In the wake of two years of highly-publicized left-wing activism at campuses across the country, Republicans and conservatives have started to voice growing concern about the extraordinary political imbalance among the professoriate in the social sciences and humanities. But in their effort to address the problem (or just score political points) some GOP legislators are beclowning themselves by proposing utterly unworkable solutions that infringe on academic freedom and in any case would make things far, far worse. The Des Moines Register reports:
A bill in the Iowa Senate seeks to achieve greater political diversity among professors at the state’s Board of Regents universities. Senate File 288 would institute a hiring freeze until the number of registered Republicans and Democrats on the university faculty fall within 10 percent of each other.
“I’m under the understanding that right now they can hire people because of diversity,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa. “They want to have people of different thinking, different processes, different expertise. So this would fall right into category with what existing hiring practices are.”
We at TAI have persistently highlighted academia’s continuous march to the left and the way this decline in diversity can be harmful to both the quality of scholarship (ideas that conform with the pre-existing views of the vast majority of professors are less likely to be scrutinized) and the public’s perception of the legitimacy of scholarship and expertise in general (if it is perceived that professors are all left-wing radicals, then half of the population will increasingly write them off, even when they are making legitimate arguments).
But this is a problem that, for the most part, needs to be addressed internally—by academia and by civil society, not by government. While there may be some role for state legislatures in defunding university programs that are legitimately just sites for political activism cloaked in academic postmodernist jargon, hiring and firing decisions cannot be micromanaged by state legislators. Forcing a political science department to hire a quota of registered Republicans, for example, would never actually work, because candidates could change their voter registrations. And it would be responding to a problem—academia is excessively politicized—by making it even more so.
The Left has a lot to answer for for the state of American higher education. And while it might be good politics for the GOP to simply launch ostentatious, freewheeling attacks on the entire institution, this won’t help improve our universities. If anything, it will discredit conservative efforts for intelligent and incremental reform in academia and leave progressives even more firmly in control.