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LETTER TO THE EDITOR | What Kind of White Faculty Should We Hire?


By Christian Brickhouse

Re: “Liberal Intolerance at Cornell,” Sunspots, Dec. 7

To the Editor:

In the last few weeks, The Cornell Daily Sun has published a number of articles by conservative students decrying the lack of “intellectual diversity.” Indeed, last week, a resolution was proposed at the Student Assembly meeting to ask the Faculty Assembly to create a committee on diversity of thought. They diminish “diversity of thought” from the broad and deep intricacies of each field to one of partisan politics. They ignore the glaring racial disparities in hiring at Cornell and replace it with a discourse on hiring more “conservatives” (read: white people). To put this in no uncertain terms, these efforts couch veiled white supremacy in an otherwise valid aspect of academic discourse in order to make it seem more legitimate and palatable. Do not be fooled; they offer nothing of substance.

Diversity of thought is an important aspect of scholarly debate. Diversity of thought is not reducible to partisan politics. If the argument was about hiring more sociolinguists in our theoretically focused linguistic department or more Freudian psychoanalysts in our anthropology department, I would be more amicable. Those are legitimate debates within the fields and discussion across theoretical frameworks leads to more robust scholarship. My opinion or my colleagues’ opinions on the earned income tax credit offers no academic value to my work on Black American Sign Language. Indeed, the diversity of thought within the field can operate independently from the political affiliations of faculty members. These commentators equate political diversity with intellectual diversity with no argument. If these proponents actually cared about diversity of thought rather than furthering a partisan political agenda they would be discussing the value of such hirings in terms of actual academic thought and teaching rather than simply pushing for more conservative faculty which has no bearing on actual scholarship.

Instead we are here with a 76 percent white faculty arguing about what kind of white person we want to hire. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, the Republican party is 89 percent non-Hispanic White. For reference, the U.S. population is 62 percent white. Calls for more “conservative” faculty are necessarily calls for a more “white” faculty. Audacious, considering the faculty at Cornell is the second least diverse in the Ivy League after Dartmouth. Indeed, I have attended this university for seven semesters, completed two majors and taken classes in almost 20 departments and in these three and a half years have never, not once, had a Black professor. In fact, neither of my departments have a single Black faculty member. Professor Little, government, articulated this a year ago in the very article in The Sun these commentators like to cite: “Placing more emphasis on diversity of political beliefs when hiring [would] almost certainly require sacrificing on general quality or other dimensions of diversity.”

And that is a problem. If these conservative students actually cared about diversity of thought, they would be pushing for more faculty of color, more faculty with disabilities, more female and gender non-conforming faculty. My research has necessarily been hindered by the lack of professors in my departments with knowledge of Black communities and Deaf communities. For one of my research projects, I have had to work with faculty outside this institution to get better insights into these matters, and much of my background research is news to my faculty advisors. They want to know this information, they want more diversity of thought, but the way to achieve that diversity is not through affirmative action for white Republican faculty.

Mind you, the most obvious evidence of the hypocrisy can be seen in these commentators’ own works. Evan Kravitz, decrying “liberal intolerance,” opens with this quote by Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He then proceeds not to defend the free speech rights of the students who protested Santorum. Free speech is not a guarantee of a platform, it is a guarantee that you will, minimally, not be arrested by the government for your dissent. It does not mean you are free from consequences or backlash over your speech. Indeed, under the free speech doctrine, those protestors had as much of a right to speak as Santorum did, but instead of writing an article decrying a man who wants to deny me my basic constitutional rights, Kravitz writes an article criticizing protesters who exercised their own constitutional rights. Indeed, these nuances are lost on Kravitz because they do not fit his furthering of partisan politics. Or take Student Assembly Resolution 25 sponsored by S.A. representative Mitchell McBride ’17. It purports to ask the Faculty Assembly to create a committee to “investigate ways to increase and improve faculty diversity” but only make mention of political diversity based upon flawed statistics. Mind you, if Representative McBride cared about diversity, perhaps he should have supported that day’s Resolution 23 to make Cornell a sanctuary campus–a far more tangible benefit to diversity–instead of being the only person in the room of almost 30 to vote against it, but I digress. The Sun article that Resolution 25 cites only looks at political contributions which, given the current election cycle and our own Cornell Republicans choosing not to endorse the Republican candidate, can mask the actual affiliations of our faculty by firstly undersampling them and secondly missing conservative faculty who may be unwilling to give to the very Republican party the Cornell Republicans refused to endorse. For the people wanting more conservatives in academia, they aren’t making a good showing of their intellectual prowess.

