Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Conservatives have wrong mind-set for Academia

The Chronicle of Higher Education has the story of a conservative public policy professor who argues that conservative values are the reason there are fewer people on the right in academia.  

He and his wife surveyed undergraduates and came to this conclusion.  Here is my favorite paragraph:

For example, liberal students reported valuing intellectual freedom, creativity, and the chance to write original work and make a theoretical contribution to science. They outnumbered conservative students two to one in the humanities and social sciences — which are among the fields most likely to produce interest in doctoral study. Conservative students, however, put more value on personal achievement and orderliness, and on practical professions, like accounting and computer science, that could earn them lots of money.

This is an interesting argument and generally makes sense to me.   What do you think?


Anonymous said...

For most liberal students I know it about the journey. They want to have as good of time as possible while in school. They'll smoke a little of this, drink a lot of that, and don't care about the morality of how many people they've slept with who's last name they have never even heard.

Whereas conservatives are more goal oriented and want to get out of the liberal abyss that is a University campus. They just want to get out, make money, and start a family.

C. Irwin said...

I find the characterization provided by "anonymous" to be quite contrary to the truth. I do not find promiscuity, drug and alcohol use and other "loose morals" to be more prevalent amongst liberal students than conservative students, nor do I believe the reverse to be true.

As a liberal student (who will be pursuing a Ph.D. in History), I agree that I put less value on making money than my conservative peers. For me and many of my peers, the idea of publishing a book that another professor would use in a class or recommend to a student is more important than money, much more important. The university should be a place of new ideas and exciting scholarship. Some students, however, do not view the college experience as anything more than a means to an end; some students do not feel its important to continue learning once a degree is in hand. I don't know if it's fair to say that liberal members of academia don't value personal achievement as much as others- I always strove for A's!

And that's okay. Anonymous should reassess his/her broad and unfair attacks, though.

Lammers said...

In biology, one will often see a species described as evolutionarily "primitive" or "derived." Yet that really is sloppy usage, reflecting the antiquated idea of a linear "Scala Naturae." A moment's reflection will show that any organism existing today cannot be "primitive," that it has been subject to evolution as long as any other. Properly, it is *characteristics* of the organism that may be described as primitive or derived. Most organisms are a comnbination of primitive and derived characteristics. Platypuses retain the primitive feature of egg-laying, but there is nothing primitive about that duckbill!

In the same way, I am offended by the simplistic dichotomy of "conservative" vs. "liberal" evinced by Winneblogo and the Anonymous commenter. Anyone who honest-to-God believes that our entire body politic can be divided into two diametrically opposed types is, frankly, a damned idiot not worth having a discussion with. There may be *views* that are conservative or *attitudes* that are liberal, but applying these descriptors to a *person* is just flat out wrong. It evinces a simple-minded ignorant view of the complexities of our society.

A lot of the problems with our society in recent years are caused by this view. What it does is to force you to adopt viewpoints you may not actually like, to stay "faithful" to the side with which you identify. For example, if I see myself as a conservative because I am in favor of reduced government, greater personal responsibility, and fiscal parsimony, I am also forced to be againsy abortion and gun-control and in favor of the war in Iraq and injecting one brand of Christianity into public life.

In other words, each of these labels brings potentially unwanted obligations with it.

People need to stop seeing the world in this childishly simplistic fashion and revel in the endless shades of gray that make up our society.

Lake Winneblogo said...

Although lammers is on his high-horse about over-simplification of the dichotomy of liberal and conservative, it seems to me that this kind of generalzation has something to tell us.

No one claims that there are only two types of people. Using the political split of liberal/conservative does help give us insight into the ways we organize our lives. It can also provide some idea about the sorts of people who choose certain professions. That is what this story attempts to do.

The venom in our society is not because people are different, but because we are all so venomous.

lammers said...

Hey, what you call a "high horse" I prefer to regard as "an unassailable position"!

I still say gross oversimplification and excessive categorization are the enemies of understanding. As academics, we MUST have the werewithal to juggle complexity, to see nuances, to appreciate the shades of gray, without succumbing to the urge to lump huge amounts of diversity under convenient labels and then see those assemblages as uniform and monolithic. Doing so is what leads us to prejudice, bigotry, and animosity. "Them (fill in the blank) are all the same!"