Some recent remarks by Larry Summers (reported here) about the dearth of ideological diversity on university campuses have prompted a number of posts at my usual blog reads, George Borjas and Greg Mankiw among them.
Here's what was reported about Summers:
Noting that he had served in the Clinton administration, Summers said he identified strongly as a liberal and a Democrat, but that while in Washington he viewed himself as being on “the right half of the left,” in Cambridge, he landed “on the right half of the right.”Considering his own treatment by the ideological Left at Harvard, "even less ideological diversity" than he was expecting must be pretty low.
In advance of the symposium, Summers ran some numbers from the study. He focused on elite graduate universities and on what he defined as core disciplines for undergraduate education (excluding health professions, for example). When conducting such an analysis, Summers said, he found “even less ideological diversity” than he thought he would, and that in the humanities and social sciences, Republicans are “the third group,” after Democrats and Nader and other left-wing third parties.
In a post written 30 months ago, which began, "I should have my head examined for getting into this discussion," I wrote, in response to an op-ed by Paul Krugman:
I then went on to liken an elite university to a "kibbutz hooked up to an ATM." I commend the whole post to your attention, so that you can see my explanation for the simile.
I agree with the general terms that Krugman uses to frame his explanation:The sort of person who prefers an academic career to the private sector is likely to be somewhat more liberal than average, even in engineering.
But I do not buy into the remainder of his argument, which can be loosely paraphrased as not enough conservatives believe in the virtue of scholarship to get enough of them to be interested in the academy. Rather, I think the explanation for why liberals outnumber conservatives is that they actively like the way the academy is organized.
Taking all of that as background, I would add now that, at present, we are in a low point for conservatives or Republicans self-identifying as such among academics. The reason, I believe, is that my paraphrase of Krugman's argument regarding the virtue of scholarship--while it is not true for most of the conservative- or Republican-leaning people whom I know--seems to be a pretty good characterization of the top Republican in the White House. (And this is coming from someone who spent a year working at the CEA for this Administration and, despite the ample misgivings I have aired on this blog, would do so again.)
Here's a small prediction. When there is a new person in the White House, particularly if it is a Democrat who now has to take on the responsibilities and potential failures of governing rather than merely criticizing the job that others are doing, we will see a bit less self-identification as Democrats or liberals and a bit more as Republicans or conservatives. It won't be anything close to parity in the academy, by virtue of the organization of the academy that I discussed in the earlier post, but it won't be quite so shocking to observers and analysts.