These commentators further fail to comprehend the Academy at all. Academe styles itself as a meritocracy. It is not a perfect meritocracy, but it succeeds often enough. The Republican party denies climate change (education makes no difference in climate change denial among Republicans, and only 15 percent of conservative Republicans report to trust climate scientists according to a 2016 Pew Research Poll), there are still factions that deny evolution (the number of republicans who believe evolution is real fell 11 points from 54 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2013 according to a 2013 Pew Poll), our Vice President-elect believes (despite medical evidence to the contrary) that you can electrocute gay people into being straight, our President-elect falsely claims that millions of votes were cast illegally (while simultaneously challenging recount efforts), we had an armed man firing a weapon in pizza shoppes because of conspiracy theories that claim Hillary Clinton runs a child sex operation there, and I am expected to be convinced of the blanket claim we need more conservatives in science? Perhaps we should get science into the Republican Party before we get the Republican Party in science.

Indeed, these commentators try to equate this political affinity group with the push for diversity in other aspects without any good reason. I did not choose to be Black. I cannot choose not to be Black. Given new information, I cannot change my Blackness. Political affiliation is a choice. No one is born a member of a political party. Given new information one can (and should) change political parties. However over the last ten years we have seen a concerted shift by the Republican party to deny factual evidence. Consider again that between 2009 and 2013 the number of Republicans who believe in evolution fell by 11 points. We have a prominent public discourse on whether our president elect won because of “fake news” and an inability or even unwillingness of his supporters to deal with actual facts. The Oxford Dictionary word of the year is “post-truth” and Merriam-Webster has stated “fascism” is currently in the lead for its word of the year. Not only are these commentators comparing apples to oranges, but they do so to mask the problems with their own arguments.

This is not to say that being a Republican makes one categorically unfit, rather, it is to point out the very obvious flaw in these blanket calls to hire more conservative faculty. They are not arguments of merit. They are not articulating any tangible benefit that is best served by hiring more conservative faculty. They fail to recognize that conservative faculty likely do not fit the mold of the average Republican. Indeed, my point here is that political party is perhaps the worst proxy for conservatism given the nuance of political ideologies within the academy. My views on Supreme Court jurisprudence are much more conservative than my advisor’s — I’m a fan of Roberts and she of Sotomayor — yet she still chairs my committee for my thesis on the Supreme Court. Likewise, my opinions on unions are more liberal than a number of graduate students in my department, but we still are able to collaborate in the lab and discuss the pros and cons of our various decisions. Political ideology is far more nuanced than the partisan politics the commentators use as their motivation. In short, their arguments lack any kind of nuance, critical thought, or evidence. Their arguments rely on painting with broad strokes in order to eliminate nuance and further their agenda. A poor showing from those who want more people like them in academia.

Were these commentators able to make any claims about the value to scholarship that would come from hiring more Republicans, I would listen. So far though, they have only made sophomoric arguments: diversity of thought is good; there are a lot of liberals; therefore we need more Republicans. What they fail to articulate, which proponents for racial and gender diversity do, is twofold–any tangible benefit and any discussion of why there is a lack of representation. They have not shown how simply being a Republican makes someone better at understanding the P versus NP problem or better able to design an operating system. They have simply decried “liberal intolerance” of anti-science ideas and then, in the same breath, argued for more conservatives. Meanwhile, they completely fail to contend with the reason there are fewer conservatives in academia. The Sun article Rep. McBride cites argues the reason is because conservative students choose to go into jobs that are not academia. A professor emeritus of government, perhaps most likely to interact with conservative students, says “Conservative students who come through a place like Cornell very easily move into research or advising positions in Congress, journalism positions and political positions. Career patterns are such that you are less likely to have conservatives applying for academic jobs.”

