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Humanities Departments Need External Accountabiility

Reader comment on item: Push Back on the University Front

Submitted by Stu Fagin (United States), Jul 6, 2011 at 22:56

The problem of left orientation in humanities departments is considerable. Fox News recently reported that political affiliation is 30:1 Democrat to GOP for American humanities departments, while 7:1 for faculty overall. Efforts such as Campus Watch and Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights are welcome but their potential effect is limited. Tenure ensures that individual members need not be overly concerned by outside opinion. Once the left commandeers the new-faculty search committees the bias is ensured to perpetuate.

The examples of conservative cultural inroads that Dr. Pipes cites do not easily extrapolate to academia generally. In the cable news arena Fox competes on a level field with CNN and MSNBC. Viewers are not financially incentivized to patronize one network over another. In contrast, here in Texas, the premier public university, the University of Texas at Austin, has a privileged position. In just about any field a very high quality education can be obtained at about a third of the price (in-state residents only) demanded by similar quality private institutions. Most college-bound students in Texas who can meet the academic standards of UT will choose to go there. I have yet to meet a single individual who has declined to go to UT because the humanities faculty is too liberal (which it is), despite the fact that Texans are generally conservative. UT does not have to develop a more diverse humanities faculty to attract students. The private, intellectually diverse, universities that Dr. Pipes cites (e.g. Pepperdine) will always be relegated to a niche (and rich) market given the contrast in tuition costs.

What to do? I see different solutions for public and private universities. The humanities departments of public universities are public institutions. It is improper for any public institution to be commandeered by a clique of individuals without external accountability. Consider the Supreme Court as an analogy. Imagine if, when a member of the Supreme Court retires, the new member is selected by the remaining members. Once there were five liberals on the court a tipping point would be reached and no conservative justice could ever be appointed. Just as new members of SCOTUS are selected through an external process, so should the humanities faculty of public universities. The University of Texas System has a Board of Regents with general oversight responsibilities. Its role should be expanded to approve new faculty hires (as well as promotion and tenuring) based on recommendations from external expert panels. Decisions would be based on scholasticism rather than political orientation. Imagine Dr. Pipes advising UT on such decisions regarding the Middle East Studies department of UT. Works for me.

The humanities departments of private universities are a more difficult matter. It seems that they, like every other private cultural institution (newspapers, charitable foundations, NGO's, zoos, you-name-it) are destined to be commandeered by the left. The only lever I can identify is the pressure alumni can exert to curtail the most egregious practices.

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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