Are we led into our professions by our politics? Or by economics?
A few years ago, Alan Kors at Penn lamented the state of the academic world, specifically the rarity of the conservative professor. ”One is desperate to see people of independent mind willing to enter the academic world. On the other hand, it is simply the case they will be entering hostile and discriminatory territory,” he told the New York Times, when asked about his reaction when a conservative student reveals his intention to become a professor.
The Times suggested the reason for the imbalance of conservative vs. liberal professors is that hiring committees, made up of mostly liberals, aren’t excited about that which the conservative is likely to research and pursue. And thus, the campus is skewed.
Now there’s a new theory. Conservative students are less likely to pursue a PhD. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Matthew Woessner, a conservative Penn State assistant professor of public policy, has finished a study (“Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don’t Get Doctorates“) showing conservative students “put more value on achievement and orderliness, and on practical professions, like accounting and computer science, that could earn them lots of money.”
How big of an issue is this? “I don’t sense that for many faculty who consider themselves conservative it’s a major problem,” says Dr. King Banaian, the chair of the Economics Department at St. Cloud State University. “I’ve been treated well. And, in fact, treated well by people who know my political views and want to engage in a discussion about them.”
Banaian says most faculty don’t want to engage in political discussions. “They want to come in, do their research, teach their students… and then go home at the end of the day,” he said.
So what’s the problem? “Sometimes you have people all of one viewpoint discussing a problem that’s happening on campus — issues regarding the proper curriculum, behaviors in the dormitories, or off campus, where I do think faculty that come from different viewpoints can provide a different perspective on what kinds of things students should be learning. What should be the mission of the university? And those are the places that because you are going to have this imbalance that we find, you’re also going to find those discussions are dominated by left-of-center faculty, and those are the discussions I’m more concerned about.”
Banaian, who also writes the blog SCSU Scholars, and also hosts a weekend radio show aimed at conservatives, contends the imbalance of philosophy shows up in the curriculum, by “marginalizing the Western Canon.”
Banaian says at least to some extent, there is a political distinction between the students he sees and the career track they follow. But he also thinks the track a student chooses is based on economic realities. “I would say we probably have a higher proportion of students in the business and economics fields than we would have, say, if you look at an English department or a sociology program. I think more to the point, is that there seems to be a strong socioeconomic reason why students pick certain professions over others. There are some professions they know where you can get a return on your investment, you can get a paycheck faster, and for those students who come from lower-middle-class backgrounds, that can be quite attractive. It turns out your students who come from higher-income backgrounds typically will choose professions where a PhD is needed to do what it is you’re trained to do.”
And you? Consider your career track. Did political philosophy, economic reality, or something else guide your decision?
(Photo: University of Minnesota)