Op-eds

Rose ’19 and Braga ’16: Faculty should be more politically diverse

By and
Op-Ed Contributors
Monday, April 11, 2016

Earlier this year, The Herald investigated the 2016 presidential election campaign donations made by students and faculty members and found that faculty members unanimously supported Democratic candidates. This year’s donations are not an anomaly. During the 2012 election cycle, Brown faculty donated over $126,000 to candidates for public office. Of that money, less than 0.5 percent went to Republican candidates. Two years later in 2014, Brown’s record was even more abysmal. Of $12,000, not a dime went to a Republican.

These statistics raise an important question regarding political diversity on campus: What is Brown doing to provide its students with the kind of diversity of thought that would challenge and strengthen the minds of everyone in the school? Though Brown has historically led efforts in revolutionizing academia, it not only conforms to national trends when it comes to political and ideological diversity on campus, but also consistently underperforms in a wide variety of metrics measuring diversity of thought. 

In the “real” world, 42 percent of Americans identify as Republican while 47 percent identify as Democratic. According to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans amongst Brown faculty members was 30-to-1, a rough 3 percent. This substandard percentage falls significantly below that of U.S. colleges overall, in which only about 10 percent of faculty members are Republican. If, as Nelson Mandela said, “We can use education to change the world,” how is Brown serving students when its faculty is not representative of the diverse ideologies of the world?

Brown’s faculty is not even representative of the opinions in its own student body. According to a 2015 Herald poll, 58.5 percent of students identified themselves as somewhat liberal or very liberal, while 30.9 percent of students identified as very conservative, somewhat conservative or centrist on fiscal issues. Socially, while our campus was more liberal overall, 13 percent still labelled themselves as very conservative, conservative or centrist. But even though a significant number of students don’t identify as liberal at all, for many it does not feel that way.

Hard numbers about this sort of thing are hard to come by, but that feeling is at least partially legitimate according to a small sample from the college ranking site Niche. The majority of students — 91 percent — feel that the political environment on our campus as a whole is liberal or very liberal. We must ask ourselves where this discrepancy comes from. Could it be that the campus narrative is steered by faculty members? Do political ideologies of professors dominate or mediate the direction of campus-wide discourse?

To answer these questions, we must study other institutions and their political leanings. At Dartmouth College, for example, 27 percent of faculty donations went to Republican candidates in 2014. In 2012, 58 percent of the donations given by individuals affiliated with Dartmouth went to Republicans. As of March 20, according to Niche, only 37 percent of students perceive Dartmouth as liberal or very liberal. These findings indicate that campaign contributions are likely a good indicator of the faculty’s political makeup and that the political makeup of the faculty is correlated with students’ perceptions of campus. At least in this example, it seems that a more balanced faculty has a moderating effect on campus political climate.

Our University should be equipped with faculty members who represent various identities and who create an atmosphere in which all students feel comfortable expressing their opinions and engaging in constructive discussions with both their peers and professors. Insufficient efforts to diversify the political climate on campus do a disservice to students who would otherwise be challenged and enriched by a broader range of perspectives.

College is not a time when students should be exposed to limited viewpoints. As President Barack Obama said, “I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view.” Obama added, “Sometimes I realized maybe I’ve been too narrow-minded, maybe I didn’t take this into account, maybe I should see this person’s perspective. … That’s what college, in part, is all about.”

A more ideologically diverse faculty at Brown would encourage more balanced political discourse and create an environment of inclusion for students of all political affiliations. We, the College Republicans of Brown University, look forward to a dialogue about this issue and a search for potential solutions.

Austin Rose ’19 and Justin Braga ’16 write on behalf of the Brown Republicans Club. They can be reached at austin_rose@brown.edu and justin_braga@brown.edu.

Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

15 Comments

  1. Man with Axe says:

    You point out what should be a disgrace to any university that prides itself on “diversity.” It’s diversity goes skin deep. Who cares what color, sex, sexual identity, sexual orientation, or national origin the students and faculty are when they all think alike?

