Dan Lawton : Journalist

From the Mailbag: Feedback on My Column on Political Diversity

Over at ESPN.com, sports columnist Rick Reilly has a feature called “The one E-Mail that Wasn’t Insulting,” in which he picks a critical reader response from his recent 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 number of letters. Here are three gems.  Emphasis added.

(1) So really now, to become a faculty member at a university like this, you must have some intelligence and be somewhat aware of what’s going on in the world  around you. Is it possible that they simply have common sense? Once the republicans pull their heads out of their asses and decide to bring something constructive to the debate, instead of deliberately working to undermine the attempts of our current President, then it will be appropriate for their views to be included in the debate.

–UO Student Michael Vucinovich

Note:  Vucinovich gets huge bonus points for actually addressing me as the “Watchdog” in his letter.

(2) While I enjoyed your article about the dearth of Republican professors, the answer to your dilemma is quite obvious.  Professors, by definition, tend to be very intelligent individuals.  That would explain why so few professors are Republicans.

Dave Taube

(3) You may be very upset that the University of Oregon, which, I may point out, is funded by people who live in a liberal state, and therefore, no surprise, tends to be liberal, attracts professor applying for a job who tend to be liberal. But as a student you have a choice. You do not have to come here. You most certainly can choose to spend your money to go to school in Alabama, or Texas, or Mississippi, or Georgia, or Louisiana or South Carolina.  And if you like conservatism, you can certainly attend the University of Texas, and you can walk past the statue of Jefferson Davis every day on your way to class.

–UO Journalism Professor Dan Morrison

Note:  I have invited Professor Morrison to publicly debate the merits of political diversity.  He has unfortunately declined.

Well, what can I say except that I was dead wrong.  My suggestion that UO is intolerant of ideas on the Right couldn’t have been more off base, as evidenced by these three pieces of feedback that argue that (a) conservative ideas should be blacklisted because they’re inappropriate (b) only stupid people are Republicans and (c) students at UO with conservative ideas should smarten up and flee to the South, as their sort of savage dogma is better served by universities with Confederate icons.

Yet regardless of these responses, I feel supremely unfulfilled. I think ideological diversity is important, but clearly a lot of other people disagree.  However, they haven’t done much to convince me.  For this reason, I’ve decided to offer a 12-pack of beer to anyone who will debate me on camera about the merits of ideological diversity in higher education. That’s right, all you have to do is spend thirty minutes hashing out the issue, and if at the end you can look into the camera and state “I don’t think it’s harmful that only around 2% of faculty members at UO are registered with the Republican Party,” you take home the brew of your choice.  If you’re not 21, 20 bucks.

In this time of economic crisis, we all need to do our best to stimulate spending.  Here at DanLawton.com, we’re more than happy to do our part.  Simply leave a comment with your email address or contact me at the email in the about section and you’ll be knocking back a dozen cold ones in no time.



23 Responses to “From the Mailbag: Feedback on My Column on Political Diversity”

  1. [...] 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 [...]

  2. Michael says:

    Professors, by definition, tend to be very intelligent individuals. That would explain why so few professors are Republicans.

    That’s rather amusing. I graduated with a high GPA and honors. I was a member of the College Republicans up to the day of graduation.

    If being a Republican makes me unintelligent, what does it make everyone else who graduated with less academic standing and achievement? Does the University of Oregon just hand diplomas to any moron?

  3. Marc Dadigan says:

    Dan, while I might not totally agree with some of your assertions, I think you’ve done a good job expressing them in a very reasoned and measured tone.

    The same can’t be said for Professor Morrison.

    I once was a newspaper reporter in Rome, Ga., a predominantly Southern Baptist and Republican community. I was friends with a lot of good people who had very different viewpoints than mine but were still accepting and willing to discuss those differences.

    However, there were others who made me feel unwelcome because I was (and still am) a Yankee Catholic. These are the people Dan Morrison’s comments reminds me of, and it’s ironic he should so resemble some of the conservatives he apparently loathes so fervently.

    I’m embarrassed as a graduate student attending the UO that a professor here would tie conservative viewpoints to the confederacy and slavery. That’s simply lazy rhetoric and all the more evidence that we need a greater diversity of viewpoints in the journalism school.

  4. Dora says:

    Hooooooooooooooold your horses!
    What confederacy and what slavery?
    While I don’t want to defend anyone, clearly if you see the map of the presidential elections, (especially 2004) all of the South was red. So… I believe that’s what Morrison was referring to. To say that he tied “conservative viewpoints to the confederacy and slavery” is in my opinion a bit too strong. Neither does it become clear to me that he “fervently loathes conservatives.” Clearly, liberal places attract liberal people and conservative places attract conservative people. While there are a lot of us who value civilized discourse and debate, I doubt anyone would feel comfortable at a place where he/she would be feel compelled to do that 24/7. I am at the University of Oregon because it attracted me as a liberal institution and the whole baggage that comes with the world liberal. It seems to me that’s what Morrison was trying to communicate.

  5. Marc Dadigan says:

    The fact that he says conservative students would enjoy walking past a statue of Jefferson Davis is, in my mind, connecting conservative thought to the Confederacy. And unless Morrison is a big fan of Jefferson Davis, I tend to think that also discloses his low opinion of conservatives in general.

    But admittedly I’m reading between the lines.

    I hardly see how increasing the representation of conservatives among the faculty would mean that you’d be debating “24-7″ or even why more regular debate would be something you’d want to avoid.

    Some people I know who think like that have spent their whole lives incubating in completely liberal or completely conservative enclaves, and, thus, have no clue how to interact with people who think differently.

    It’s an important skill to learn, and should be something the university strives to teach.

  6. Adam Betz says:

    Dora:
    The whole point of higher education, at least in my opinion, is to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the world around us, and to expose ourself to new ideas and ways of thinking. The university shouldn’t be an incubator (or enclave, or “ghetto”) for a single mode of political thought and reasoning. Morrison’s theme of “You can either join us, or ‘git out!” is an extreme antithesis to the general theme of diversity and tolerance that is encouraged on college campuses nationwide. Plus, I am in agreement with Marc: I do not know a whole lot about Jefferson Davis beyond the fact that he was the president of the Confederate state, a symbol that, at least in the North, is strongly associated with racism, slavery, and intolerance; but then, I am also reading between the lines.

    Sure, people will go where they want to go to college, and they will usually go to someplace that aligns with their own personal and political temperaments. But I think that the University in question would be doing a dis-service to their students if they disregard a certain mode of thinking because a certain professor disagrees with it. I also think that the student would be doing a disservice to themselves if they didn’t at least consider the alternative opinion. I have done this many times: even if ultimately I don’t agree with an issue, I will try and consider the merits of an argument or opinion to see if it holds water. This ability to critically think about a situation from multiple points of view is the ultimate point of diversity.

    Dan, I am very glad you see the lack of political diversity at the University. Its something I recognized during my years there, and it was very frustrating that nobody else seemed to recognize this, or care to listen. For all of the claims that the UO administation and faculty make for diversity on campus, they have a funny way of showing it by dismissing their political counterparts as “unintelligent” or “backwards”. The student body is even worse in this respect. Take for example the plight of the alternative campus publication, “The Oregon Commentator”. While not necessarily “Conservative”, it is a publication that promotes ideas that are sometimes antithesis to the general liberal agenda that is awash at the UO. Despite all of their efforts to promote idealogical diversity, and to actually provide an alternative opinion on political issues, they have been accused of “racism”, “homophobic”, “sexism”, and other bad word ending in “-ist”or “-ism”.

  7. Matthew says:

    Bravo for your courage on this issue Dan.
    I agree with you that a university should be a place where a variety of opinion is valued, nay treasured.
    I would suggest that universities are not the beacons of enlightenment they claim to be, and neither is posession of a university degree (regardless of standing) any indication of a balanced and just mind.
    The United States is in extremely serious economic trouble – both immediately and long term – and this situation was created by advanced degree holding university graduates.

  8. Angela Law says:

    I read your article on the news.yahoo.com site that you wrote for christian science monitor.

    I think at this point with the far reaching right and the polarization of political parties that are having a massive effect on the american people.

    The right for me has gotten way out of control in stretching the truth or out right lying. And it is not all but alot of the right is allowing a few far right to speak for them.

    I find that the political correctness of the left is going way over board and becoming way to sensitive in how they are demanding to people to act and behave.

    Overall, I think the political scene is now well established into pandering to the audience. It is no longer the people of the United States but the audience. And that the best reviews win.

    And unfortunately, this is not good for taking america into the next millenuim.

    We as Americans have forgotten our bad and good history. We as citizens have forgotten that our responsiblity is not just to ourselves but to our country and to the people we share our community with.

    That gun rights are needed for now, and while someday in the future we maybe able to get rid of them. It is not now. When the world is out of control as it is and the political scene is out of control. People need to feel safe, to know there basic rights they still have.

    Perhaps instead of worrying about getting guns off the street. We should look at why they are used and deal with that issue.

    The country wide health insurance is needed not because of the 25% it eats at our overall money. But because for a country we should be watching out for our fellow citizen. As a country we are all stronger if we each are healthy and educated.

    As a country we can flourish together not separately.

    Tax the rich is needed to help, but it should not be done lightly.

    People need to realize if it wasn’t for the rich there be no jobs, no hospitals, no drugs and no technology. Because with out there money we would not have these things. Without a certain segment of peoples’ willingness to take those risks regardless of failure of success we would not be where we are.

    But at the same token, the rich need to realize if it wasn’t for the workers there be no product, no road ways, no hospitals and no drugs. That because of the variety of workforce out there. It allows them to find laborers and intellictuals. And without these people’s hard sweat and intellectual prowles all the dreams in the world the rich may have will never come to light if they don’t have these people join them to create what they want regardless if it is money or inguinity.

    Obama says get an education, I say true. but not because you want a better job. But because you want knowledge and understanding.

    Overall if everyone had a degree what we do? How many people would be Janitors, work in a plant, hotel cleaner, work at mcdonalds or be a waitress.

    And that is the rub both sides need to learn to respect and appreciate what each is giving.

    Hence the republican and democrat quimar.

    So instead of looking for political affilation for teachers, maybe you should be looking at teachers who are more centered, in either party. People who are centered usually are willing to explore both sides, think about it and choose which ever side they feel has more mariot(sp?).

    Just a thought.

    As an american I am deeply sadness that after 200 years while our inguinity and country has grown significantly in wealth and technology we as a people are still struggling with the same old issues. While issues may move to a different forum or have lessened, they are still there.

    And sometimes it feels we are heading backwards and becoming dumber as a nation, allowing the outside influences to control what we think and feel.

    Sincerely, Angela Law

  9. Dave K. says:

    Maybe it’s just a matter of personalities not matching?

    Not to attack you personally, but you do seem to be a very assertive and argumentative individual.

    Some might interpret that as someone who is aggressive, provocative, and promoting affirmative action for Republican/Conservative/Libertarian viewpoints.

    You are entitled to your own opinion, and the professors at your school are entitled to their own.

    Why not leave it at that?

    You have your blog and nobody’s tried to shut you down.

  10. Lis says:

    I’d debate you, Dan, but I agree with you. I’ve been called an intellectual often, but I see value in both conservative and liberal ideas. Sometimes, the arguments on both sides are so persuasive that it is difficult to choose the better course.

    There are times when a conservative view of an issue is the right one and times when the liberal view of an issue is the right one. One prizes fairness and the other prizes order. There is nothing wrong with either fairness or order in a society until one or the other gets out of control. When you have too much fairness, you get chaos in society; when you have too much order, you get unfairness in society.

    Right now, we’re in a cultural battle to balance the two sides again. These things cycle as society corrects itself. The complaint in the ’20s was that the colleges and universities were too conservative and anyone who had liberal ideas was ostracized. It’s just the wheel turning, and your generation is the one that will turn it.

    Oh, and by the way, I’m from Texas. Despite your prof’s diatribe, it’s no different down here than it is up there. What he REALLY should’ve told you is that you should go to a private CHURCH school if you want conservative professors.

