Look out. Something scary is coming this way.
It's a guy named David Horowitz from California and he's
apparently working his way east. He's got Colorado all
discombobulated with a proposal he calls an "Academic Bill of Rights,"
and it's only a matter of time before he shows up in Nebraska.
So, you may ask, what could be scary about an "Academic Bill
of Rights"? I'll tell you.
Horowitz is upset because there are far more liberals than
conservatives on most college faculties. The Denver Post this month
reported that a "survey of political science departments in four-year
state schools found five Democrats for every one Republican."
And if you think that's lopsided, try English departments.
Here's the scary part. Here's what Horowitz proposes to do
about the imbalanceat least according to Gail Schoettler, once the
Democratic nominee for governor of Colorado. She writes in the Sep.
14 Post that:
"What is perhaps most alarming is Horowitz's effort to shove
political partisanship into college hiring. His website tells
students how to investigate their universities for political bias. It
specifies which departments to attack, how to find the political
affiliations of faculty and administrators at the county clerk's
office, how to create a spreadsheet documenting professors' politics,
and how to report back to him."
Diane Carmen, a Post columnist, calls Horowitz a "thought
cop" who maintains that studying "works by John Steinbeck, Nelson
Algren, Stephen Crane, Alice Walker, Richard Wright and others,
reflects 'the Stalinist grip on American universities.'"
(Confession: I taught works by Steinbeck, Algren, Crane,
Walker, and Wright, and I didn't even know I was in the Stalinist
grip. But as a pre-modern English teacher, I also didn't know what
the Stalinist grip felt like.)
But here's what I think I do know: that Horowitz is in
another world if he thinks he can get something like an equal balance
of liberals and conservatives on college faculties.
Here's why: he'd be fighting a self-selection process
whereby a disproportionate number of liberals migrate to college
faculties and a disproportionate number of conservatives go to jobs
that pay a lot more.
Conservatives are hard-wired to make lots of money. They
see a campus as a loony bin where the loonies are running things and
making fun of people pulling in ten times what the loonies are pulling
Liberals, among whom I guess I count myself after 40 years
of teaching, are hard-wired to lead lives of shabby gentilitywhich
makes us think we're somehow better people for it.
That's because while most conservatives are very smart about
money, most academics aren't.
A case in point: my starting salary as a teacher in 1960
was $4,800 a year. My previous job had been reporting and editing for
a weekly newspaper in Omaha for $7,200 a year. My friends on the
newspaper thought I was crazy to take a job for two-thirds of what I
had been making.
The Truth, Mainly
My wife and I had one baby when we came to Lincoln. Within
four years, we had two more. We wrote hot checks to Hinky-Dinky the
day before payday, then raced them to the bank the next day.
But I had no regrets. I thought a college campus was a
wonderful place: free ballgames to go to, stimulating people to talk
to, hilariously witty discussions about how little money we were
And in my experience, that's the way most faculty were.
When our parents asked us when we were going to get real jobs with
real salaries, we'd quote Pascal at them: "The heart has reasons
which reason knows not of."
Then we'd sigh nobly and stare off into the middle distance
at something our parents couldn't see.
Hard to put a price tag on something like that. But most
conservatives could do it.
And when they did, and we saw how much more money we could have made
had we followed their route, we'd tell them that the nobility of our
calling was somehow related to the paucity of our paychecks.
Still that paucity was inconvenient and a bit irritating.
We were like the ne'er-do-well title character in E. A. Robinson's
poem, "Miniver Cheevy":
Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and
And thought about it.
But our irritation never got much beyond that passive
resentment. By and large, faculties are happier than real people.
And here's my point: Horowitz is on a fool's errand if he
thinks he can get hard-headed conservatives to replace soft-headed
liberal faculty for anything like the same amount of money.
Think Dick Cheney teaching English for $40,000 a year.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail