Looking Beyond Political Diversity

Professor Jerry Balmuth

To the Editor:

In his article “Missing Diversity at Colgate” in last week’s issue of The Maroon-News, Professor Stanley Brubaker proposes, somewhat ironically, an affirmative-action policy for conservatives, as he sadly laments the absence of a sufficient number of Colgate faculty members with an “openly” conservative “perspective” or “world-view.” He infers that this putative paucity is a fact from his personal survey, employing his brilliant diogeneseian “lamp” (“Any conservatives here?” “No none here”) and from the data gleaned from the “third of Colgate faculty” who replied to a UCLA survey on “political views” or attitudes; the result was, he recounts mournfully, “sad to say, similar to those for other select, private liberal arts…colleges.”

Possibly this last point should have told him something about the perspectives of the most highly informed and educated people in the society. He should have realized that their personal and political views are not-nor should they be expected to be-representative of those of the population at large. Similarly, individual faculty views on intelligent design, an afterlife or the feasibility of stem-cell research are not supposed, or likely, to be reflective of popular opinion or the popular vote.

But then, since only 30% of the faculty replied to the questionnaire, it might be that two thirds of the unresponsive faculty are closet (even married) conservatives, refusing to respond to this intrusion into their personal views; and that Brubaker’s too quick presumption of his having gained insight into a fair sample of Colgate faculty views was just that-too quick.

Moreover, Brubaker fails to make the case that a faculty person’s personal, political and social views are relevant, let alone critical to what he is trained and obligated to teach effectively and his willingness to expose students to unfamiliar. perhaps questionable perspectives. Brubaker believes that he is such a dispassionately effective teacher (“I try to present liberal perspectives in my classes”); but, uncharitably, he’s not persuaded that there are many others like him.

I wish I could persuade him otherwise. We hire scholars based on their scholarly and teaching ability and promise, and their intellectual openness and imagination, not on their favorable espousal of political doctrine or perspective. He is, in effect, asking us to apply a political (even religious) standard for employment at Colgate-a policy offensive to the free society and to the liberal arts. Moreover, Brubaker appears to assume, falsely and parochially as a political scientist, that the whole of a student’s liberal education is somehow critically dependent on the instructor’s personal political and cultural views.

There is no political or religious test for faculty hiring at Colgate, and we should be wary of any such regressive, reactionary proposal. On Brubaker’s view, we might fairly require that positions supporting cold-fusion, flat-earth, feudalism and mercantilist policies demand adequate personal representatives, rather than being taught as aspects of their relevant disciplines. If Brubaker is, as I believe he is, an effective teacher open to alternatives with which he disagrees, he should allow this teaching virtue to extend to other members of the faculty as well.

Jerry Balmuth

Professor of Philosophy