google-site-verification: googlea33552291e834fff.html Education: On Sympathy and Professionalism

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On Sympathy and Professionalism

Chris here: This was too long for the comments section for Free Speech and Fre UC so I've posted it.

First, faculty attitudes themselves: The most systematic research shows that a majority are moderate liberals, that leftists are a very small minority.  See reporting on Gross & Simmons here and here (showing faculty centrism, rejection of political influence over hiring across the political spectrum, and the anti-"PC" views of a majority of faculty "stars").  These studies were conducted by investigators who went out of their way to find evidence of radicalism and PC views.  They found moderation, professionalism, and increasing conservatism as one rises in status and influence. (I also work through studies endorsed by David Horowitz and others in a late chapter and appendix of Unmaking the Public University.) This and similar research has been around for years.  It shows a relatively small number of self-identified conservatives on faculties, and moderates outnumbering liberals.  It does not show a professoriate that is unrepresentative of the electorate when you poll electoral views on particular issues.  I don't know party registration of UC faculty, but since Republican registration in CA is now at 28% , it's at least possible that UC is more Republican than the state of California. 

Second, there's the question of whether party affiliation or inferred ideological commitments affect professional performance in either instruction or research.   One of the insights of the "human sciences" over the past fifty years involves the ways that personal identity and social positioning affect perception and the structuring of knowledge itself.  So for human beings the answer for *indirect* influence of outlook on behavior including professional behavior is always yes.  This is one reason why professions exist, along with their cumbersome methodologies that are difficult for outsiders to understand or appreciate--protocols of various kinds are put in place to manage perceptions, insure regularity, create reproducibility, etc. 

The most important examples are not in the humanities but in clinical testing, where human subjects are in life-or-death situations.  There, "double blind" protocols among many other safeguards are put in place to control for the effects of human intention.  Something similar happens in non- academic professions like policing.  It would be wrong to assume that the party affiliation of police officers controls their professional conduct.  You can read on this blog a criticism of what I regard as the overpolicing of this past year's Deltopia event without finding speculation about officers� ideological bias or dismissing the existence of their professionalism, which they both have in abundance and which affects their behavior.  In the humanities, various forms of peer review make the same kind of effort.  

Some non-academics have gotten in the habit of dismissing all of this with a wave of the hand as itself a kind of ideology, but that is because of lack of experience with the reality of these generally unforgiving methodologies, which are never applied in everyday conversation or to media discourse, little of which would survive the kind of tests to which academic publishing and teaching are subject. 
  
In short, there is really no evidence that faculty are unable to subject their own views to professional controls in their research or teaching, and, inflammatory exceptions aside, plenty of evidence that they do exactly this in the classroom--teaching by connecting conclusions to evidence, looking at evidence from various angles, making sure the evidence is relatively complete, and teaching students how to follow these procedures on their own.  There's quite a bit more to say about academic procedure and why it is so superior to American political discourse in our era, but I will let it go there. 

Third, there's the issue of whether citizens can ethically subject public agencies to party affiliation tests and opt out if they perceive, on an individual basis, an imbalance.  The answer is no. Police, fire, health, education, road maintenance units could potentially be subject to checks of one's party cards, but the Soviet-like nature of this gesture is obvious and I'm always surprised when conservatives go down the road of making a condition of proper funding (or of reversal of previous cuts in the case of higher ed) their preferred ideological balance on staff.  I assume that police officers are as a group more conservative politically than I am. I would never dream of making funding judgments about them on that basis, or think that it's ok for them to have their pensions cut or have inferior equipment because they don't vote like me.  Whether the issue is public safety or educational quality, the issue is the professionalism of staff, insured by peer review and qualified, procedurally explicit, systematic judgments, not their political beliefs.

Finally, the hostility of some members of the Santa Barbara community toward their local university is nothing sort of tragic.  It overfocuses on isolated (and often sensationalized incidents), and it ignores the fact that UCSB is the backbone of the middle-class economy for the overall county, both in terms of salaries and benefits and in terms of student expenditures in the local economy.  Some Santa Barbarans complain all the way to the bank, as they cash rent checks in the amount of $800-1000 per month per bed, with no interest in how the absence of cultural amenities or of even a basic friendly attitude towards students outside of their designated I.V. / Lower State playgrounds affects their behavior, their education, and their well-being.  Could we contain our older-and-wealthier disapproval of the younger-and-poorer long enough to actually help them get a proper start in the world, or simply to try to understand their concerns?  Will later Californians remember Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz as making active contributions to the future of the state or as dragging their feet the whole way? The most probable answer makes me sad. 

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