Marvel Comics is caught in a dilemma. The company, which went from near-bankruptcy in 1996 to one of the most successful movie studios in the world, first became well known in the 1960s for its depiction of superheroes who had human problems. Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men the Fantastic Four and others didn’t fight their battles in the fantasy world of Gotham or Metropolis, but in New York City. They dealt not only with super-villains but with racism, self-doubt, adolescence, illness, and poverty. As a new book out from Taschen, The Marvel Age of Comics 1961-1978, shows, these characters were as much a part of the 1960s as the space race, antiwar college protests, and John F. Kennedy.
Google and our elite universities appear to inhabit the same ideological bubble and intone the same diversity mantras. And that is not surprising, because almost everyone at Google is a product of the modern university and those at its HR department the likely product of its more PC inflected half—the humanities or soft social sciences. And Google must live within the world of mainstream media and government regulation, and these two sectors are also dominated by elite university graduates of the last quarter century.
But nevertheless the institutions and their employees operate under different constraints. Google is the elite university without tenure and the elite university is Google without market discipline. You might think that tenure is the more important obstacle to enforcing an orthodoxy like modern diversity policy. After all, a professor at an elite university would not be fired for making the largely accurate factual claims about the average differences in temperament between women and men that the Googler did in the memo that got him sacked.
Drew Faust, the President of Harvard, is concerned about the plight of free speech on college campuses and hers in particular. She says all the right words about the importance of free speech to a university. But her suggestions about how to secure it are vague and anodyne. For instance, Faust exhorts those at the university to be “generous listeners.” For a college President, that is a bit like a preacher exhorting his congregation to oppose sin.
It is easy to be a generous listener when you are listening to people who agree you with you. But the ideological and partisan homogeneity of Harvard makes generous listening to sharply dissenting views harder, because it is easier to regard them as irrational or evil when none of your friends and colleagues share them. The problem is a structural and institutional one and cannot be solved by sermons.
Thus, if Faust were serious about free speech and free inquiry on campus she would announce some initiatives to make sure that conservative and libertarian voices punctured the campus bubble. A school as wealthy as Harvard could announce a speaker series to bring in a serious conservative or libertarian scholar once a week to speak to the entire university on an issue of public policy or political philosophy.
Professors at law schools are overwhelming left-liberal, as I made clear in a 2005 study published in the Georgetown Law Review. Just as it was said in the late nineteenth century that the Anglican Church was the Conservative Party at prayer, our law schools today are the Democratic Party at the podium. The hard resulting policy question is whether law schools should adopt affirmative action for libertarians and conservatives to foster the debate that should inform legal subjects with a substantial political valence.
While I have not supported preferences of this kind, the strongest arguments in their favor are the existence of preferential policies in favor of race, gender, and ethnicity that are themselves justified as a way of creating a fuller debate. Indeed, one particularly powerful point—rarely if ever made made—is that the widespread intentional discrimination in favor of certain preferred groups in faculty hiring has a disparate impact on conservative and libertarians and reduces their presence at law schools. That is, since minority and female law professors are likely to be even more left-liberal than white males, the routine diversity policies of law schools decrease the number of conservatives and libertarians compared to a baseline of purely merit selection.
A new study of the ideological imbalance in the legal academy, The Legal Academy’s Ideological Uniformity, provides hard statistical support for this proposition. It shows that minority and female faculty members are indeed substantially more likely to be left-liberal than white males and be even more left-wing. Racial and gender diversity does reduce ideological diversity.