Bowen: There was a study done recently by an economist at Santa Clara University,
Daniel Klein, showing disproportionate numbers of registered Democrats
versus registered Republicans in various departments at the University of California, Berkeley,
and Stanford. [The study’s findings are available at
http://www.ratio.se/pdf/wp/dk_aw_voter.pdf.] He has concluded that this
kind of ideological imbalance has a negative impact on the education of
students. He implies that
there is a temptation to hire one’s own. Conservative activist David
Horowitz has made much the same kind of statement, saying that faculty
are preaching rather than teaching. And why? Because there’s a gross
imbalance between liberals and conservatives in the professoriate. Effectively,
they are calling for government regulation of the academy [TC: Klein is not, this is inaccurate]. Do you worry
about calls for legislation at the state level to correct this
situation? Does this worry you as an economist or as a professor?
You know, it certainly does worry me. It would worry me a lot if
legislation passed. There was a concern at one time that there would be
repression of the left. And now there are concerns that the left is
taking over. It’s hard for me to judge, of course, but I must say that
my department contains
a number of Republicans. And they were appointed by a democratic group,
whose members said these guys are good, and we’ve got to hire them. And
so far, I have not seen it work the other way, but I’m a little
concerned about where it could swing. In this case, the criticism seems
to be just wrong, because I think the departments hire on the basis of
merit. And I think it’s nonsense to say that we’re discriminating
against Republicans. We hire them all the time. On the other hand,
there was a department here that until the 1960s would not appoint a
Jew. And, finally, the university did interfere, you see, in that case.
The dean took over the department. He took away the power to appoint
from the department and changed its composition in three or four
years. In fact, I was amazed how rapidly he was able to turn things around
to strengthen an already very good department. To defend the autonomy
of that department would not have been something I would have been very
happy to do.
Bowen: The economics department at the University of Chicago
has had a reputation for many years for being quite conservative. Do
you think that’s the exception that proves the rule that you hire, as
you said earlier, on the basis of merit, not on the basis of party
identification of ideology?
There are people in that department who are not conservative. It’s a
very good department. Most of the conservatives are really quite
outstanding. I think they flock together. I
don’t think it’s entirely the case where you pick your own kind. I
don’t think the economics department here is reproducing itself.
They’re different politically and methodologically. I think
methodological problems have been bigger more often than political
issues. I do not believe the
university, the central administration, should be totally unconcerned
about appointments. I used to believe that the department had to be
completely autonomous. It took me a couple of years to realize that
that was not right.
I can remember an instance at Chicago
in which there was an incident involving a professor of economics who
was sort of a village atheist type. He was a very good economist, but a
little eccentric. He believed that religion was one of the big
oppressive things in this world. This fellow saw a priest in class. He
went and gave his whole lecture on the evils of the Catholic church.
The next time the priest came, he gives another lecture. The priest
finally quit the class, and the professor said that he could finally go
on with the course.
you know, the priest went to the chair of the department who had a very
good record on academic freedom at the university. And the chair said
it was a question of academic freedom. He wouldn’t interfere with this
TC: Does anyone have data on Stanford?