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Opinion

US colleges need affirmative action for conservative professors

As a devout Democrat, I can't believe I'm saying this, but Bill O’Reilly is right. Universities should institute affirmative action for conservative professors, so all the professors aren't overwhelmingly liberal, as the recent national elections confirmed.

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That’s exactly right. And it’s also why we need more right-leaning professors, who would accelerate the intellectual variation that Bakke imagined. Race-based affirmative action has made our universities much more interesting and truly educational places, adding a range of voices and experiences that hadn’t been heard before. Hiring more conservative faculty would do the same thing.

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Have right-wingers suffered historic discrimination like ethnic and racial minorities? Of course not. But the Bakke decision explicitly rejected prior discrimination as a rationale for affirmative action. By compensating minorities for the sins of our past, the Court warned, we would cause “innocent persons” – that is, members of the white majority – “to bear the burdens of redressing grievances not of their making.”

Indeed, it's not even clear that “discrimination” against conservative professors exists today. As surveys of undergraduates have confirmed, conservative students are about half as likely as their liberal peers to express interest in an academic career.

But that’s all the more reason we should try to expand this pool, just as we do with minority students. And the more conservative professors we manage to hire, the more likely it will be that other right-leaning students will follow them into the academic profession.

I am not suggesting schools should have any kind of numerical quota for conservative professors, which every department or institution would have to reach. The Bakke decision clearly outlawed such quotas. We should simply take political leanings into consideration, just as we do with racial background, when reviewing candidates for academic positions.

Finally, I don’t envision affirmative action for conservative professors continuing indefinitely; once we’ve achieved a better kind of ideological balance, I would want the program to end. And that’s precisely what the Supreme Court said about race-based affirmative action in Grutter v. Bollinger, its 2003 decision upholding Bakke.

“It has been 25 years since Justice Powell first approved the use of race to further an interest in student body diversity,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote. “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary...”

I hold positions in two different academic departments, with a total of about 60 colleagues. As far as I know, not a single one of them is a Republican. The only way to change that imbalance, for the moment, is to actively and affirmatively seek out conservative faculty. And a quarter-century from now, I hope, we won’t have to.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).

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