A few days ago Pew reported that Republicans, who were already much less positive than Democrats about higher education, have turned very negative on the role of colleges in America. True to form, this worries some liberal commentators, who are calling for outreach – universities should examine their implicit biases, make an effort to hire more conservative faculty, etc..
And you can see the point. After all, among college professors 59 percent identify as Democrats versus only 13 percent as Republicans; senior faculty were even more liberal, with very few identifying themselves as conservatives.
Oh, wait – that wasn’t a survey of college professors; it was a 2004 survey of the military, and the 59-13 comparison was of Republicans versus Democrats. Support for Republicans in the military has eroded since then, but the officer corps is still far more conservative than the country at large. Strange to say, however, I haven’t seen a lot of op-eds demanding that the military change its recruiting practices and practice what amounts to affirmative action on behalf of liberals.
The point is that your political orientation isn’t something handed to you, like your race or ethnicity.
It’s a choice, reflecting your values – and those same values are likely to influence your choice of profession, and possibly how well you perform in that profession. Is there discrimination against would-be academics who express conservative beliefs? I’m sure it happens, but it’s not the main reason conservatives are less likely than liberals to join the academy, just as discrimination against would-be officers with liberal views probably isn’t the main reason the military trends conservative.
But hasn’t the anti-conservative lean of academics gotten more pronounced over time? Yes – but surely that has a lot to do with the changing nature of what it means to be a conservative. When denial of climate change, and for that matter the theory of evolution, become tribal markers, you shouldn’t be surprised to find academics, very much including those in the hard sciences, decline to be identified as members of the tribe.
Which brings me to the abrupt decline in Republican views of colleges? What’s that about? Did the colleges get a lot more liberal? I doubt it.
But Republicans have changed in the age of Trump: what was already a strong strain of anti-intellectualism has become completely dominant. The notion that there was a golden age of conservative intellectuals is basically a myth. But there used to be at least some pretense of taking facts and hard thinking seriously. Now anyone pointing out awkward facts – immigrants haven’t brought a reign of terror, coal jobs can’t be brought back, Trump lost the popular vote – is the enemy.
In fact, I’d argue that anti-intellectualism was, in its own way, as big a factor in the election as racism.
What this means for the future is grim. America basically invented the modern, educated society, leading the way on universal K-12 education, building the world’s finest and most comprehensive higher education system; this in turn was an important factor in how we became leader of the free world. Now a powerful political movement basically wants to make America ignorant again