Meanwhile the lack of racial diversity is not because students of color do not want to go into academia. Few of the 90 percent white Republican party has to deal with racial profiling. Few of the 90 percent white Republican party are the victims of racialized school discipline practices that disproportionately keep students of color out of school (Dept. of Education, 2014: “Although African-American students represent 15% of students…, they make up 35% of students suspended once, 44% of those suspended more than once, and 36% of students expelled. …[R]esearch suggests that the substantial racial disparities of the kind reflected in the CRDC data are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color.”) Few of the 90 percent white Republican party attend underfunded, highly segregated, inner-city public schools whose counselors, if they have any, are ill equipped to counsel students on how to get into college (PBS, 2014: “By 2011, the percentage of black students in majority white schools was 23.2% — slightly lower than it was in 1968”). Few of the 90 percent Republican party have to deal with the school to prison pipeline. Few of the 90 percent white Republican party have to deal with racism in academia, which keeps the most educated demographic group, black women, out of the academy. But please, continue to equate the conservative choice to avoid the (incredibly poor-paying) field of academia with minorities succeeding despite systemic roadblocks.

Because these commentators are so concerned with intolerance, let me be clear about what intolerance looks like. It looks like unfounded, reactionary disdain for the number of liberal professors. It looks like assuming malice because your professor, who makes a living out of cordial disagreement, doesn’t like you because of your political ideology. It looks like the second least racially diverse faculty in the Ivy League being asked, rather than diversify its racial make-up, to determine what kind of white people they want to hire. It looks like co-opting the successful movements of students of color to increase representation and access in order to stifle it and hire more white professors. It looks like weeks of poorly thought through articles with no convincing arguments or evidence trying to derail diversification of faculty in order to further partisan politics and the marginalization of faculty of color. If you want to see intolerance, just keep an eye on Kravitz’s Korner.

To these commentators I offer an old academic adage reserved for papers of your quality:

“Your article has been rejected after peer review. Please do not re-submit.”

Christian Brickhouse ‘17

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  • ” The Sun article that Resolution 25 cites only looks at political contributions which, given the current election cycle and our own Cornell Republicans choosing not to endorse the Republican candidate, can mask the actual affiliations of our faculty by firstly undersampling them and secondly missing conservative faculty who may be unwilling to give to the very Republican party the Cornell Republicans refused to endorse.”

    Indeed your interpretation of the statistics is wrong. The data was from 2011-2014 and Trump announced his campaign in June 2015. You can’t pin this on Trump rather Cornell professors didn’t donate to Romney or to Republicans during the mid-term.
    McBride also made this mistake in his resolution.

    Please don’t equate “conservative” or non-liberal with White. A fairly high 30% of Hispanics and Asians voted for Trump.,_2016#Results

    • The party of Trump did not magically appear in 2015, the demographics and ideological shifts that led to his rise began taking place almost a decade ago. Though Trump was not in the race from 2011 to 2014, the underlying demographics were similar if not the same. As evidence look to the rise and prominence of the tea party from 2009 to today. The factional split between centrist conservatives and right wing conservatives was well apparent then, and Romney suffered because of his inability to pivot from his pandering to those tea party base voters in the 2012 election.

      While 30% of Hispanics and Asians who voted voted for Trump, that is a necessarily small and non-representative sample. Voter turnout in this election was at a 20 year low with only 55% of eligible voters taking part. So, assuming a uniform distribution, only ~15% (30% of 50%) of Hispanics and Asians actually went out and supported Trump. Now this number is also called into question because of its representativeness. Because of voter ID laws which tend to disenfranchise lower income citizens and labor dynamics that make taking off time to work an economically poor choice for some, it is unlikely to be the case that the voting split actual represents the demographics of Latino and Asian citizens as a whole.

