Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Professor Is a Label That Leans to the Left

There is much that is reasonable in the NYT article below but it ignores the numerous reports from conservative academics of the discriminatory treatment that they have received in their workplaces. My own experience is typical. Probably because I was an obvious high-flyer from the beginning, I was APPOINTED (at age 27) with tenure. I didn't have to wait for tenure. So when they found out that I was a conservative, they could not kick me out. But they COULD block my promotion. And they did. Although I was in some years getting as much published in the journals as the whole of the rest of the Department put together, I only ever managed to get one step up the ladder. With the amount I was getting published, I should have FLOWN up the ladder.

Another thing the article below ignores is that the unrealistic ideas of Leftists make them unsuitable for work in business. My realistic conservative ideas meant that I did well in both business and academe but the only Leftist I know who went into business eventually went broke. Academe is a refuge for dreamers who couldn't make it elsewhere. I look at the issues concerned in greater detail here

The overwhelmingly liberal tilt of university professors has been explained by everything from outright bias to higher I.Q. scores. Now new research suggests that critics may have been asking the wrong question. Instead of looking at why most professors are liberal, they should ask why so many liberals — and so few conservatives — want to be professors.

A pair of sociologists think they may have an answer: typecasting. Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular — and liberal. Even though that may be an outdated stereotype, it influences younger people’s ideas about what they want to be when they grow up.

Jobs can be typecast in different ways, said Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse, who undertook the study. For instance, less than 6 percent of nurses today are men. Discrimination against male candidates may be a factor, but the primary reason for the disparity is that most people consider nursing to be a woman’s career, Mr. Gross said. That means not many men aspire to become nurses in the first place — a point made in the recent Lee Daniels film “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” When John (Lenny Kravitz) asks the 16-year-old Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) and her friends whether they’ve ever seen a male nurse before, all answer no amid giddy laughter.

Nursing is what sociologists call “gender typed.” Mr. Gross said that “professors and a number of other fields are politically typed.” Journalism, art, fashion, social work and therapy are dominated by liberals; while law enforcement, farming, dentistry, medicine and the military attract more conservatives. “These types of occupational reputations affect people’s career aspirations,” he added in a telephone interview from his office at the University of British Columbia. Mr. Fosse, his co-author, is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard.

The academic profession “has acquired such a strong reputation for liberalism and secularism that over the last 35 years few politically or religiously conservative students, but many liberal and secular ones, have formed the aspiration to become professors,” they write in the paper, “Why Are Professors Liberal?” That is especially true of their own field, sociology, which has become associated with “the study of race, class and gender inequality — a set of concerns especially important to liberals.”

What distinguishes Mr. Gross and Mr. Fosse’s research from so much of the hubbub that surrounds this subject is their methodology. Whereas most arguments have primarily relied on anecdotes, this is one of the only studies to use data from the General Social Survey of opinions and social behaviors and compare professors with the rest of Americans.

Mr. Gross and Mr. Fosse linked those empirical results to the broader question of why some occupations — just like ethnic groups or religions — have a clear political hue. Using an econometric technique, they were then able to test which of the theories frequently bandied about were supported by evidence and which were not. Intentional discrimination, one of the most frequent and volatile charges made by conservatives, turned out not to play a significant role.

To understand how a field gets typecast, one has to look at its history. From the early 1950s William F. Buckley Jr. and other founders of the modern conservative movement railed against academia’s liberal bias. Buckley even published a regular column, “From the Academy,” in the magazine he founded, The National Review. “Conservatives weren’t just expressing outrage,” Mr. Gross said, “they were also trying to build a conservative identity.” They defined themselves in opposition to the New Deal liberals who occupied the establishment’s precincts. Hence Buckley’s quip in the early 1960s: “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.” In the 1960s college campuses, swelled by the large baby-boom generation, became a staging ground for radical leftist social and political movements, further moving the academy away from conservatism.

Typecasting, of course, is not the only cause for the liberal tilt. The characteristics that define one’s political orientation are also at the fore of certain jobs, the sociologists reported. Nearly half of the political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular, share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between education and income.

The mismatch between schooling and salary complements a theory that the Harvard professor Louis Menand raises in his new book “The Marketplace of Ideas.” He argues that the way higher education was structured by progressive reformers in the late 19th century is partly responsible for the political uniformity of today. In the view of the early reformers, the only way to ensure that quality, rather than profit, would be rewarded was to protect the profession from outside competition. The tradeoff for lower salaries was control; professors decide who gets to enter their profession and who doesn’t.

The tendency of people in any institution or organization to try to fit in also reinforces the political one-sidedness. In “The Politically Correct University: Problems, Scope and Reforms,” a collection of essays published by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group, Daniel B. Klein, an economist at George Mason University in Virginia, and Charlotta Stern, a sociologist at Stockholm University, argue that when it comes to hiring, “the majority will tend to support candidates like them in the matter of fundamental beliefs, values and commitments.”

Other contributors to the book, Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner, who are husband and wife, also found that conservatives are less interested in pursuing advanced degrees than liberals.

Mr. Gross and Mr. Fosse have not yet published their results, but experts in the field have vetted their research and methods. Michèle Lamont, a Harvard professor and the author of “How Professors Think,” said, “I think their paper is very, very sophisticated and quite original.” She added that the theory better fits some disciplines, like literature and sociology, than others, like business or economics.

Mitchell L. Stevens, a professor of education at Stanford University, who also reviewed the research, finds the theory promising. Choosing an occupation is part of fashioning an identity, Mr. Stevens said, noting that people think of themselves as a “corporate type” or a free spirit, which is why you might find highly educated graduates working as bartenders instead of in an office. He added that the gender-typing of a field like physics might also partly explain the dearth of women in it, another subject that has provoked heated disputes.

