Why Are Many Liberals Blind to Academic Intolerance?

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Graduating students at a service before the 365th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 26, 2016. The author reports that between 2011 and 2014, 96 percent of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences gave to Democratic candidates. Brian Snyder/reuters

This article first appeared on the Cato Institute site.

The academic year now ending has seen more than its normal share of student, professorial and administrative moral posturing, so much so that we're seeing signs of a healthy backlash.

For example, two recent invitations came to me to speak on the subject: one on academic freedom, the other more broadly on tolerance. And very recently we've seen that the campus protests over naming the George Mason University Law School after the late Justice Antonin Scalia were settled after Virginia's State Council of Higher Education declined to block the name change.

But don't think the battle against leftist academic intolerance has been won. Witness Nicholas Kristof's op-ed in The New York Times of May 29, "The Liberal Blind Spot."

In a column a few weeks ago, Kristof offered "a confession of liberal intolerance" in which he criticized his fellow progressives for their hypocrisy in promoting all kinds of diversity on campuses—except ideological. The reader reaction?

It's rare for a column to inspire widespread agreement, but that one led to a consensus: Almost every liberal agreed that I was dead wrong.

"You don't diversify with idiots," asserted the reader comment on The Times's website that was most recommended by readers (1,099 of them). Another: Conservatives "are narrow-minded and are sure they have the right answers."

Times readers aside, how skewed are the numbers in academia? Well, at Princeton during the 2012 presidential election, 157 faculty and staff donated to Barack Obama's campaign, two to Mitt Romney's—a visiting engineering professor and a janitor.

From 2011 to 2014 at Cornell, 96 percent of the funds the faculty donated to political candidates or parties went to Democratic campaigns; only 15 of 323 donors gave to conservative causes—perhaps a product of Cornell's agricultural school.

And that same figure, 96 percent, describes the contributions of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences to Democratic candidates during the same period.

For a broad picture of the ideological complexion of American law schools, see the splendid article by Northwestern University Law School's Jim Lindgren in the 2016 Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, published by the law school's Federalist Society chapter.

Numbers that skewed don't come about by accident. As Kristof notes, "When a survey finds that more than half of academics in some fields would discriminate against a job seeker who they learned was an evangelical, that feels to me like bigotry."

Fortunately, a noted progressive has had the courage to call this for what it is. Kristof's piece is worth reading.

Roger Pilon is the founding director of the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies.