Mike the Mad Biologist

Krugman and Academia

From the archives, here’s a post about Paul Krugman’s explanation of why academia is so full of those goddamn libruls (originally published April 6, 2005).

Yesterday, Paul Krugman wrote an editorial about the high proportion of liberals in academia. His major point was that the anti-intellectualism of the Republican Party has waged an incessant cultural war against academics to gain its ‘populist’ bona fides. Consequently, they have driven academics into the Democratic Party. This is mostly right: in fact, many faculty, even if they are ideologically liberal, are tempermentally conservative (science, for example, is a conservative enterprise-paradigm shifts aren’t very common).

There are a couple of factors at work here. First, campuses are often very tolerant of social misfits and outcasts. This acceptance (or tolerance) is one reason why campuses are very tolerant of homosexuality (which, according to many conservatives, is proof of perfidy and ‘liberalism’ right there). Second, academics aren’t as liberal as they’re made out to be. On economic issues, they can be selectively conservative: the treatment of graduate students at some institutions approaches wage slavery (although some campuses do address the problem and treat the graduate students very well after being confronted with the issue).

There’s also been mention that academics are liberal because there is something inherently liberal about academia (or the converse, there is something in the conservative makeup that makes the goals of academia undesirable). While this is partially true, in that there is no direct profit motive in academia, the competition is truly fierce (most jobs receive 100-300 applicants). Academic salaries suck, so if you’re inclined to think that conservatives are more likely to be corporate pig sellouts, there might be something to this argument. I think, however, this says more about the moral corruption within modern political conservatism as well as its radical Hobbesian bent, than individual conservatives.

Really, at its core, the Republicans have chased away academics in several ways. First, academics are a favorite whipping boy of cultural and political conservatives. Would you like being called a fagotty, traitorous weasel all the time? Didn’t think so. Second, in the past, Republicans have viewed research funding as ‘waste.’ Thanks for telling us what we do is meaningless and insignificant. Third, the hitching of the GOP wagon to the theocons is utter anathema to academics (which might be why so many conservative academics call themselves ‘libertarians’). Academic disciplines require logic and reason, not revelation. The idea that those would be thrown out the window a priori is anathema to most academics, regardless of political bent. Creationism, in particular, has alienated many academics, particularly in the sciences, which in my experience trend more conservative.

So here’s the take home lesson: as long as Republicans continue to denigrate academics, what they do, and how they do it, conservatives won’t be welcome. If someone treated you like crap, would you support them?