To Mr. Gross, accusations by conservatives of bias and student brainwashing are self-defeating. “The irony is that the more conservatives complain about academia’s liberalism,” he said, “the more likely it’s going to remain a bastion of liberalism.”


British schools still held back by Leftist dogma

Vouchers recommended by his own advisers but for the hard-Left heart of Britain's Prime Minister that is a step too far. His faith in his crappy and ever-worsening government schools is immovable

We are all middle class now, as John Prescott said before the 1997 election. It was the new Labour mantra, a symbolic statement that the party had moved beyond its working-class base. Tony Blair wooed Worcester Woman and Boden Man, from the daytime TV sofa, with his sun-dried tomato pasta recipe, his people carrier and his promise to promote aspiration. “The class war is over,” he told voters and his party, with a Hugh Grantish smile that sent Middle England into a swoon.

Now, sitting at the knee of Lord Mandelson — champion of the filthy rich and lover of Britain’s finest stately homes — Gordon Brown has turned his back on years of Eton-bashing, Bullingdon-baiting and unspoken disapproval of the conservatory-building classes. In a speech to the Fabian Society conference on Saturday, he declared his allegiance to the “squeezed middle”, on whom his future depends. “My predecessor and friend Tony Blair said that we had campaigned as new Labour and would govern as new Labour,” he said. “Let me say to you today, we have governed as new Labour and now we will campaign as new Labour.” ...

The real test is not rhetorical flourishes, but the policy reality. Yesterday, the Government issued its response to Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility. The former Health Secretary’s analysis, Fair Access to the Professions, is a manifesto for promoting aspiration from the Billy Elliot of politics who started out in a northern mining village and ended up in the Cabinet. Mr Brown accepted 83 of the 88 recommendations, including plans to promote internships for poor children, encourage universities to accept more state school pupils and to create army cadet forces in comprehensives. But he rejected the one proposal that could really break down social divisions by shaking up the education system.

Mr Milburn’s most radical idea was that parents with children at a failing school should be able to remove their offspring and get a voucher for 150 per cent of the cost of a pupil’s education, which could be used at another school. Parents would have more choice, and schools get a financial incentive to take extra pupils, creating a virtuous circle, he argued, that would create a market and improve standards across the board. This would be a far more effective way than the creation of a social mobility commission to level the playing field (of Eton, or anywhere else). But it was a step too far for Mr Brown and Ed Balls, his Schools Secretary, who want local education authorities to keep control of admissions. Their view is that this is the way to ensure equality — but is the current system really fair?

It is scandalous, more than a decade after Mr Blair said that “education, education, education” was Labour’s priority, that last year more boys from Eton gained three As at A level than all boys on free school meals in state schools. Despite all the money poured into education, too many children still do not get the results they need to have the chances in life that they deserve. According to Lord Patten of Barnes, the Chancellor of Oxford University, leading universities want to widen their intake but some applicants just don’t make the grade and “we shouldn’t have to pay for the inadequacies of state schools”.

In 1997, Lord Adonis, now the Transport Secretary, wrote a book, A Class Act, in which he argued that “the comprehensive revolution has not removed the link between education and class but strengthened it”, creating “apartheid” between state and private schools.

It was, he said, a “tragic irony” that “comprehensive schools have largely replaced selection by ability with selection by class and house price”. Of course, there are some brilliant exceptions, and primary schools have greatly improved, but in too many areas the analysis still holds true. “If you really want to increase social mobility, you have to sort the schools out,” a Blairite minister admits. “And that means challenging the assumptions of the Left.”

There is no more direct route to middle-class hearts than education. If Mr Brown wants to end social division while appealing to the squeezed middle, he should be braver about school reform. Otherwise he will find this centre-ground territory seized from him by David Cameron.


The problem of internet plagiarism

As one who has been fighting in the trenches of education for a while now, I'm here to warn you, there is no hope for the next generation. It's not that they are not smart, or talented, or able to reroute the school's internet filter with a mere flick of the mouse. It's just that they have no ideas of their own.

I'm sure they could have their own ideas if they would just bother to use that squidgy piece of grey matter found bouncing around under their greasy yet immaculately coiffed hair, but they don't. The problem is that there is an amazing fountain of knowledge in their lives. A box of never-ending ideas and already written eloquent pieces. A screen that displays such tempting messages as "Free Essays" and "Great Stories'' you can access with a click of a well-used mouse. After all, why would you bother to do your own homework when you can just cut and paste it and get on with your all important tweeting?

Plagiarising from the web has reached epic proportions. Despite the warning that I will be checking all assignments for plagiarism, the first assignment that students do always unearths plagiarists. In one class the rate was one in four assignments taken straight from the net. Of course, there are consequences, rewrites and punishments. But what infuriates me is the attitude that stealing ideas is acceptable. Where is the moral backbone of these children? Have too many episodes of Gossip Girl led to a belief that life should be more about partying and potential partners and less about actually achieving something themselves?

The moment that really makes me incandescent with rage is when I hand a plagiarised assignment back to a child, complete with a copy of the website where I found their work. Quite a few students will argue in a condescending tone "Well that's not the website I got this from." And quite probably it's not. Because the internet itself is full of plagiarism. One book or movie review will be copied and pasted onto a dozen other sites. Productions of plays will steal their synopsis from academic sites. Bloggers and forums will quote each other and cut and paste the words of others to answer questions. If this box is their bible, do we really have a hope?

My only consolation is that I've seen a much smarter breed of student come through in the past few years. Showing initiative and intelligence, students are submitting something that wasn't found on any single website. The little devils have figured out that if you plagiarise from multiple sites it's much harder to spot.


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