Academia is simultaneously both the part of America that is most obsessed with diversity, and the least diverse part of the country. On the one hand, colleges bend over backwards to hire minority professors and recruit minority students, aided by an ever-burgeoning bureaucracy of "diversity officers". Yet, when it comes to politics, they are not just indifferent to diversity, but downright allergic to it.
Evidence of the atypical uniformity of American universities grows by the week. The Centre for Responsive Politics notes that this year two universities-the University of California and Harvard-occupied first and second place in the list of donations to the Kerry campaign by employee groups, ahead of Time Warner, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft et al. Employees at both universities gave 19 times as much to John Kerry as to George Bush. Meanwhile, a new national survey of more than 1,000 academics by Daniel Klein, of Santa Clara University, shows that Democrats outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one in the humanities and social sciences. And things are likely to get less balanced, because younger professors are more liberal. For instance, at Berkeley and Stanford, where Democrats overall outnumber Republicans by a mere nine to one, the ratio rises above 30 to one among assistant and associate professors.
"So what", you might say, particularly if you happen to be an American liberal academic. Yet the current situation makes a mockery of the very legal opinion that underpins the diversity fad. In 1978, Justice Lewis Powell argued that diversity is vital to a university's educational mission, to promote the atmosphere of "speculation, experiment and creation" that is essential to their identities. The more diverse the body, the more robust the exchange of ideas. Why apply that argument so rigorously to, say, sexual orientation, where you have campus groups that proudly call themselves GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning), but ignore it when it comes to political beliefs?
This is profoundly unhealthy per se. Debating chambers are becoming echo chambers. Students hear only one side of the story on everything from abortion (good) to the rise of the West (bad). It is notable that the surveys show far more conservatives in the more rigorous disciplines such as economics than in the vaguer 1960s "ologies". Yet, as George Will pointed out in the Washington Post this week, this monotheism is also limiting universities' ability to influence the wider intellectual culture. In John Kennedy's day, there were so many profs in Washington that it was said the waters of the Charles flowed into the Potomac. These days, academia is marginalised in the capital-unless, of course, you count all the Straussian conservative intellectuals in think-tanks who left academia because they thought it was rigged against them.