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Maybe it is just me, but a lot of those things described as living right in the last paragraph sound undesirable and likely unethical. No doubt one of the few times we will agree on a characterization of the right.
I am glad that you do not identify Ahmadinejad as a leftist, but the piece then proceeds as if his presence at Columbia proved that universities were run by leftists. The logic would be the exact same, and similarly loose, if your post was about how universities are dominated by fundamentalist Shiites.
I actually have a hard time picturing the professor who would both oppose Larry Summers and welcome Ahmadinejad. In fact there may not be such a person because the two incidents occurred at unrelated universities 3,000 miles apart.
The Chemerinsky situation seems to me a cautionary tale about how beholden universities are to their big money donors. Not sure about the rest of you, but when I think powerful big money donors I usually don't think liberal.
I also am not sure that political opinions have really changed all that much since the 60s. It goes without saying that the opinions of the elite policy makers has changed, but I think that a far different thing. Look at the SCHIP battle, something like 75% of Americans are in favor. The program seems to me to a classic Great Society type program and its approval is sky high. But I assume that neither Becker nor Posner supports the program, putting them in a group with that consists mainly of Beltway pundits, George Bush and slightly more than a third of the Senate.


perhaps another reason is that conservatives are not willing to work for university wages and would rather work in the more lucrative private sector


Posner is correct: there is something of a double standard when it comes to speech on campus. For example, at the law school where I teach, my colleagues have privately decried the problem of plaigarism and cheating generally at innumerable faculty meetings, but when I recently published a short piece on the subject, I was villified by those same colleagues.


Somehow i'm not surprised that two generally conservative intellectuals made an argument off of nothing other than stereotypes. Where is the data to support any of your conclusions? Neither of these posts live up to the standards set by previous posts.


I think Chris' remark in the comments section has quite a bit of mileage. Conservative theorists tend to drift toward more lucrative and influential 'think tank' positions, while left-leaning academics stay on campus. The reason for this, as Posner states, is the lack of a forceful leftist movement.

One must wonder, however, if the lack of a true leftist movement is because most of them settle for low-paying professorships and thus develop little political influence. A chicken or the egg question.

Two other points:

1. I found it odd that Posner mentioned Summers' Jewishness when contrasting him to Ahmadinejad. I don't see how his Jewishness makes him a target of left when most of the left is comprised of Jewish intellectuals.

2. The title of the post is a bit misleading. 'Free Speech in American Universities' is a segue rather than the main thrust of the post. Freedom of Speech on campus is often used as a rally cry for conservatives, but most of the victims have been left-leaning academics (Prof. Finkelstein at DePaul being a recent example). Last I checked, Rumsfeld was able to secure his position at the Hoover Institute.

Perhaps, Posner and Becker's comments are geared toward leftists and conservatives in the economic, rather than political, sense? There is a difference between the two that is often disregarded.


Whew!! That fast switchback from a couple of invite, uninvite issues to our nation's "elite" universities being hot-beds of the left and out of touch with the "changes" wrought by Reaganism. Geez, I almost fell off my bicycle! And woe! the sins of having toppled a "monarch" Shah of Iran, whose own installation was greatly assisted by our CIA.

For my part I don't think we're well served at all to hear only the vague rhetoric of "they all want to kill us" while hearing little or nothing from either the numerous factions of Iraq or what the Iranians have to say in response to our President's charges. I understand, most, of the myriad reasons for the two leaders not to take a conciliatory hike together at Camp David though our Presidents did meet with Soviets during a time of enmity, human rights violations and hostilities such as Afghanistan.

A venue such as an "elite" university seems an ideal forum to hear "our enemy's" side of the story however disagreeable it may be to us. Further it gives our pundits a chance to parse his claims and compare them to what they know of his actions.

For professorships it seems the question is so different from "free speech" and a visiting speaker I wonder why Posner included the issue of Rumsfeld and the Hoover Institute. Is having walked the halls of power enough? Or might the institute have thought the quality of his arguments lacking? A tough question and one, I suppose that would be related to the syllabus of his course or area of "research".

My guess is that freer access by the Russian people to outside media had a lot more to do with the implosion of the USSR than did "outspending them" in the arms race. Come to think of it, the arrival of television had a lot to do with the success of the civil rights movement. Embrace free speech, there is nothing better than a good controversy at our colleges be they "elite" or.......... the other kind? Jack

Tom Myers

Typo? You refer to "the fact that the female distribution of IQ is flatter than the male", but I believe it's the other way around.


