cash!
You would think that conservatives would understand the motivating power of money. If scholars could sudden publish openly conservative work, could get their travel funded and their research supported, and found themselves getting tenure and promotion because they were able to publish prolifically, you would have a lot more openly conservative scholars in Academe (and probably some fake conservative scholars as well). Until then, all things being equal, liberal ideas will win out in the academy, because liberal ideas can get people published, tenured,a nd promoted. Conservatives outside of Academe need either to put up some cash or stop the griping.