  11. Dave says:

    Congratulations for being brave enough to speak out. By doing so, you keep your liberal professors in check, making sure they hold to the ethics of their profession, and not punishing you with a lower grade merely because you do not parrot their liberal orthodoxy. As a professor at a blue-state midwest school who is much like you (conservative on economics, liberal on social issues)I know I am in the vast minority at my school. I too have seen the same e-mails implying that conservatives are racist and/or stupid. The party of tolerance, the Democrats, doesn’t seem to tolerate anybody who does not agree with it. I wonder if the same people who say that diversity is unimportant would feel the same if a public school in Texas had 98% Republicans and only 2% Democrats. We all know the answer to that question. Keep up the good work, Dan.

  12. Jennifer Lasik says:

    Hi Dan,

    Interesting project. I attended my undergrad in PA, and my professors teasingly called me their “token conservative”, as in “Ok, class, let’s hear what the token conservative has to say on this topic….” (and then they would call on me.) But at least there was a seemingly genuine affection there, and I did end up with the Outstanding Senior in the Political Science Department award.

    What you experienced is demeaning, and worse — against the whole idea of higher learning. Professor Morrison’s comments are beyond rude and ignorant. I would bet my life’s savings that if anyone made insulting blanket statements about a group based upon race or gender, he would be the first one deploring it — but it’s okay to condemn an entire population based upon region — and then suggest you go there as another layer of insult to you? Embarrassing for him, and for your university. Progressives used to be the open-minded ideologues.

    Furthermore, even in the South, which he references, trying to impede freedom speech and participation in the political and social arena by use of intimidation, bullying, etc. would be a Civil Rights nightmare. Apparently you students at UO don’t have the same constitutional (via the Bill of Rights) “luxury”.

    And to Professor Morrison — before you jump to any erroneous conclusions about my intelligence, I was born and raised in the north, and have only ever lived in northern states.

  13. Eric Wrobbel says:

    While Michael’s comment is mean-spirited, the grain of truth it contains is worth considering. Surely you noted in our recent presidential election that there was, as there always seems to be, a strong correlation between education-level and political affiliation. The more highly education you are, the more likely you are to be liberal in your views, and vice versa. Thus, it only makes sense that at places populated by our most highly educated people, there is often a bias toward liberalism. We also know that when given a choice, most people gravitate toward others with similar views. While a conservative student often has little choice but to attend the local college, he or she is likely to find the liberalism there so off-putting as to never even consider a career in higher education. A liberal student is more likely to feel at home in such an environment and remain, thus perpetuating the liberalism. If you want to mandate a political affiliation quota system for academia, will you follow this by mandating that an equal number of highly liberal ministers balance out the conservative ones who so typical represent fundamentalist Christian churches? This quota might be equally challenging to fill. I am a professor – and yes, a somewhat more liberal one – but I have indeed had colleagues over the years with much more conservative views. Almost to a one, they have all moved from my State university to small, private Christian colleges, and they all have found both faculty and students there to be far more like-minded. Perhaps instead of trying to change Oregon State, you might look at George Fox University, Cascade College, Corban College, or any of the other excellent conservative schools in your area. If you don’t like stripes, you should not buy a zebra and then complain.

  14. Jack says:

    “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”.

  15. Chet Brewer says:

    Diversity of political affiliation is not critical to an education. What is critical in an education is the ability to express yourself clearly and concisely, the ability to develop a plan and execute it, the ability to question opinions and develop facts. Whining about the lack of diversity at your school is both counterproductive and stupid, you are paying for an education and should be putting your effort towards getting it. Your professors can provide guidance both positive and negative, but you have the choice of accepting or rejecting it. 10 years from now grades won’t matter, what will matter is how well you are able perform. Get over it

  16. Louise says:

    Dan-

    As an adjunct instructor at a university, we as instructors are not to share our political views with our students. This is for many reasons including being able to have an open dialogue on different views of various subjects. Whatever the instructors political beliefs are, I would hope that instructors/professors would have the skills to facilitate a healthy discussion of diverse views in order for people to understand where each other is coming from, as well as emphasizing the rule to respect other opinions. Otherwise, there is little growth in the classroom.

    Louise

  17. Roark says:

    Eric,

    “Surely you noted in our recent presidential election that there was, as there always seems to be, a strong correlation between education-level and political affiliation. The more highly education you are, the more likely you are to be liberal in your views, and vice versa.”

