Bias Bad, Doctrinal Soundness Good

Agape Press recounts a recent survey on higher education in the USA:

USA Today highlighted a recent study by researcher Daniel Klein of Santa Clara University in California. He found that, nationwide, Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-1 among university faculty members in the social science and humanities departments. In departments like anthropology, the disparity grew to 30-1.

This is of course, important to Agape, since Democrats are all going to hell. But it’s hardly news – it was reported back in December, and the study itself, which was actually co-written with Charlotta Stern of Stockholm University, came out a month before. The survey question in fact concerned voting patterns rather than party membership (although voter registration studies are also considered, and are used by Klein and Andrew Western in another paper). It should also be noted (rather than taken for granted) that these ratios accounted for the majority of the academic responders, and that non-voters and third-party voters were in the minority. By “departments like anthropology” Agape means just anthropology, with sociology coming in at 28-1, and both departments far above any other. Klein and Stern state that they themselves have never “supported or voted for a conservative party, and both authors are strongly opposed to aspects of Republican politics—for example, U.S. military intervention.”

But the question is: why do these ratios exist? There are no surprises as Klein and Stern allege discriminatory hiring practices and “groupthink”. But what about other possibilities? Could it not simply be that, as with conservatives in the military, certain jobs attract certain kinds of people? Or even that the nature of certain subjects naturally inspires the majority of academics in those fields to adopt progressive attitudes? Agape, however, unwittingly provides another possible partial explanation, as it quotes a Wall Street Journal article:

Another option for Christians: foregoing the secular campus altogether. In the WSJ, author Charlotte Allen said, “America’s 700-plus religiously affiliated colleges and universities are enjoying an unprecedented surge of growth and a revival of interest.”

So should we really be surprised that so many university departments in the USA apparently lean to the left when there is this huge parallel universe of religious institutions attracting, one strongly suspects, a larger proportion of conservative scholars and students?

Many of these colleges and universities are, of course, well-respected, world-class institutions. But, as we all know, a number are rather different. Just a few days ago I read the latest column from conservative talk-show pastor Doug Giles, in which he urged college students to be “rebels” – and then gave them a list of conservative positions they have to believe in order to qualify as such (it’s not what you think, it’s how you think, Doug). But where did Giles do his recent MA? At Knox Theological Seminary – a Calvinist institution founded by D James Kennedy that prides itself on its website as being “#1 for Doctrinal Soundness”. How can faculty or students be free to express whatever they think, or expect to encounter a range of views, when their institution’s first concern is being DC (Doctrinally Correct)? How could a student dare to raise the topic of human origins, for instance, when Kennedy recently declared at a conference at Knox that evolutionary theory is “communistic” and responsible for 135 million deaths? A person who chooses to associate themselves with a place like Knox knows what they are getting into – but why would anyone who values intellectual enquiry have any respect for the ideas that emanate from such an academic ghetto?

There was a bit of controversy a few years ago when Heythrop College, a Jesuit institution based in London, hired a Wiccan priestess to teach psychology of religion. The complaints missed the mark: the college hires its plumbers and cooks for their professional abilities and qualifications rather than for their religious or political beliefs, and it seems only obvious that it should appoint academic staff on the same basis. As PZ Myers recently recounted on Pharyngula, responding to David Horowitz’s crusade for “academic freedom”:

I’ve sat through a couple of tenure review meetings now, and not once has a candidate’s political position come up. We look at papers and teaching and service.

How many of the institutions that Agape wants Christian students to patronise can say the same thing?

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