Someone else notices the need for an ideologically diverse faculty!

On February 13, The Stanford Review published a great article by Brian O’Connell exposing a political bias in Stanford’s faculty by tracking their contributions to the 2008 presidential candidates.  He found that over 246 faculty donated at least $200 to now-President Barack Obama, while only 3 donated to Sen. John McCain.  In fact, Stanford University was collectively the 9th largest donor to the Obama campaign of any organization in the country.  On May 1, Brian and I wrote another article tracking donations at the perceived-to-be right-leaning Hoover Institution, only to find an even split in the number of Obama and McCain donors – 9 each.

One of the best articles I’ve read this week not only affirms what we found at Stanford at another school, but takes it a step farther, asking if the overwhelming partisan bias actually hinders our education.  Check out University of Oregon journalism student Dan Lawton’s great article in the Christian Science Monitor, “Nearly all my professors are Democrats. Isn’t that a problem?” – it’s worth your time.  What makes it even better is that Lawton makes this case, even though he doesn’t identify as a Republican or a conservative.

Here’s one passage:

In my column, published in the campus newspaper The Oregon Daily Emerald June 1, I suggested that such a disparity hurt UO. I argued that the lifeblood of higher education was subjecting students to diverse viewpoints and the university needed to work on attracting more conservative professors.

I also suggested that students working on right-leaning ideas may have difficulty finding faculty mentors. I couldn’t imagine, for instance, that journalism that supported the Iraq war or gun rights would be met with much enthusiasm.

What I didn’t realize is that journalism that examined the dominance of liberal ideas on campus would be addressed with hostility.

And even if you think this is a caricature, it still has a great point:

As we hammered away at the issue, one of his colleagues with whom he shared an office grew visibly agitated. Then, while I was in mid-sentence, she exploded.

“You think you’re so [expletive] cute with your little column,” she told me. “I read your piece and all you want is attention. You’re just like Bill O’Reilly. You just want to get up on your [expletive] soapbox and have people look at you.”

From the disgust with which she attacked me, you would have thought I had advocated Nazism. She quickly grew so emotional that she had to leave the room. But before she departed, she stood over me and screamed.

“You understand that my column was basically a prophesy,” I shot back. I had suggested right-leaning ideas weren’t welcome on campus and in response the faculty had tied my viewpoints to racism and addressed me with profanity-laced insults.

Lawton goes on to talk about possible remedies, from basically an endowed chair of conservatism or mandating a certain number of faculty positions go to conservatives.  He rightfully concludes there’s no good solution.

This is especially interesting at Stanford given that one of the long-term, ongoing issues that the ASSU and GSC work on year after year is graduate student and faculty diversity.  They’re right in theory – Stanford would be a better place if students were exposed to more diverse backgrounds and the perspectives that come with those backgrounds.  But there’s also more than one kind of diversity.  As Lawton concludes it’s unfair to disqualify the best from coming to Stanford or teaching at Stanford to fill certain expectations for political diversity, so too is it for race.   And while students have every right to demand more racially diverse graduate students and faculty in some form, it would also be nice for students to demand more diverse political perspectives from their professors in the same way.  After all, what’s it worth to hold any opinion if it can’t be challenged and you can’t learn and grow from those challenges?  Shouldn’t you understand why you hold the opinions you do?

Subscribe to the Stanford Review