Chris Uggen's Blog: danger! high voltage!

Friday, May 12, 2006

danger! high voltage!

ok, i'll admit it. i've been really depressed that i didn't even merit a footnote in david horowitz's the professors: the 101 most dangerous academics in america. here's the publisher's blurb:

Bestselling author David Horowitz reveals a shocking and perverse culture of academics who are poisoning the minds of today's college students. The Professors is a wake-up call to all those who assume that a college education is sans hatred of America and the American military and support for America's terrorist enemies.

so, you can see why i'd like to get a mention. in truth, i agree with horowitz on a couple points: (1) there are few conservative voices in the academy; and, (2) professors can and do abuse their tenured positions.

that said, i've seen little evidence of a "shocking and perverse culture of academics" (but i'll keep looking). i'd also challenge the assertion that academics hate America. we're actually sort of keen on the whole free speech and civil liberties thing. finally, the culture of the academy is anti-mindpoisoning. we walk into a classroom with some modicum of professional responsibility, don't we? some of us even view the relationship between student and teacher as a sacred thang.

well, inside higher ed links to a nice fact-checking report on horowitz's book, defending the honor of those marked as dangerous. i know at least one dangerous prof who made the cut: sam richards, a political sociologist and fine drummer to boot (after playing with him on angie, i wanted to move into his basement). the rebuttal to sam's entry is telling:

Mr. Horowitz claims, Dr. Richards’ “class lessons are reinforced with ‘out-of-class’ assignments that include the viewing of left-wing propaganda films” (305-06).

As Professor Richards points out, Mr. Horowitz “disingenuously fails to note that students also receive credit for attending ‘conservative’ events—including a talk by none other than David Horowitz! In fact, when Mr. Horowitz visited Penn State, I strongly encouraged my liberal students to attend...

...Mr. Horowitz leaves out the parts of Professor Richards’ notes demonstrating that Richards’ true objective is to encourage “thinking that attempts to account for all sides of an argument and tries to go beyond simple answers to complex questions.”

sounds like professional responsibility to me.


At 6:09 AM, Anonymous Jon said...

The best part is that Horowitz only includes 100 profs in his book - despite calling the book The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. So if only Horowitz could count - maybe then you'd have made the cut as number 101!

At 10:12 AM, Anonymous ryan said...

Horowitz has little credibility in my book, but I think the larger issue could use some real intellectual discussion. Would it be good for sociology to have a steadier dose of conservatism? I do not refer to the partisan variety of conservatism, but true intellectuals in the mold of James Q. Wilson or George Will (neither sociologists). One lesson I took from Randall Collins’ THE SOCIOLOGY OF PHILOSOHPIES is that competing ideas can be healthy in the pursuit of intellectual advancement. (I have no idea how Collins would react to my application here, although I’m curious.) Perhaps a dose of conservatism could yield a new variety of intra-sociology intellectual debate, new research questions and ideas, and more accountability with respect to our findings.

As for indoctrination, I’m skeptical. If someone believes that one semester can undo a lifetime of family and peer influence concerning political orientation, then perhaps (s)he needs a political sociology class. Or equally likely, perhaps I need some educating on that issue.

At 10:15 AM, Anonymous Jon said...

I keep thinking about this. You know what would be interesting (if it hasn't already been done), is an audit study on this. Send resumes to faculty and ask how they rank the applicant and how likely they would be to hire them. I know such studies have been done on gender (varying only the applicants gender), but it'd be interesting to test both a) whether or not "public sociology" or simply civic involvement is rewarded or punished (or neither) and b) if it matters whether or not that public involvement is conservative or liberal (and even within those groups, moderate/mainstream vs. radical).

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Mike W. said...

While I'm a big fan of audit studies, jon, and I'm deeply considering doing one for my dissertation (though prelims are looming even nearer than that), I'm not certain that's a fair analysis of how hiring is done in academia. Most "insider accounts" of hiring, and discussions with faculty members center around how quickly submitted CVs are trimmed down from the "long list" to the "short list." Without exception, refereed publications and external grants/other sources of funding serve to separate those who are considered from those who receive a boilerplate letter of rejection. In short, productivity, or "academic output" is far more important than ideology.

Of course, "liberal" sociologists are a dime a dozen, and "conservative" sociologists stick out like a sore thumb, for the most part. We can all recall some of the major "conservative" studies and research: Davis and Moore's functionalist account of stratification, the work of Carl Brigham assessing race and intellect, and more recently, of course, Herrnstein and Murray's "The Bell Curve" (which, I must note, seems to be the one damned everpresent soc book in any chain bookstore, outside of DuBois).

Now, Herrnstein and Murray were thoroughly discredited for allegedy "making the data fit the theory," among other methodological atrocities. On the other hand, there were social scientists who took issue with their claim that perhaps we should "learn to live with inequality." I can appreciate the former, but arguing against the latter is, in my opinion, helping very little. Perhaps I'm simply not astute enough to understand why it's both common and acceptable (and perhaps also expected) to approach social research or an argument with the notion that "inequality is bad," but it's rife for the critic to attack the opposite perspective, that "inequality is good." I'd rather see opposite points of view, rather than differing perspectives on inequality being inherently bad(comparing, say, a Wilsonian structuralist argument with and more Joe Feagin-flavored social psychological point of view).

It's possibly coincidental that yesterday I was fortunate to see the esteemed Eduardo Bonilla-Silva speak on his book "Racism Without Racists" (and yet again today). One of his finest pieces was a 1997 ASR article in which he argued against the prior treatments of racism (which regarded it as patholigical, psychological, not embedded in the social structure, strictly overt, and so on) in social science research. Although inequality is only one point of contention in the field where a "conservative/liberal" divide might emerge, it's the most salient one for me at the moment (sorry, again, prelims). It seems that (and I say this very caffeinated and hesitantly) that some of the same accusations Bonilla-Silva makes about the prior treatment of race currently exists in theoretical understandings of inequality (save for the non-structural part).

At 11:58 AM, Anonymous chris said...

good comments. an audit might be appropriate for a study of grad admissions. one could vary something like a leadership position in a pro-choice campus organization v. pro-life organization. another variable might be receipt of an undergrad scholarship from a conservative v. a liberal foundation. another might be an undergrad degree from a religious v. a secular school (with, of course, similar quality of instruction). that said, i'm already pretty convinced that such bias exists with regard to political orientation. and, i'd add, that it has likely worked to my personal advantage rather than my disadvantage.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Jon said...

In response to Mike's comment on my audit idea: I'm aware that publications and funding are supposed to be the primary factors in the faculty hiring process. That misses the point of the audit though: gender's not supposed to be a factor, but it may be according to the study I mentioned (I looked up the citation on that study, here it is). Similarly, ideology's not supposed to matter (and is not placed front-and-center on an applicant's CV either - so you'd have to invent round-about ways of signalling ideological commitments, in ways like Chris suggested), and whether or not an insider account says it matters or not, the appeal of the audit is that it can get around the factors people consciously admit to using in evaluating applicants. I agree it may be too hard to do this signalling through a CV alone though. To be honest, I'm also a bit scared, being a good ol' liberal academic myself, that such a study would probably be used to justify the sorts of awful things people like Horowitz are pushing for. (Not that this is a reason to ignore the fact of the bias, if it exists.)


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