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Filtering Out Conservative Professors

August 9, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

Everyone has seen the polls indicating that well over 80 percent of college professors identify themselves as liberal Democrats, or further to the left. The explanation for the lopsided results has been debated on the right since at least the 1950s, when William F. Buckley wrote God and Man at Yale. Buckley charged Yale’s faculty with promoting a collectivist and secular bias in their classes, and called upon Yale’s alumni to exert their authority to correct the situation.
Things did not change at Yale. If anything the liberal bias became more pronounced with the passing of time. But the book launched Buckley’s career as a political commentator, so something good came of it.
The explanation for the preponderance of liberal professors given by the academic establishment is that there is a “self-selection” process taking place; that bright conservatives tend to go into business and the law, while liberal intellectuals are drawn to teaching careers, especially in the liberal arts and social sciences.
There is probably something to that. But it does not explain the phenomenon completely. It defies logic to maintain that an 80 percent majority of liberal professors came about because so few bright and talented conservatives want to teach in our universities. Something else is at work. But what?
The people in charge of hiring at our universities will swear up and down that they do not ask candidates for their political views during interviews. Roger Bowen, a prominent member of the American Association of University Professors, was quoted years ago on this question. He told the interviewer, “I’ve been a department chair, I’ve been a college president. I’ve conducted more searches than I can begin to describe, and I can tell you I have never asked a candidate what his or her party identification is, and I don’t know of a search committee in the country that would do that.”
David French, writing in the July 5 online edition of National Review, agrees with Bowen. French has experience with this matter. He is the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and has represented professors who feel their rights have been violated because of their conservative views.
French insists, “In all my years representing conservative professors, I’ve never seen questions regarding party identification.”
But French maintains there are other ways to winnow conservatives from a field of applicants. He writes, “Often academic departments define academic positions in such a way that effectively excludes the conservative point of view” without saying so specifically.
French offers an example: “a current job posting at Harvard’s divinity school. It’s for a tenure-track professor of ‘religion, violence, and peace-building.’ There’s nothing inherently conservative or liberal about the topic.” But French calls our attention to a “gem of a sentence hidden within the job description.” It reads: “It is understood that applicants will employ forms of analysis that address race, gender, sexuality, and/or other intersecting forms of social power, such as womanist, feminist, and/or queer approaches.”
”Ahh yes,” writes French. “‘Intersectionality’ rears its radical head,” making clear the teaching position is one that has been “redefined and refocused” by the hiring committee “to such an extent that it essentially excludes conservative inquiry. Thus, they can honestly say they’ve never discussed politics in hiring decisions because the discipline itself has narrowed so much that it closes itself to conservatives.”
French also points to one school’s description of its courses in anthropology as a “discipline that is focused on questioning religious and cultural myth, particularly myth that celebrates national, cultural or racial superiorities.” Also to sociology as the study of “the origins of inequality as a source of alienation.”
The result? Left-wing academics do not have to specifically and purposefully exclude conservatives. French: “Leftist academics are often the proverbial fish who don’t know they’re wet. They’ve created and inhabit a world that by its very terms and definitions is inhospitable to conservative thought. If you frame scholarship primarily in leftist terms and limit inquiries to more left-leaning areas of interest, it should shock exactly no one that mainly leftists apply.”
On another topic: the Oxford comma. It is a topic that has intrigued me for many years without my being aware that it had a name, or that there is any controversy surrounding it.
According to Wikipedia, the Oxford comma is “a comma placed immediately before the coordinating conjunction (usually and or or) in a series of three or more terms. For example, a list of three countries might be punctuated either as ‘France, Italy, and Spain’ (with the serial Oxford comma in place), or as ‘France, Italy and Spain’ (without the serial comma).”
I have never been able to figure out why some writers use what I now know is the Oxford comma, and others do not, but have never taken the time to explore the question. A recent legal case in Maine drew me to probe the matter.
It turns out that opinions vary. Some style guides recommend the comma; others do not. It is called the Oxford comma because it is the house style of the Oxford University Press. The Associated Press Stylebook, on the other hand, advises against its use.
I have always felt that there should be no criticism attached to its use; that it should be the writer’s judgment call — in most cases. One would not write, for example, “I had oatmeal, coffee and ham, and eggs for breakfast.”
The Maine court case illustrated that there are times when the comma is necessary. The wire services reported on a labor dispute between drivers and their employer in the state. The drivers insisted they deserved overtime pay for delivering dairy products; the employer disagreed, pointing to a state law that spelled out work activities that did not require overtime pay.
The law states that overtime pay is not required for the “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of agricultural produce, meat and fish products and perishable goods.”
Here’s the court’s decision, according to the website howstuffworks.com: “Without an Oxford comma before the word ‘or,’ it could be interpreted to mean that, because the drivers weren’t packing items intended either for shipment or distribution, then they could be paid overtime. But with the comma? Then the sentence would have contained separate activities: ‘packing for shipment’ would have been its own distinct activity. With packing and distribution listed as two separate tasks that didn’t warrant overtime, the dairy drivers’ case would have been lost.”
But, “because of the lack of a comma, it wasn’t lost. When labor laws are unclear, the justice system is designed to benefit the laborers, said the judge, who ruled in favor of the dairy drivers. ‘For want of a comma, we have this case,’ the judge wrote in his statement.”
Voila! Teachers and homeschooling paretns now have something to point to when their students ask for a practical application of what they learn when studying grammar and syntax.

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Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about this and other educational issues. The e-mail address for First Teachers is fitzpatrijames@sbcglobal.net, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford, CT 06492.

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