College Guide


December 05, 2012 1:44 PM Bill O’Reilly Wants Affirmative Action for Conservative Academics

By Daniel Luzer

Political commentator Bill O’Reilly yesterday indicated that the overwhelming presence of progressive professors means this country needs an affirmative action program for conservative intellectuals. To protect, you know, America’s children. Good luck with that.

As O’Reilly put it:

…By letting so many liberal professors to openly get political with their students, taxpayers are seeing their money spend in a irresponsible manner. He proposed “affirmative action for conservative thought on campus.” [Libertarian columnist John] Stossel said that such a move would result in liberals “scream[ing] McCarthyism,” though he did agree with O’Reilly that having so many professors of one particular political agenda is troubling.

Here’s the clip:

It’s actually not troubling. While it’s true that American professors are likely to lean Democratic politically (one study several years ago, for instance, indicated that 72 percent of academics are liberal and only 15 percent identify as conservative), there’s no evidence these academics are indoctrinating America’s college students with their views. In fact almost 40 percent of college graduates are Republicans; only 27 percent are Democrats in the 2008 election only 53 percent of college graduates even voted for Barack Obama. If that’s indoctrination, not working out very well.

I suspect O’Reilly isn’t really serious. The general conservative take against affirmative action is that it’s unfair to reward or punish people for anything other than the quality of their intellect and work ethic, and the consequences to society be dammed. If colleges aren’t hiring conservative academics, it seems unlikely national or even institutional policy would do a good job correcting this.

The real problem with the proposal, however, is that this liberal bias in academia is not something that could be corrected through an affirmative action program. Such programs for ethnic minorities in college admissions and federal hiring are possible because there exists a vast supply of ethnic minorities who want to go to college and obtain good jobs.

While there are an awful lot of unemployed academics, particularly in this economy, there’s no evidence to suggest that there’s some huge group of unemployed conservative academics out there.

It’s not just that tenured professors lean liberal; this is also true of adjunct faculty, graduate students, and recent PhDs. Where would we find these conservative intellectuals?

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Brandt Hardin on December 05, 2012 3:10 PM:

    O'Reilly is just one of the talking heads guarding the inhabitants of Bullsh*t Mountain from rejoining the world of the sane. Fox News is a propaganda machine which dumbs down America by the day through disinformation and their slanted agendas.

  • g on December 05, 2012 6:10 PM:

    It's absurd on it's face of course, but I'm intrigued by how O'Reilly imagines employers would manage the recruitment process.

    How would he propose to determine a potential employee's political affiliation? Party membership? What of the so-called independents?

    Would there be some board review of all their writings, with yardsticks to measure liberality vs. conservatism?

    What of those who enters the academy under one guise and transforms after being tenured - as David Horowitz is said to have done? What about those who might lie?

    It's not like holding certain thoughts is a unchanging trait like race or ethnicity, or objectively verifiable, like income. What of changing fashions in politics? A conservative hired in 1998 would be deemed a flaming commie by O'Reilly's standards today.

    I thought Conservatives were against quotas and affirmative action.

  • T-Rex on December 05, 2012 6:43 PM:

    Affirmative action is appropriate if you can prove that there's been a history of discrimination against a group. A conservative academic who had assumed that such bias existed, although he'd never personally experienced it, conducted a statistically sound survey of self-identified political conservatives who taught at universities, and was surprised to discover that almost none had experienced such bias or pressure about their views, although they, like he, had assumed they were the lucky exceptions to this rule.

    Yes, there are not many academics who identify as conservative. Gee, can't imagine why a professor of biology wouldn't want to associate himself with a party that embraces creationism and global warming denial, can you? Why wouldn't a mathematician want to belong to the party of Karl Rove and "unskewed polls?" Why would any law professor not enthusiastically endorse Donald Trump's birtherism or Michelle Bachmann's and Sarah Palin's interpretations of the Constitution?

  • Keith M Ellis on December 05, 2012 7:27 PM:

    I think you (and others) are taking the wrong tack on this. It's self-serving for liberals to argue that there are no subcultures in which conservatives are discriminated against; human nature being what it is, it's absurd to argue that this isn't the case. And academia (at the instructor/researcher level, not so much the administrative level) well-known to lean strongly leftward relative to the rest of American culture.

    Not only that, but it's incoherent to argue that instructors are intellectually influential while somehow not being intellectually influential with regard to political ideology. Worse, it is generally a conservative, not progressive, argument that ideas and intellectual instruction could be somehow free of ideology — progressives are quite aware that very often conservative ideology hides under a facade of objectivity. So, similarly, it's self-serving for liberals to argue that no "indoctrination" occurs in college classrooms.

    That said, actual empirical evidence indicates, as the post discusses, that students aren't that much affected by their instructors ideology. I'd argue that what most likely happens is that students use their education as opportunities for confirmation bias — the influential profs we all hold dear to our hearts were probably telling us things that we wanted to hear, anyway.

    No, arguing that there's no bias, no influence, and that conservatives are not discriminated against in academia is not just inconsistent ... it's unnecessary.

    Because the true issues involved in oppression and privilege are what these things mean in the larger context. Just as there are, in fact, subcultures and communities that whites or women are discriminated against doesn't somehow disprove the existence of racism and sexism (or make all such forms of discrimination equivalent), that academia might have a liberal bias and discriminate against conservatives doesn't prove that conservatives, as a class, are oppressed or that countering the liberal bias against them in academia is either necessary or would result in a net benefit. And this is because firstly, conservatives are not oppressed in greater American society and arguably are (collectively) privileged, and, secondly, conservative scholars are arguably privileged in academia at the administrative level, as well as there existing a parallel intellectual universe in which they are highly sought-after and rewarded.

    Finally, contemporary conservative scholars have been badly compromised by right-wing nuttery — indeed, the parallel right-wing intellectual universe I just mentioned has played a corrosive role in this. Because that's the case, contemporary conservative scholars are disproportionately hacks or cranks and on the merits alone should be underrepresented — a leftward bias in academia is independent of this.

  • Snarki, child of Loki on December 05, 2012 9:29 PM:

    I look forward to the 500% increase in academic salaries that will be required to attract conservative applicants.

    I also look forward to the affirmative action programs to hire blatant liberals in schools of engineering and business.

    Even more than the two above, I look forward to O'Reilly shutting his damned pie-hole.

  • JoshuaCBirk on December 06, 2012 1:03 AM:

    @Daniel - you managled your statistics in this story.

    "In fact, almost 40 percent of college graduates are Republicans; only 27 percent are Democrats"

    Those numbers aren't for all college graduates, they are for WHITE college graduates. Last I checked, ethnic minorities still count as people.