"If people are engaged in deliberation with like-minded others, they end up more confident, more homogenous and more extreme in their beliefs," said Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago. "If you have an English or history department that leans left, their interactions will push them further left."And yet
Once liberals dominate a department, they can increase their majority by voting to award tenure to like-minded scholars. As liberals dominate a field, conservatives' work comes to be seen as fringe scholarship.
"The filtering out of conservatives in the job pipeline rarely works by outright blackballing," said Mark Bauerlein, a conservative who is an English professor at Emory. "It doesn't have to. The intellectual focus of the disciplines does that by itself."
Suppose, he said, you were a conservative who wanted to do a sociology dissertation on the debilitating effects of the European welfare state, or an English dissertation arguing that anticommunist literature from the mid-20th century was as valuable as the procommunist literature.
"You'd have a hard time finding a dissertation adviser, an interested publisher and a receptive hiring committee," Bauerlein said. "Your work just wouldn't look like relevant scholarship, and would be quietly set aside."
Social scientists call it the false consensus effect: a group's conviction that its opinions are the norm. Liberals on campus have become so used to hearing their opinions reinforced that they have a hard time imagining there are intelligent people with different views, either on campus or in politics. Last year professors at Harvard and the University of California system gave $19 to Democrats for every $1 they gave to Republicans.
Conservatives complain about this imbalance in academia, but in some ways they've benefited from being outcasts. They've been toughened by confronting skeptics on campus and working at think tanks in Washington involved in the political fray. They've come up with ideas -- welfare reform, school vouchers, all kinds of privatization schemes -- that have been adopted around the country and the world.So, it's a good thing for opponents of leftists that the academy has made itself irrelevant!
But how many big ideas from liberal academics are on anyone's agenda? Democratic politicians are desperately trying to find something newer than the New Deal to run on next year. They're glad to take campaign contributions from professors, but they're leery of ideas from intellectuals who've have been talking to themselves for so long.