Bainbridge Blasts Chait: Jonathan Chait wrote a rather dismissive LAT column on why there are so few conservatives in academia. Stephen Bainbridge, who has a rather different (and more accurate — but not just because he agrees with me) assessment from within the academy, takes Chait to task for "peddling shopworn lies." Specifically, Bainbridge notes that neither of Chait's explanations — that few conservatives (and libertarians) desire an academic career and that folks on the Right are less educated — can bear up under scrutiny.

Bainbridge cites current evidence that the academy can be quite hostile to folks with right-leaning views: the "controversy" over Jack Goldsmith's appointment at Harvard. Whether or not one agrees with Goldsmith's work, there is no question that he is among the top scholars in his field — and well deserving of a Harvard appointment. Yet some of his new colleagues (thankfully a minority on the faculty) are aghast at his views and wish he weren't there. Professor Goldsmith has enough of a reputation to weather such attacks, but more junior folks are often not so lucky.

In my own experience, the networking effects Professor Bainbridge describes and other unconscious biases are the dominant obstacles to conservatives, libertarians, and others outside of the academic mainstream. I also believe many conservatives are too quick to blame politics for their own academic career disappointments. Yet real bias can rear its ugly head. When I was an undergrad at Yale, I learned from a very liberal professor that one of his colleagues was systematicly black-balling right-leaning grad student applicants in their department. I have also heard law professors express opposition to job candidates because they clerked for the "wrong" Supreme Court Justice and suggest that job candidates cannot be intelligent if they hold certain conservative views.

I have personal experience with this sort of thing too. When I was on the job market, I was explicitly told by individuals at several schools that I would not be interviewed because of opposition to my politics on their hiring committees. Things worked out for me — I'm quite pleased with my current academic gig, believe that the liberal dominance of the academy will not prevent my future academic success, and expect (hope) to let my pseudonymity lapse in the relatively near future. Alas, it is clear to me that there are some who are not so lucky.

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