I'm disappointed Ward Churchill's "little Eichmann's" comment and the famous letter from the Duke University professors concerning the false rape accusation scandal didn't make it into the comment.

It is distressing to me that when educated people say absurd things and are challenged that their automatic defense is not the data or reasoning that forms the basis of their thinking but the throwing down of some magically criticism-muting trump card of "free speech".

Perhaps "quality of logic and evidence" speech should be the higher standard for discourse from tenured faculty rather than an "unmitigated license to recklessly defame". The problem, to me, is not "leftist" thinking but the lack of rationalism from what should be its wellspring.

Judge Posner also says:

...for the fact that the female distribution of IQ is flatter than the male, although the means are the same, the distributions largely overlap, and thus there are plenty of women in the scientific and other professions who are more brilliant than many of their male colleagues.

Actually, though perhaps the above is a kind of typo, Secretary Summers did not say that at all, and the reaction to what he said wouldn't have made much sense if he did. That reaction, and the continued irrational knee-jerk demonization of the man by intelligent and educated people compells me to restate his case.

What he said was that the population data indicate that the means are *not* the same, that the average male IQ is lower than the population average, and the average female IQ is higher.

On its face that would suggest that, in an "equal" society, women should dominate intellectual fields. But this would not necessarily be true if the "flatness" of the distributions by gender were different for some reason, and in fact it turns out that the male standard deviation is much larger (the distribution is flatter) than the females.

In keeping with this, women are supraproportionately represented in above-average intelligence fields in general (like teaching), but are infraproportionately represented at the highest levels.

This means that there are a significant number of men in a range of very low intelligence where you find practically no women, but also that there is a level of high intelligence in the top few percent where the number of men begin to reach parity with the number of women, and going beyond that at the level of "genius" or "brilliance", where men begin to appear in dominant numbers.

All Secretary Summers said was that with a meritocratic selection process in an institution that selects for brilliance, the shape of the curves would yield a higher proportion of men automatically and without discrimination. In other words, that there was no need (and that it is unhelpful and perhaps insincere) to conjure hard-to-define and impossible-to-disprove phantom concepts of "institutional" and "subconscious" discrimination merely because the genders are not proportionally represented.

And then he went one bridge too far by suggesting that the shapes of the gender intelligence distributions, and that fact that they are stubbornly preserved between different age groups, and even different societies, could have a genetic basis with its origin in the different adaptive and selective mechanisms between the genders necessary for survival in a state of nature.

The main unstated "infuriating" implication of all this being that "not only are we not doing anything wrong, but that there may be nothing we can do to equalize the proportions while remaining meritocratic" In other words "How I learned to stop worrying and love the prospect of a permanently disproportionately male Harvard faculty"

Now, for all anyone knows for sure at this point, this conclusion could be true or false. There is some compelling evidence, but there is also a great deal of uncertainty given the difficulty of running controlled experiments (which is the case in most Social Science).

What Secretary Summers suggested is that intelligent and educated professors should be able to engage objectively and professionally with the idea without immediately screaming discrimination when the numbers don't come out "right" - or in agreement with their particular beliefs - on the basis on the numbers alone.

He was right that they should, but he was wrong that they would, and especially wrong in thinking that they would be at all reasonable and fair to a man who, even in good-faith, says things that challenge the faith in deeply-held assumptions and may threaten the realization of their dreams and visions for the future.

That such a man should be essentially fired and permanently shunned and boycotted for saying such a thing is a great shame and embarrassment to our society and creates a certain level of suspicion about who, exactly, should enjoy these professors' purported commitment to free speech.


Some thoughts:

Yes yes, anyone who has been to university in the last decade knows that the reactionary right continues to believe that it is being repressed despite all indications that their influence rose dramatically throughout the ReagaBush years. Perhaps this comes from confusing being wrong with being oppressed.

I was left of the faculty and my peers at law school, but I also doubt that Posner's experiences of the politics of students at UChicago are generalizable. I think the students have an understanding that the baby-boomers are incapable of recognizing and that will not have its day until the "greatest generation" subsides into senility.

I know that no one in America believes that totalitarianism is a real possibility, not having shared the experience of 1930s euro-fascism. But one wonders what having universities in line with mainstream jingoistic conservatism would bring about. Suprising conclusions come out of echo chambers.


