Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Ideology in the academy, Part II

A few weeks go, I posted this about ideology in the university system, arguing that those with conservative views are somewhat stigmatized, but probably not hurt that much.  A few days ago, Nicholas Kristof put out an editorial in the New York Times making some more harsh accusations about bias in academia.

Kristof claims that there is actual hiring bias, making it difficult for conservatives and Republicans to get hired.  The basis of the claim?  A type of survey question that one should never trust.  If you ever come across a survey asking, "how would you behave if...," or some variation thereof, don't trust it.  Asking people about their behavioral response to a hypothetical scenario presumes that people can predict their own behavior.  They can't!  That doesn't mean their answers aren't meaningful in some sense, but we cannot take responses to those prompts at face value.

Now, part of the basis of Kristof's claim is that if academics are asked whether or not they are willing to hire Republicans and conservatives, some will say no.  But, that's pretty different from looking at a random sample of academic job applicants and seeing how their political ideology or partisanship influences their likelihood of being hired, controlling for publication record and academic pedigree.

I have never seen such a study, but I have some observational data that can be shared in a vague manner.  I have had campus job interviews in academia at eight separate departments.  On an academic job interview, there are one-on-one discussions with individual faculty members on the hiring committee, plus meals, usually with hiring committee members.  Let's say each institution scheduled extensive discussions with eight faculty members.  With eight interviews, that would be an extensive discussion with somewhere around 64 people.  Of those estimated 64 people, not one ever asked me about my partisan affiliations or political beliefs.  And I specialize in the study of American politics.

Nobody from my grad school cohort was ever asked either.

This does not mean that the question is never posed.  However, I've never heard of it happening, which suggests either than my experience, combined with my cohort's experience, is not representative, or there isn't really any hiring bias in academia because the topic doesn't tend to come up in academic job interviews.  How would I know the difference?

I would need to see a study in which someone puts together a random sample of job applicants, quantifies the strength of their publication records, pedigrees, etc., measures their political ideology and partisanship, and demonstrates that personal politics influence the probability of being hired, controlling for the more obvious factors.  I haven't seen that.

There is an indisputable leftward tilt to academia, and there are negative social consequences for anyone who challenges liberal orthodoxy.  Why?  That's hard to say, and perhaps a question for later, but I doubt that the problem is at the hiring stage.

No comments:

Post a Comment