Monday, May 9, 2016

On Republican Academics and Liberal Academics

Nicholas Kristof has an op-ed in today's Times decrying the prejudice conservatives face in academia. A Facebook friend highlighted this howler: "My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination." Still, as is often the case with Kristof, the smug king of white straight male liberal guilt, he has something approximating a point.

Should we have more Republicans in academia? Sure. I had friends/friendly debating partners throughout high school and college who leaned far to the right. A couple are now voting for Sanders. Some of them are still fighting the old fight. All of them taught me a great deal. This includes my closest friend from high school who at the time had terrible views of gay people, as well as a history teacher who was casually homophobic. Both forced me to redefine my positions, to hone my arguments. Bigots can be great teachers, often better than "woke" professors.

Kristof is most concerned for professors who are afraid to voice their political beliefs for fear of their job security. I'm sympathetic on this one, and I would say that everyone in academia, no matter what their political position might be, has this fear.

An example: At this point, you can find plenty of professors in academia who still believe in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You also have professors who believe in a single bi-national state. I am of the belief that neither position is disqualifying for any academic job. But if you have ever written about the conflict and taken one or the other position, you almost certainly risk someone on a hiring committee turning you down. The academic hiring process is non-transparent and infamously petty. You never know who you may be upsetting.

I hate the rhetoric of "micro aggressions" and "safe spaces" and I fear that by writing this sentence I may be pissing off someone whose scholarship assumes the importance of the micro aggression rhetoric, someone who might one day be looking for an animation studies hire. I do not want to play a martyr. My colleagues who are involved with the BDS, BLM, and anti-sexual harassment movements are taking bigger risks. I have reservations about all three movements -- another phrase that may one day get me into trouble -- but I respect their decision to go loud.

It's depressing that scholars have to grit their teeth through polite political discussions and never reveal their serious differences. It's depressing that my 18-year-old students feel more free to express their core, crazy, weird beliefs than many of my colleagues. I don't know how you solve this problem or if it can be solved.

No comments:

Post a Comment