Nearly all my professors are Democrats. Isn't that a problem?
After I posed that question, two faculty railed against me. That's a sure sign that universities should address the lack of ideological diversity.
When I began examining the political affiliation of faculty at the University of Oregon, the lone conservative professor I spoke with cautioned that I would "make a lot of people unhappy."Skip to next paragraph
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Though I mostly brushed off his warning – assuming that academia would be interested in such discourse – I was careful to frame my research for a column for the school newspaper diplomatically.
The University of Oregon (UO), where I study journalism, invested millions annually in a diversity program that explicitly included "political affiliation" as a component. Yet, out of the 111 registered Oregon voters in the departments of journalism, law, political science, economics, and sociology, there were only two registered Republicans.
A number of conservative students told me they felt Republican ideas were frequently caricatured and rarely presented fairly. Did the dearth of conservative professors on campus and apparent marginalization of ideas on the right belie the university's commitment to providing a marketplace of ideas?
In my column, published in the campus newspaper The Oregon Daily Emerald June 1, I suggested that such a disparity hurt UO. I argued that the lifeblood of higher education was subjecting students to diverse viewpoints and the university needed to work on attracting more conservative professors.
I also suggested that students working on right-leaning ideas may have difficulty finding faculty mentors. I couldn't imagine, for instance, that journalism that supported the Iraq war or gun rights would be met with much enthusiasm.
What I didn't realize is that journalism that examined the dominance of liberal ideas on campus would be addressed with hostility.
A professor who confronted me declared that he was "personally offended" by my column. He railed that his political viewpoints never affected his teaching and suggested that if I wanted a faculty with Republicans I should have attended a university in the South. "If you like conservatism you can certainly attend the University of Texas and you can walk past the statue of Jefferson Davis everyday on your way to class," he wrote in an e-mail.
I was shocked by such a comment, which seemed an attempt to link Republicans with racist orthodoxy. When I wrote back expressing my offense, he neither apologized nor clarified his remarks.
Instead, he reiterated them on the record. Was such a brazen expression of partisanship representative of the faculty as a whole? I decided to speak with him in person in the hope of finding common ground.
He was eager to chat, and after five minutes our dialogue bloomed into a lively discussion. As we hammered away at the issue, one of his colleagues with whom he shared an office grew visibly agitated. Then, while I was in mid-sentence, she exploded.