Dan Lawton : Journalist

Does an all Democratic Faculty Hurt Learning?

Among the full-time faculty of the University departments of journalism, law, political science, sociology and economics, there are 111 registered Oregon voters. Two of them are Republicans.

By Patrick Finney

That’s what I discovered last week, via the public voting terminal at the Lane County Voting Office. I spent two hours there, with a spreadsheet full of names generated from the various department Web sites. It was a laborious process, but I was in no hurry. In fact, I even took a break to eat a sandwich and muse on the gorgeous summer weather outside. There would be plenty of time to continue the long, winding procession of faculty down the screen.

When I finished, there were 98 Democrats, nine Independents, two Republicans and two members of the Pacific Green party staring back at me. Both of the two Republicans were in the School of Law, and one of them was University President Dave Frohnmayer. I wondered, as I came across his name marked red in a sea of blue, if he was aware of the monolithic politics of University faculty. Did it irk him? Did it belie the diversity standards that his tenure had ushered in?

The Diversity Plan that Frohnmayer signed off on in May 2006 was a massive effort reviewed by more than 1,000 people, and will remain a prominent feature of his legacy. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just dedicated to increasing racial and ethnic diversity, but takes a broad-based approach to helping “the individual learn to question critically, think logically and communicate clearly.” In addition, it explicitly includes political affiliation as one of the elements of diversity it intends to promote.

Three years later, it’s hard to give the University’s efforts on political diversity anything besides a failing grade. Not only do voting statistics reveal political uniformity, but the checkbooks of the faculty members are just as indicative. Ninety-six percent of political contributions made by faculty to presidential candidates in 2008 went to Democrats. In 2004, it was 100 percent.

As a student with liberal social viewpoints and a middle-of-the-road economic philosophy, I didn’t expect to feel out of place at the University. I assumed the faculty would be primarily left-leaning, but that there would be a small yet formidable cadre of intellectual conservatives to provide the other side of the spectrum.

There wasn’t.

That’s not to say there isn’t a range of political viewpoints on campus. But those on the right of University faculty are basically Social Democrats, with the left represented by an anti-capitalism that flirts openly with Marx. When conservatism does enter the picture, it’s only as a punching bag for students and professors, a tired act that became all too frequent during the presidential election.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reflect,” Mark Twain once said. I spent my first few months as a graduate student here doing just that. I came back to school to prepare myself for a career in which I would be expected to defend my convictions. I matriculated seeking discourse and found conformity, and as I realized there would be little intellectual challenge going left, I drifted right.

In part, I believe this transformation aided my intellectual and professional development. Liberal journalism is so normative that it’s difficult to stake a claim. But if your politics are independent enough that you can occasionally gravitate across the aisle, there’s an expanse of fertile ground waiting. From this realization I have profited, but, in general, the dearth of conservative viewpoints damages the experiences of University students, regardless if they acknowledge it.

The lifeblood of learning is exposure to a diverse and combative set of viewpoints. This sort of framework allows students to sift through ideologies and compose their own independent belief systems. The concept of “diversity” and the “marketplace of ideas” shouldn’t just act as convenient adages for progressive grandstanding, but as a philosophy that operates at the core of higher education.

There needs to be movement – along with intellectual consistency – on the issue of political diversity by faculty and administrators. If queried, most professors would likely agree that a university with only 2 percent Democrats would be inadequate. However, when the discrepancy is in their favor, they appear uninspired to act.

As a student, I want a campus full of professors not only from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, but different political backgrounds as well. I want Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Marxists, Independents and anyone with a halfway decent idea that doesn’t incorporate hate. That’s what true diversity means to me. I want that more than free football tickets, a new basketball arena or pretty much anything else a University could offer. In exchange for paying $20,000 in tuition a year, I think I deserve it.

Don’t you.

This column was published in the Oregon Daily Emerald on June 1

Related Post:  Do Journalism Schools Need More Conservatives?

9 responses to “Does an all Democratic Faculty Hurt Learning?”

  1. […] column and rebuts it.  I think this is a pretty neat feature, so I decided to steal it.  My column last week on the need for more political diversity (specifically more conservative voices) at UO generated a […]

  2. […] grad student Dan Lawton has a new post over at his blog with responses to his recent ODE opinion piece on the lack of ideological diversity on campus. The  responses are all very predictable […]

  3. Christopher says:

    After reading your column in the Monitor, I came here to see the original and find out what all the fuss is about. Clearly there’s nothing here that justifies the hostile response you seem to have gotten from some faculty and students. You address some vexing and important issues. But I don’t think they’re quite as pat as you make them out to be.

    The first among these is the role of diversity in public discourse. I don’t share the view of some of my fellow liberals that diversity is good in-and-of-itself. Diversity – or rather, tolerance of diversity- is a good by way of the effect it has on a society. It’s good for individual members because it allows them to cultivate their abilities without arbitrary impediments of bigotry or custom, and it’s good for society as a whole because it diminishes injustice and helps the best ideas and the most capable individuals come to the fore. But in itself, diversity is neither good nor bad.

