Time to Keep the Door Closed?
For nearly 30 years, I have labored in the vineyard of academe, doing my best to transmit something of Western culture and civilization to an audience which cares little for it; like most classicists, I am conscious of fighting a rear-guard action on behalf of an army that marched away and disbanded years ago. Still, I maintain a decent enough enrollment and occasionally encourage a student or two to major in the field; in reality, too few opportunities for employment exist to encourage more than a precious few to the calling. I do not complain -- being a working Classicist is, inherently, a good thing. I am, however, puzzled over one thing -- the occasionally maddening behavior of my colleagues, whom I appear on occasion to cause to turn rabid because of my political affiliations.
I am the only political conservative in my department, a foreign-language farrago in which I hold the Classics enclave as a personal fiefdom in near-perpetuity by virtue of being the sole classicist and a tenured full-professor. People in the department know my views: pro-life, pro-America, pro-defense; anti-illegal immigration (which my colleagues insist on calling, in that meaningless way they have, undocumented aliens), anti-entitlements for all but the weakest, poorest, and most infirm among us (in short, the way entitlements used to work), anti-affirmative action, anti-national health care, and skeptical of climate change. (Although I believe absolutely that we should all be better stewards of the planet, climate change is less about science and more about politics, since the declaration of an emergency is always the fastest route to tyranny) I am no Mike Adams or Victor Davis Hansen, but some of my colleagues also know that I have written for the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and contributed to a GOP Wiki and Pajamasmedia.com, inter alia. For these acts I suffer comparatively little, in part due to the fact that I am a good professor and a good colleague, and my colleagues are also good professors and good people. Still, they cannot quite keep themselves from doing one odd thing; at irregular intervals, they enter my office on some pretext and deliver themselves of the liberal talking point of the day.
For example, one colleague rushed breathlessly into my office while the Republican nomination was still in doubt and Rick Perry was still a viable candidate. After ostensibly talking to me about a curricular matter, she quickly announced that "the high school dropout rate in Texas was the highest in the country under Perry," and left. As she and her husband (A Texas yellow-dog Democrat if there ever was one) are religious readers of the Austin American-Statesman, never a publication kind to conservatives, I had no doubt that whatever the supposed evidence existed for the claim was probably misinterpreted, misreported, or manufactured. But that did not strike me as the most severe problem with her breathlessly delivered factoid.
When I was a high-school student in Toledo in the 70s, had I dropped out of school, I would, presumably, have been the person to blame. My parents might have come in for a fair bit of criticism as well. The last person anyone would have thought to blame was the Honorable John Gilligan, then-governor of Ohio. What on earth has happened to lefitsts, not that they might deliver themselves of the potential burden of an unexpressed thought by chammering about it to me, but that they would bother making such an irrelevant point in the first place? Has liberalism sunk so far? (The answer, of course, is yes.)
The same colleague railed against Timothy Geithner, not for his career as a tax cheat or his attempts to monetize the debt, but because, to his credit (and under substantial pressure from the GOP) he resisted calls for the U.S. to put more cash into the IMF to help stabilize the EU's failing ClubMed. I enjoy internationalism as much as the next guy, but there are limits.
Likewise, another colleague likes to drop in from time to time and remind me of the immeasurable superiority of anything liberals think superior. At the time of Superstorm Sandy, under the guise of some pressing departmental business (a catalogue revision, I believe) she hurriedly announced that "FEMA responded appropriately" to the storm, taking a cheap shot at George W. Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina, and then rushed back to the business at hand. She awaited neither instructions on her error (FEMA was and remains under criticism for its handling of Sandy, but few would know it from reading the Nation or the New York Times), or a discussion of her underlying point (Bush bad, Obama good).
The same colleague burst in on another pretext just long enough to ensure that I knew that the polar bear populations were down in 11 of the 19 populations. In fact, it is only 7 of the 19, and recent reports from Nanuvet suggest that the old census methods were too conservative in their estimates. Polar bear populations may be increasing, not merely stabilizing, and since academics can no longer bewail the extent of the sea ice, they are now complaining about the volume of it.
None of the specifics of their complaints matter, per se, however. Their pronouncements impinge upon me no more than the existence of an occasional atheist threatens my religious beliefs. The somewhat deranged behavior of my colleagues in this regard manifests something much stranger. The presence of one conservative in their midst evidently plagues them until it overwhelms them. Then I have to pay for my sin (existing) by listening to them vent, usually while I prepare a lecture on Homer or a translation of Cicero for class. For the record, the lone conservative in our political science department experiences much the same treatment.
Those who try to maintain that there is no "group-think" in universities simply err. There may not be a demand for conformity; tenure diminishes personnel turnover to such an extent that it is a practical impossibility for liberals or conservatives to mold a faculty entirely in their own image, but the underlying desire still manifests itself; if we conservatives cannot be done away with entirely, we can still be force to absorb a few hits. (For the record, I have not yet plunked myself down in any of my colleagues' offices and gleefully pontificated about the current spate of Obama scandals -- I have my own work to tend to, and knowing what my leftist friends read, they probably have not found out about most of them yet, anyway.)
Still, I can only imagine how hard it might be to be an untenured conservative in a department far less committed to fair play than ours. My political and social views clearly rile my colleagues, who, while all leftists (and by extension narcissists, but that is another story) manage for the most part to separate their animosity towards my beliefs from their generally kindly sentiments towards me (I suspect that, for the most part, we all find ourselves more amusing than threatening), but I cannot help but think that a young faculty member at, say, a University of California-system school must be subject to far greater direct pressure to renounce or at least conceal his/her views. It should trouble all of us who teach college, attend college, or, more importantly, pay for college.