Discrimination in Academia: Lessons Beyond the Ivory Tower?
By Bryan Caplan
More than one attendee at the Social Philosophy and Policy conference voiced dismay over David Horowitz’s promotion of the Academic Bill of Rights. A typical plank:
Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate. While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints. Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.
What’s not to like? According to its critics, the ABOR damages academic freedom by forcing professors to respectfully present viewpoints that they consider unworthy of respect. In fact, it is a thinly veiled order to give “equal time” to disreputable right-wing views.
But isn’t ideological discrimination against non-leftists (another key issue in the Bill) a serious problem? The ABOR opponents admitted that it does happen, but maintained that it is incredibly rare – and already against existing university policies. Right-wing students who cry “ideological discrimination” are probably just angry that they got the grade they deserved.
As far as ideological discrimination against students goes, I actually agree. What’s interesting, though, is that left-wing academics are so quick to dismiss the importance of the kind of discrimination with which they have the most personal experience. I found myself thinking: Gee, if ideological discrimination is rare, and accusations of ideological discrimination are primarily a tactic for shifting responsibility for one’s own failures onto others, maybe there’s a broader lesson. Maybe if you ran a business instead of a classroom, you’d start to see all “discrimination” in a similar light.
In fact, as I’ve argued before, since they are non-profits, universities are likely to feature unusually high levels of discrimination. If you don’t see it there, you have to wonder if it really exists.
P.S. Want to learn more about ideology in academia? Don’t miss my colleague Dan Klein at next week’s AEI conference on “Reforming the Politically Correct University.”