    The question is: What is to be done? It’s clear that progressive faculty have no shame when it comes to refusing to hire new faculty who are conservative. I recall the Duke professor who explained his faculty being almost 100% liberal saying something like, “Evidently conservatives aren’t smart enough to teach here.” i wonder if he would use the same logic to explain why there are so few blacks on his faculty?

    • Well, that’s what I find so interesting about this article. The students argue that we should hire based upon ideological identities. However, when students of color on campus ask for more racial diversity, we are often told professors should be hired for their qualifications, not how they identify. But now I hear this argument for a diversity of ideology. As a raging liberal I actually agree! I would find it fascinating to take classes that challenge my ideology, but I also challenge these students to understand that we need more racial diversity as well. As professors from different racial backgrounds provide relevent diversity of thought and experience. I wonder if the authors of this article – who raise a relevant issue – would be as disturbed by the fact that there is not a single professor of color in the philosophy department?

      • Man with Axe says:

        I don’t have anything against racial diversity, but I think it is oversold. Blacks from middle class educated families have more in common with whites from middle class educated families than they do with blacks from the inner city, and those middle class whites have more in common with middle class blacks than they do with whites from Appalachia.

        The real important diversity is of ideas. For example, if everyone you are likely to meet at Brown, especially the faculty, is in favor of big government and the welfare state, and in favor of affirmative action, and in favor of gun control, and in favor of abortion on demand, and in favor of gay marriage, and in favor of the living constitution, how are you ever going to hear the arguments against them? And if you don’t ever consider those arguments you don’t really understand your own positions.

        • General Aladeen says:

          We should not conflate ideological diversity with other forms of diversity, be it racial, gender, or wealth. They come from different arguments and reflect different realities.

  2. Disgruntled Communist says:

    We need a more ideologically diverse faculty at Brown! We have so many liberals, progressives, even “radicals” but where are the anarchists, marxists, maoists, hoxhaists??? These liberals are spending their money on the Democratic Party, but what how many of you so called “progressives” put your money where your mouth is and supported a political prisoner this year??? Yes, only .5% of faculty donations went to Republican candidates in 2012, but how many donations have gone towards 3rd party candidates??? How can professors claim to be ideologically diverse when they can’t even break out of this two party gridlock??? How many of you participated in the local Food Not Bombs??? Is anyone on this campus even aware of the distinction between left-communism, post-anarchism, and anarcho-communism??? I need to know whether my professors would have fought for the POUM, the CNT, or the Communist Party in the Spanish Civil War if they expect me to trust them to present a well balanced perspective on the full range of contemporary political issues.

    This campus suffers from a frightening lack of ideological diversity, and I for one, am glad that someone is taking a stand on the issue. Republicans may be underrepresented at Brown, but what this campus really needs is a resurgence of far-left communism if it intends to pretend to harbor any sort of ideological “diversity”. Workers of the world unite!

    • Man with Axe says:

      It’s a sad commentary on the state of education at elite universities that i can’t be sure whether you are being ironic or not.

      There are probably some people out there who know so little of the history of the killing fields that haunt every communist revolution that they actually find these competing bankrupt ideologies compelling instead of horrifying. I hope that you are only having fun pretending to be one of these.

      I’m always amused at how the bodies that stack up in communist revolutionary regimes don’t seem to put people off the way Nazi killings do.

  3. Ideological diversity is great and Brown should hire smart and qualified conservative scholars. However, PhDs tend to be liberal: Obama won PhDs by double digit margins in 2008 and 2012. When it comes to preeminent scholars, these numbers are even more skewed–96% of donations from Ivy League professors go to democratic candidates.

    Brown needs faculty members who harbor viewpoints that are grounded in reality. We wouldn’t, for instance, want to hire people who deny climate change or structural racism, as the existence of these phenomena is based on a massive body of data. Conservative politicians often dispute some of these basic, factual claims in a way liberal politicians do not. Perhaps conservative academics are less likely to fall into this trap, although the heavy skew toward liberals in academic may reflect the value of liberal ideas. In short, we should not conflate “intellectual diversity” with “all ideas have merit.”