      Equating conservative with white is well supported by the data. Going beyond using Republicans as a proxy, the three largest groups that can be considered “conservative” are the Republican, Libertarians, and Independents. REpublicans are 89% non-Hispanic White. Libertarians are 94% non-Hispanic white, Independents–objectively the least conservative of the three (according to Gallup, most of the recent gains among Independents actually come from Democrats so Indies lean slightly left)–are 70% non-Hispanic white, better but still disproportionate to the share of the US Population.

      • By your accounting (50% of 70%) only 35% of Hispanics and Asians voted for Clinton, and that hardly represents the community as a whole either. While I completely agree the poor are disproportionately disenfranchised by Voter ID laws etc., and that it is despicable that Republicans support them, without supplying reasonable estimates on their impact you can’t use them to explain away 30% of their vote share. Even in real terms 15% of the entire Hispanic and Asian population is important.

        You paint racial groups as if they are monoliths. I agree that most minority voters vote Democrat but it becomes problematic when you ascribe these big ideological labels and values (conservative/progressive) onto to any group. When we do so we make it too easy for us to ignore each other. Without Black Students on campuses we found that we didn’t focus on racial discrimination as much as society did and now can you say that Cornell focuses on the “conservative” principles of freedoms of expression, trade, and markets as much as wider society does?

        What about Cuban-Americans , 50% voted for Trump? Surely they are important and yet their perspective is not encompassed by your view of a racial/ideological dichotomy.

        Similarly, >90% of Black voters vote Democrat but if we are to ascribe conservatives solely as white then what about the contributions of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Clarence Thomas (I know they didn’t support Trump and that’s not what were talking about)?

        Many people now scream “identity politics” and this is just what they mean. I believe it is a danger to this country if we divide ourselves into political factions along racial lines. I’m not pointing fingers and I don’t know the way out. I will say this though, if we continue to say conservative black Americans aren’t black, that white liberals are ashamed of their race, and that white conservatives are bigots (many are but many were just conned ), we aren’t moving forward.

        • This will be my last comment because you clearly do not want to understand the argument here. Firstly, 50% of Cuban-Americans did not support Trump, from your own source 50% of Cuban-Americans IN FLORIDA supported Trump. Unless you’re saying all Cuban-Americans live in Florida, then your claim is wrong. If you can’t even represent your data correctly, I’m not going to waste time here.
          Secondly, while the percentage of Cuban-Americans in Florida who voted for Trump is high, they collectively make up less than 6% of the Republican Party. You, conveniently, keep ignoring that when you bring up irrelevant sub-group statistics. If you’re saying we should predicate our arguments on societal trends based on less than 6% of a group when 90% is one racial group then you really aren’t making a good case for people like you in academia. Simply stating big numbers without any critical engagement doesn’t make you look smart, it makes you look like a charlatan. When discussing new roads, we don’t talk about how space shuttles would use them because 90% of the traffic is non-space fairing. When discussing cures for terminal cancers, we it’s not helpful to keep bringing up that fewer than 10% don’t die from it. It’s actually the opposite of helpful; it’s annoying and makes you look like an idiot who just likes being contrarian.
          Indeed, there are black conservatives, but if someone says they are conservative the fact that I can be almost 90% sure that the person is white based on descriptive statistics should give you a clue as to the ways we should be analyzing this. If there was a TV game show where you had to guess some person’s race and all you had was “he is a conservative” I would bet thousands on them being White. You ignore the sheer magnitude of these statistics because they’re inconvenient and conflict with your “if we don’t talk about it, racism will go away” ideology. That, interestingly, does not make them go away.
          And you’re right, racial groups are not monoliths, and the 10% of republicans and 6% of libertarians who are not white are varied in their ideologies and racial demographics, but bringing them up and doing pseudo-math about how many Cubans are conservative doesn’t change the fact that the overwhelming majority of conservatives are white. When talking about faculty hirings, we are necessarily talking about hiring from a hegemonically white pool of applicants. Indeed, I struggle to come up with a large social group that is less diverse. If your only criticism is my qualification, then you’re simply being obtuse. If your suggestion is that we should simultaneously hire more conservative faculty of color, you’re having a pipe dream.
          Lastly you said, “if we continue to say conservative black Americans aren’t black, that white liberals are ashamed of their race, and that white conservatives are bigots (many are but many were just conned ), we aren’t moving forward.” You’re the only one saying that. You want me to not equate conservative with white, but fail to explain how a group that is over 90% white shouldn’t be equated with that? That’s absurd. Your only argument is “well, there are Cubans and Colin Powell” How enlightened! My argument buckles beneath the weight of your tokenism! Never mind that it completely ignores every single one of my points. I never said conservative black people aren’t black, I’m saying that they make up such a small proportion of the set “conservatives” that, when discussing large trends and group activity, their contribution to these trends at large are marginal. 11% of Republicans are non-White so we’re already dealing with a terribly small minority, but now we have to break that one up into those who are academics. Less than 2% of the US population has a PhD. Assuming that’s representative here (it’s not, but just for funsies since you’re so fond of using flashy statistics with no real relevance) then the percentage of academics of color within the republican party would be 0.2%. So right now, you’re criticizing me for ignoring 0.2% of the republican party. It’s absurd to say the least.