    I don’t have the data for the most recent election but if you look at past data, here, http://people-press.org/commentary/?analysisid=95, the college educated demographic tended to vote more republican. Even if the most recent election has different results it would seem that it would be more the exception than the rule.

  18. Shanie says:

    The Pacific NW itself is a very liberal area and the UO is known as Berkeley North. I attended the UO (Music, 1998) for 3 years. I was just beginning to wake up and be interested in politics at that point, and I’m glad to say my conservative sensibilities escaped the UO and Eugene unscathed despite the efforts put forth by faculty, students, and especially the scribblings of the Oregon Daily Emerald. One of my faves in that particular rag was an op/ed, a full-on attack on religion including the famous Marx quote regarding the opiate of the masses. I responded with a letter demanding an apology and of course none was ever given.

    So Mr. Lawton, hang in there – it is possible to be a proud Duck without swallowing all the liberal crap. Thank you for your column and website.

  19. Eric Wrobbel says:

    Roark, you may be more up to date than I, but I was considering quite a number of older studies – the 1969 study by the Carngegie Commission, the 1975 Carnegie Faculty Survey, and both the 1975 and 1977 studies on the American Professoriate done by the Social Science Center at the U of Connecticut. Fred Evans wrote a nice piece in 1980 in the Journal of Politics reaching this conclusion as well. A much more recent article (2004) in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Mark Bauerlein – an English Professor who shares our Mr. Lawton’s political views – also both makes this claim and references other studies supporting the link between advanced degrees and liberalism. Perhaps where I was unclear was that by advanced degrees, I am referring to terminal degrees such as the Ph.D. and Ed.D., and not to Bachelor’s degrees. This is why while there may be a disproportionate number of liberals in the fronts of the classroom, there are still plenty of conservatives in the seats.

  20. Ron says:

    The real issue is that the Liberal leaning professors can’t make it in the real world. Those who can’t do, teach! Haven’t all of you heard that before? All the crazy Conservatives have jobs and are running companies making money and paying ever increasing taxes to support them! The new motto of the US and the Conservatives should be “I work so you don’t have to”.

  21. Eric Wrobbel says:

    Ah, Ron it is true! We can’t do, so we teach. It really is a wonder that our students end up getting jobs at all since they clearly learn nothing from us! And we love living in our fake world instead of the real one with the rest of you. Here in fake world, we don’t have mortgages or credit card bills, our kids don’t go to public schools with yours, none of us gets sick, and we all roll in money so you never see any of us in the Walmart. You really must think we’re smarter than you if you believe we all go to work every day and get paid to not work. I wish you were right, but I know better.

  22. Lori says:

    I applaud your courage to take on this topic. I read your outstanding and very accurate article in the Oregonian. Unfortunately, this bias has affected a friend of ours. He has been pursuing a doctorate at an ivy league university. He already holds two masters. He completed all of the course work for it. His dissertation advisor did not like the topic he chose. The advisor spoke with another professor (who has no tolerance for people with differing views). They have closed ranks around him and said no one is willing to be his advisor for completing his dissertation to complete his doctorate. He has offered to change topics and work with them. You have to have a sponsoring advisor, so he is forced to leave without a doctorate. He is an outstanding professor and has been teaching two courses at a university for a few years. He encourages his students to think for themselves and respects all opinions. He does encourage his students to be able to support what they believe with arguments and facts. I believe their bias is afraid of allowing students with differing values to earn doctorates and potentially be in a position of teaching a future generation. The liberals claim to be so tolerant, but truly it is only of those with the same opinion. You have unearthed this truth when you encountered their hostility. Thank you for your outstanding work!

  23. Melissa Hart says:

    Dan, while I admire this essay, two sentences trouble me:

    “I also suggested that students working on right-leaning ideas may have difficulty finding faculty mentors. I couldn’t imagine, for instance, that journalism that supported the Iraq war or gun rights would be met with much enthusiasm. ”

    This sells teachers like me quite short. In my ten years spent teaching at community colleges and universities, I’ve mentored dozens of students coming from vastly different political perspectives, and I’ve given constructive criticism, publication guidance, and “A” grades to students whose views differ greatly from my own.

    (I have also written my share of op-ed pieces that inadvertently insult people because of my own generalizations.)

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