University professors (even outside the discipline of biology) are more likely than the average citizen to believe in evolution. And University professors (even outside the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry) are more likely to believe that homosexuality is not a choice and exists in all cultures. And University professors are less likely than the average citizen to believe in astrology. I doubt that one would use this data as prima facie evidence that academics were biased.

So why not entertain the possibility that university professors are more likely to be Democrats because Democrats have more intelligent policies? In the end such a possibility may in fact not be the case, but it seems to me that it should be entertained before going on to other hypotheses.


I find it funny that some people still refuse to believe that universities tend strongly toward the left. These people either didn't go to college or went to college but are so blinded by their liberalism that they feel the leftist political atmosphere there is the normal spectrum, and the real world is just hopelessly conservative.
One unfortunate side effect of strong leftism on campus, I believe, is that political ideology substitutes to some extent for academic quality as factors that determine one's grade in certain humanities classes. As a consequence, these classes and the majors they constitute are are not taken seriously as academic subjects either in the real world or among the rest of the student body. Unfortunately those who take these classes often realize this fact too late. Basically any subject or major that ends in "studies" fits this model.


Sceptic, it is true that university professors often are right on issues which they disagree with uneducated conservatives. However, don't then assume that because of this they must be right, or are more likely to be right, on issues which they disagree with educated conservatives. The alternative between today's liberalism on campus is not religious fundamentalism of the "earth made in 6 days" variety. A conservative who disbelieves evolution and believes the earth was created in 6 days is not the type who would replace liberal professors at universities.


But, curiously, when beginning in the late 1970s, and accelerating with the election of Reagan in 1980, the country as a whole moved right,...As far as the country as a whole, let's wait until the 2008 elections to see which way things are moving. It's not inconceivable that Hillary will be president and the Democrats will have solid majorities in Congress.We can learn that the nation's elite universities are well to the left of the population as a whole.When it comes to economics, there are people who favor high levels of government spending on the military and there are people who favor high levels of spending on academic pursuits (education and research). Not surprisingly, people associated with the military want the government to spend money on the military and people associated academia want the government to spend money on academia.When it comes to social issues, people who have spent years trying gain a detailed understanding of the way the world works (e.g. academics) are less likely to go in for the simple-minded authoritarian "check your brain at the door" religious organizations. For example, I've seen claims that about 90% of the general population believes in God but only about 25% of professional scientists believe in God.As to things that are popular with supporters of the current Bush administration (wars of aggression, torturing innocent people, fiscal irresponsibility), the reason that academics disagree on these things is probably because academics are slightly less selfish and simple-minded than the population as a whole. For example, the vast majority of academics who were experts on Iraq correctly predicted that invading Iraq would be a horrific mess.

Tom Rekdal

One wonders if Felix Frankfurter, were he still alive, would continue to adhere to the belief he once expressed in Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183, 196 (1952): "To regard teachers--in our entire education system, from the primary grades to the university--as the priests of our democracy is . . .not to indulge in hyperbole." Maybe it is, after all.

USD Law Student

Worst post ever.


Judge Posner writes:

"There is no serious left-wing movement in the United States."

He surely jokes, or has lost touch with American political reality. How disappointing.


"live right and think left?" haha. cute ending to a pleasant read.

i dont believe "the right" should have a monopoly on fiscally sound, real world policies, just as the left must live in a dreamy, never-in-the-real-world idealist state.

i'd hope that the university is a space that can find that common ground -- and that is precisely where academia is positioning itself.

a true "left" wouldn't want to live in vain just as a true "right" doesn't really want to simply make big bucks with their "hedge funds" and corporate-privatization of the University... right?


Jason sez:
I don't believe "the right" should have a monopoly on fiscally sound, real world policies, just as the left must live in a dreamy, never-in-the-real-world idealist state.

.......... Jason, after seeing the spectacle of "the right" getting all the gavels and then setting the post WWII record for expanding the size and cost of the Federal government in their first term, with no hint of a veto from the White House, I'd be more than happy if they had even a tiny franchise on "fiscally sound, REAL world policies" much less "a monopoly".

As for "dreamyneverintherealworld" fantasy, will there come a time when "the right" comes to undertand that the US will NOT be competitive in the "global economy" while spending twice the percentage of GDP on a patchwork of healthcare as do the nations with which we are supposed to "compete?"

