The Antidote

Over at The Federalist, Joy Pullman draws our attention to a new working paper from the University of Arkansas that finds liberal bias in academia manifesting itself in lower grades for conservative students. From the abstract:

We find that while standardized test scores are the best predictors of grade point average, ideology also has impacts. Even with controls for SES, demographics, and SAT scores, liberal students report higher college grades and closer relationships with faculty.

The language of the study is more blunt in the main text:

Notwithstanding the GPA advantages held by conservative students in high school, students who support banning racist/sexist speech, and who endorse dissent as critical to the political process (positions typically associated with liberalism) enjoy a relative advantage over their peers. . . The ideology variable is positive, meaning that by the fourth year of college, liberal students tend to have higher grades than conservative peers: ideological self-placement is the only variable in the model changing direction from high school to college. Additionally, students whose fathers align with the Democratic Party tend to have higher fourth year college grades. [Emphasis in original.][H]olding all else constant, the most liberal student would enjoy a 0.16 point advantage over the most conservative student on a 7 point scale. Given our large sample size [of more than 7,000 students], this difference is statistically significant.

The paper is careful not to conclude that this is the result of deliberate bias in the classroom by liberal professors, and the authors (I know one of them) offer a number of explanations and alternate factors that might explain the results. My own experience—a long time ago now, to be sure—was that liberal and even radical professors can treat and grade conservative students just fine. Certainly I enjoyed classes I had with two radical professors (one undergraduate and one graduate), who stuck to the subject matter and enjoyed challenges in the classroom. But I do hear from students that the stifling conformity of college campuses these days deters them from speaking up in class, or among their classmates outside the classroom, and I hear stories of professors making politically-charged comments in classes whose subject matter often has nothing to do with politics. Above all, conservative students do worry that their opinions won’t be respected or treated fairly in lots of classes in the humanities and social sciences.

Well, here’s an antidote, starting in about 10 days:

POLSCI 109D 001LEC 001

Special Topics in American Politics: Conservatism, From Burke to Bannon

Instructor: Steven F Hayward; M, TU, W, TH; May 28 – July 3 12:00 pm – 1:59 pm, Dwinelle 145

Offered through Charles & Louise Travers Dept of Political Science.

Class Description

What is conservatism? Is it distinct from liberalism—that is, is conservatism a body of ideas contrary to liberalism, or is it a branch of liberalism? In other words, is conservatism in fact an “ism”? What are the fundamental differences between conservative and liberal perspectives today? Is conservatism the most significant challenge to the liberal idea today, or its erstwhile ally?

This course will explore these and related questions, such as the range of conservative perspectives on human nature, authority, religion, social change and progress, science and technology, race and ethnicity, economics and markets, equality, individual rights, the State and civil society, and ethics. The first half of the course will explore the philosophical, historical, and trans-Atlantic roots of conservative philosophy and social thought before turning to the specifically American variants of conservatism. The subdivisions of modern conservatism—libertarianism, traditional/“paleo,” neoconservatism, religious conservatism, etc.—will be defined and contrasted with each other.

The second half of the course will transition to contemporary issues of social policy, the debates over economics, “neoliberalism,” equality, race, sex, class, national identity, immigration, and social justice. Ultimately the course is about what it means to be a free human being, and what are the requirements and institutions of a free society that support a free human being.

For those of you in the Berkeley area, Dwinelle 145 is a large lecture hall with plenty of room, so you’re welcome to sit in if you’d like. For those of you not in the area, I plan to tape the lecture portion of the class sessions, and perhaps post them up in their entirety (it depends on a number of things), but certainly make them available as podcasts.

You can download the syllabus and reading list here: Syllabus PS109D

And yes, it means no early summer vacation for me!