Since We’re Talking About Ideological Diversity in the Academy….

I had a relatively recent conversation about this with a very prominent member of the Yale Law School faculty. I mentioned that in my lifetime I don’t think that Yale has ever hired a “right of center” constitutional law scholar. (Note: not my career, my lifetime; please note that Bork was hired before my lifetime started, and as antitrust scholar; also, there was a specific reason that I mentioned constitutional law, but it’s tangential to the story). The response was in part, and I quote, “I simply don’t know what right of center means if it does not include [Akhil] Amar.”

Now, Amar calls himself a “liberal,” 33 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 1193, 1196 (1996), is consistently referred to in the media a “liberal” or “liberal Democrat” without apparent objection from him, and has views on Constitutional Law which, despite some heterodoxy, are still ultimately overall left of center, and clearly so. Yet my correspondent not only argued that Amar is “right of center,” but suggested that he can’t imagine why anyone would think otherwise.

The point being this: Most left-of-center law professors think of themselves as being tolerant and open-minded, and wouldn’t consciously discriminate against a faculty candidate because of ideological differences. But if you’re a liberal considering conservative candidates (and vice versa), as Jonathan suggests you might have to make a conscious effort to overcome a natural skepticism of the quality of someone’s ideas when their worldview is contrary to yours. And you also may have to make an effort to overcome the blocking tactics of the minority of your colleagues who would and do, in fact, intentionally discriminate. How much of an effort you will make will likely in part depend on the extent to which you think, as an empirical matter, you need to make such an effort for the process to be fair. And if you’re sitting around thinking that you and your colleagues have successfully overcome your natural biases because you hired someone like Akhil Amar, you are likely to make less of an effort than if you think to yourself, “you know, this faculty hasn’t hired a right-of-center constitutional law scholar in over forty-five years, I wonder if we’ve been treating such candidates fairly?”

This is not, by the way, an attempt to pick on Yale specifically. My correspondent told me that Yale has in fact had “flirtations” with individuals with far clearer “right of center” credentials than Amar has, and that the lack of interest has come from the other side. But I think I’m illustrating a more general point here.