Is there a "realworld" inkling of why the dollar has lost 60% of its value by comparison to the Canadian looney in the half dozen years of "fiscally sound" "policy?"

If something new has come out that allows us to spend and borrow our way to a decent standard of living for most of our citizens I'd like to be in on it. Jack


Universities are left? Depends on which department you are asking. While it is true that counties with universities tend to vote more democratic than republican, I hardly see the direct connection.


I agree with Judge Posner's comments except to add that, assuming the correctness of his premise, i.e., that America's colleges and universities are decidedly Left-leaning while (ironically) being rapaciously capitalistic in the way that they are run, this fact would matter little if teaching rather than indoctrinationn were the order of the day on college campuses. College students have the right to be free of indoctrination in the classroom irrespective of the personal beliefs of those who teach them. It is this right that has been breached and it is this right that has to be restored.


Brilliant logic: most professors don't believe in God; therefore, they are less likely to think irrationally; therefore, they are more likely to think critically and objectively; therefore, their carefully crafted, non-politically motivated conclusions about society and politics must be correct, and no honest debate is required, or permitted. You're a hero to simple-minded people everywhere, Wes. Thanks for pointing it out in a sublime way!


Universities are to the left. Reagan recognized that as far back as 1975. There is an old adage, "those that can't do teach." This simplifies it, but there is a grain of truth to every stereotype and this is no different.

Virtually every professor I had during my undergraduate years was left of center.

I have counseled my daughter to play the game on essay questions with professors and play to their liberal bias for a higher grade. If she answered with a "conservative" answer, she would be marked down.


DCLawyer: Counselor??? You begin with "Brilliant logic" but quickly shift to "beliefs?" And, as quickly tap dance back to a discussion of rationality? and further mention of critical and objective thinking.

Perhaps the conclusion and best of Wes' comments was: "For example, the vast majority of academics who were experts on Iraq correctly predicted that invading Iraq would be a horrific mess."

Logically, critically and objectively, one can not help but wonder why knowledgeable experts were not consulted on such a momentous decision to invade, occupy and "fix" Iraq, according to our criteria, while there was time to avoid the horrific mess. The most urgent of timelines suggested indicated "maybe" a nukie in three years, so the rush to invade was hardly logical.

Are we then left with the belief systems of the ideologues of the neocons who signed the letter urging President Clinton to invade Iraq on the same faulty assumptions? Perhaps it's a good to discipline ourselves to separate our beliefs from objective debate? Except when lobbying or trying to convince a jury?

Charles N. Steele

Summer actually did *not* say whether the IQ distribution for males or females has a higher mean; he stated that apart from that issue there's the issue of the standard deviation, and that if it the far RHS of the distribution from which profs in elite universities are drawn, then differing StDev could help account for the observed male:female ratios, and that this hypothesis should be investigated.

So why wasn't he roundly condemned for suggesting the hypothesis that there are so many more dumb men? (And would a test to see whether there are many more very dumb men than women constitute a test of Summer hypothesis?)


There is an old adage, "those that can't do teach."In my field (science), top level professors do very little teaching. In theory, most of their time is spent conducting scientific research but in practice most of their time is spent navigating government bureaucracy in order to maintain funding for their research group (and, indirectly, for their University in general).One could try to argue that liberals are more likely to have careers that rely on government support rather than free market business but even that contradicts my actual experience. In particular, of the two most fervent supporters of the Bush administration that I knew personally one had a lifetime career in the military and the other had a lifetime career in the state highway department.In fact, I would go so far as to say that a fundamental characteristic of modern conservatives is a belief in the necessity of a strong hierarchy of authority in which the good people at the top of the hierarchy control the bad people at the bottom of the hierarchy. The way to advance in the hierarchy is obedience to your (moral) superiors. While this belief makes conservatives well suited to certain large corporate environments (quasi-"free market") it also makes conservatives well suited to large government bureaucracies.Virtually every professor I had during my undergraduate years was left of center.I don't think I even knew what my undergraduate professor's political views were. I once had a staunchly conservative relative ask me if my professors were liberal and I misunderstood the question and answered that they gave quite a bit of homework but there were mechanism in place to get an extension if you couldn't get it done in time.More recently, some of the conversations I've had with other friends in science have touched on the idea that many of the claims made by the Bush administration are scientifically implausible. That's not a view we share with students, though.

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