Let’s Get Tolerant

December 10, 2007

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A feature article in the Sunday Washington Post (December 9, 2007) by Villanova Associate Professor of History, Robert Maranto, reached me through the kindness of a young colleague, April Kelly-Woessner. April, a diligent researcher, working with her husband Matthew Woessner, provided some of the relevant data for Maranto’s polemic. Supposedly Republicans are justified when they complain about having a hard row to hoe in higher education. April and Matthew suggest by means of their survey results (currently being promoted by American Enterprise Institute) that self-described “conservatives” are less likely than leftists to go to graduate school in the humanities and social sciences. The reason we learn is that these young Republicans, “conservatives,” or non-liberals would find it more difficult to thrive in universities, given the political bias at these institutions. Maranto, who was an ardent Clinton Democrat in the 1990s, quotes former Harvard president, and an avowed liberal Democrat, Lawrence Summers, about the cold shoulder confronting Republican academics. According to Summers, Republicans are “the third group” at Harvard, far behind the Democrats and even Ralph Nader supporters. While Summers saw himself as belonging to the “right half of the left” when he served in Clinton’s cabinet, at Harvard, by contrast, he is in “the right half of the right.”
What this essay conveys, beyond the preaching that universities should display more political diversity, is the purest form of self-flattery. We are shown that the identifiably Democratic Washington Post has been generous enough to publish Maranto’s admonitions against intolerance toward Republicans. As a man of the Right, perhaps I’m expected to applaud. But I’ll suppress that impulse. As an academic of forty years, with a Phd from Yale University, I find nothing in Maranto’s comments that either bothers me or is sufficiently clear to make any sense. I myself have had my career wrecked by neoconservatives, particularly of the Straussian ilk, and the folks who derailed my career were entrenched (mirabilis dictum!)at elite universities at the time they went to work on me. Now at the end of my career I must note that I have benefited not from “conservatives,” in the sense that Maranto is presumably using that term, but from left liberals, who gave me an endowed chair at a small college in rural Pennsylvania. My own academic experience is so contrary to everything Maranto and Somers want us to believe that I almost fell out of my chair reading what they said.
The Post’s kindness may in fact be an empty gesture. What that paper is doing is extending the bounds of tolerance ever so slightly rightwards, to include (God save us from that scourge!) neocon academics. Whom else does one think the Post’s editors and AEI are concerned about being inclusive toward? It certainly is not my kind of non-leftist. Ron Paul supporters and paleocons would not exactly fare well, if their futures depended on AEI “conservatives” and Giuliani-McCain Republicans. That has been my experience, and I continue to hear horror stories from traditionalists and libertarians in higher education who have suffered more from “intolerant” Republican and “conservative” power-brokers than they have from the rest of the Left.
Needless to say, I would not hold my present modest job if those people whom Maranto and AEI would like to advance had taken over Elizabethtown College twenty years ago. Their targets of tolerance would not have included me and others on the political right who have dared to criticize W and his neocon advisors. Indeed in an academic community run by Maranto’s friends, I would in all probability have had no professional career. The effect of the heightened tolerance (perhaps affirmative action) advocated in the Washington Post would be to increase the neocon quotient in higher education. This would have no more appeal for me than increasing the academic quota for lesbians. Perhaps even less.   Lesbians have never blackened my reputation; nor have they done anything to keep me out of a job.

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