    If you want to understand whether the lack of political diversity at the University of Oregon is a sign of something sinister, you’ll have to delve more deeply into the source of that state. Have any republicans been denied tenure or faculty positions, based on their political affiliation? Maybe so, but then that’s the harm which needs to be addressed, not a lack of diversity, per se. I’m not yet convinced that political intolerance is endemic to the University of Oregon, thoughtless and hostile comments from your some of your colleagues notwithstanding (there will always be somebody willing to provide these kinds of soundbites). But I’m open to the possibility, and it’s an issue that deserves careful and sober analysis, which you have not provided in either of your columns. I’m looking forward to the next one.

  4. Kenneth says:

    After reading your opinion column posted on Yahoo! News I could not help but investigate further. I went to Clemson, one of the largest universities in South Carolina. My freshman English professor touted his liberal agenda and I was one of the few who would oppose him. My grade suffered as a result. As a fiscal conservative and social moderate, I was surprised to see a professor bring their political views into an institution of higher education. I thought I was being taught on how to make an effective argument, but in fact I was being taught to make a argument that which with the professor agreed.

    It seems the only classes that professor’s may bring in their political biases and retain the subject matter of the course are in the liberal arts (English, Philosophy, Art, etc.). And these types of classes seem to be overwhelmingly dominated by liberal professors.

    Now, as a law student in Michigan, I can’t help but notice that higher education leans FAR left. As I write in my papers or final exams I make sure to be a stronger advocate with the plaintiff and not the “evil” corporation. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if this is making me less of a candidate for corporate law.

    It is hard to believe that a prestigious university such as Oregon would employ a professor who cannot present a formal argument without associating Republicans with the South and Jefferson Davis (implying all Republicans are Southern and racist). Yes, the South tends to be the most conservative part of the country, yet the higher education institutions are also predominantly taught by liberal professors. Socially, we live in a highly agrarian and religious society and are taught that what we will get will be a result of what we can create with our own two hands, and to never expect a handout. This is the foundation that can be attributed with our leaning towards Republicans. Everyone is entitled to their right to disagree with this. Yet, a professor that is offended by a student who wants a more diverse education is insulting. Their job is to inform and let their student decide, not spoon feed political ideologies. Professors are also supposed to teach their students to argue well. It looks like these “professors” haven’t learned not to commit ad hominem fallacies, personal attacks and generalizations in order to provide an effective argument. I wonder what institutions gave them their Ph.D.’s?

    My grandfather (a staunch Clinton supporter) taught me to get both sides of the spectrum before making my own decision. If the liberal arts are flooded with “liberal” professors are we getting a “diverse” education that teaches us to look on both sides? I think not.

  5. Jack says:

    Perhaps one reason why most professors are Democrats is because the more education and learning one attains, the more one sees how the Republican party represents old fashion ideas out of touch with rationalism and reason. I have seen a lot of Republicans support ideas and policy by thumping on the Bible. So it leads to reason that professors tend to be rational, learned folks who tend to base beliefs on science and reason, the antithesis of “conservative” Republicanism.

  6. lise says:

    PLEASE check out this website. They take legal action to unfair political biases on college campuses.They are doing amazing things!

  7. jadams76 says:

    I was intrigued by your idea of a program to address the liberal bias of professors on college campuses. I too don’t believe a “quota system” is fair. However while “quotas” is no longer operative, clearly not enough is being done to recuit and encourage conservative teachers at colleges today. If a conservative candidate and a liberal candidate for professor were to apply to teach at Oregon or elsewhere, every effort should be made to select the consevative candidate. Even if the liberal candidate is more qualified. This will encourage more conservatives to enter academia . This should be done at least until this historic imbalance and injustice on campus is rectified. If the faculty continues to select only those that think like them then this liberal ideological prejudice needs to be addressed in the courts. If only liberals are getting tenure and department chairs, the “good old hippie network” will continue to keep opposing viewpoints down and not be representative of America as a whole. Except…it’s o.k. when hypocritical openminded liberals discriminate .. …Isn’t it?

  8. Jack says:

    Quote: “ideological diversity is important”. But, Ideological diversity does not mean free reign to argue that the earth is flat, the Bible is the “word of GOD”, Intelligent Design has scientific merit, etc. Some things are just “wrong”.

  9. Stancie says:

    In order to be awarded a doctorate in this country a tremendous amount of knowledge needs to be gained. If I wanted to learn to build a boat, I would actually want to learn from the people who knew most on the subject. If I found out that people who knew most about the marine industry all voted Libertarian, I would look at that seriously. If you find those who are most highly educated and knowledgeable in our society tend to vote a certain way, rather than attacking them, would it not make sense to link the two?

    That being said, I attended a West Coast university during Viet Nam, and while I did have several professors who were liberal, I had one very sharp professor who was in fact was a spokesman for the government at that time. (He often was sent to Europe to explain our position to students there.)
    I did learn a lot from him, and feel being exposed to his viewpoint, and the rationales for his views, gave me a much broader perspective. But a litmus test? No way. As your first responder noted, the test should be how much a teacher knows about the subject they are teaching.

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