    Conservative professors are here if you seek them out, and I have been lucky to encounter several during my time at Brown. They have pushed me by challenging my core beliefs, and I agree that this has facilitated my intellectual growth.

    • Man with Axe says:

      I’m sorry but your argument is circular. The reason 96% of Ivy League professors donate to Democrats is because once the majority of a department is progressive they simply won’t hire conservatives, ever. Further, if the faculty in a Ph.D. program is progressive, conservative students will stay away, knowing that they will have a very rough time of it if their politics become known to the faculty. Not only that, many disciplines at elite universities have become so corrupted with critical theory, looking at every issue through a prism of race, gender, class, and oppression, that conservative students who might want a more traditional approach to their discipline have to go elsewhere. So the academic snowball of progressivism keeps rolling and enlarging itself.

      Your comment is itself an example of what I’m talking about. You wouldn’t want to hire faculty who disagree with you about climate change or racism. You are so sure that you are right about these things that you are unwilling to hear the other side of these issues. I can assure you that outside of the progressive bubble there are reputable scholars, with Ph.Ds, at prestigious institutions, who have very interesting things to say on these issues that would give pause to someone who hasn’t already made up his mind. Having a fixed and immutable mindset, I might add, is not how science, even social science, is supposed to be done.

      • “Your comment is itself an example of what I’m talking about. You wouldn’t want to hire faculty who disagree with you about climate change or racism.”

        No, disagreement is fine. I’m glad we have conservative political theorists and economists and others at Brown who challenge my world view. However, there is a difference between valuable academic debate and disputing factual claims (although we might disagree about where the boundary lies).

        Brown shouldn’t hire biologists who dispute the existence of a cell or historians who deny the Holocaust, etc, etc.

        Do you disagree?

        • Man with Axe says:

          I disagree with the implications of what you seem to mean by “factual dispute.”

          Is it a factual dispute to disagree with predictions of the future? If I don’t accept the predictions of certain scientists about what the global temperature will be in 100 years am I disputing established facts?

          What if I accept those predictions but I dispute whether it is possible to do anything about it, i.e., I challenge your “facts” about what is causing the temperature to rise?

          What if I accept your views on causation, but I reject your policy recommendations because I think it’s more important to increase economic growth so that we can save existing lives of people who don’t have food or clean water, and I’d prefer to move a billion or so people out of poverty and leave the people of the 21st century to figure out their own problems? Is that a factual dispute?

          What if I think that their really are races of people, and that these races might have, on average, differing abilities? Some run faster and some are better at math. Is that something that can’t be true? Or is it something that might be true but no one wants to hear it? What if your notion of structural racism is not valid, but is in fact a tautology, and I have done studies that could prove it, if you were but willing to listen?

          You are suggesting that for certain subjects there is an orthodoxy, and a potential faculty member who doesn’t bend his knee to that orthodoxy is not worthy of employment at your college. That is dangerous to the academic enterprise.

          I can’t tell you how much BS I have heard from my professors. But I was glad to hear it, because it gave me something to argue with. You claim to feel the same, but you put some things beyond the pale. No claim, of “fact” or “opinion” or “prediction” or “policy recommendation” should be out of bounds. Prove your professor wrong. Or maybe he’ll prove you wrong.

  4. boy if you don’t get….

  5. The Brown faculty should represent the best academics in their field. Period.

    • Disagree With Tracy says:

      Tracy, do you feel the same way if the best academics are all older white men? Would that be a good faculty?

      • General Aladeen says:

        Tracy seems to use meritocracy to argue against the article. The underlying assumption here would be that the reason why brown has a disportionately small number of conservative professors is that they are not good enough and currently we have a perfectly unbiased system. No need for any inclusion plan or even any question over the overall imbalance of the faculty of any sort

  6. Well, what does this article mean by conservative? Faculty members who support economically conservative political measures may be inclined to vote for a democrat this election season; when a candidate can stand on the GOP debate floor and insist, to applause, that we need “more philosophers and less welders,” how many philosophy PHDs can we really expect to support his party?

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