          Pro tip: try reading the article instead of just the headline. Maybe you’ll learn something.

  • Please don’t equate “conservative” or non-liberal with White. A fairly high 30% of Hispanics and Asians voted for Trump.,_2016#Results

  • Indeed your interpretation of the statistics is wrong.
    ” The Sun article that Resolution 25 cites only looks at political contributions which, given the current election cycle and our own Cornell Republicans choosing not to endorse the Republican candidate, can mask the actual affiliations of our faculty by firstly undersampling them and secondly missing conservative faculty who may be unwilling to give to the very Republican party the Cornell Republicans refused to endorse.”

    The data was from 2011-2014 and Trump announced his campaign in June 2015. You can’t pin this on Trump rather Cornell professors didn’t donate to Romney or to Republicans during the mid-term.
    McBride also made this mistake in his resolution.

    Please don’t equate “conservative” or non-liberal with White. A fairly high 30% of Hispanics and Asians voted for Trump.,_2016#Results

  • If this article is what passes for critical engagement at Cornell, well, I would take a long look at the admissions process.

    Of course political diversity matters. Articles like them demonstrate why. Being conservative is clearly unacceptable to the author.

    There’s a nice false equivalence drawn with regard to “real” diversity in academic disciplines. Sure, hire more Freudians. But professors make political statements all the time. They shame conservative students every single day. Their in-class speech is not limited to spouting summaries of textbooks, it’s quite obviously inherently permeated with their political opinion.

    And the same old “free speech just means the government can’t arrest you for dissent” strawman? I’d think we were past this by now. The author is technically correct, in a pedantic sense. But defending free speech doesn’t mean accepting the bare minimum. Free speech is good, not just tolerable. People should be allowed to speak. Yes, it’s Cornell’s right to cancel speakers. But the argument isn’t that they don’t have that right, it’s that they shouldn’t exercise it.

    • Mark, I’d be very interested in seeing support for your claim that professors make political statements “all the time,” and liberal professors shame conservative students. As a senior, I have gone 7 semesters without having heard a single political comment from a professor, even during this grueling election cycle. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I would appreciate statistics backing up your statements. What are the percentages of conservative students who have felt victimized by a professor’s political stance? What percentage of professors actively shame students for conservative views? How has this gone on to affect students’ lives? While I can appreciate an opposing opinion, to me, your statement seems only incendiary and recklessly broad.

  • Free speech isn’t about constitutional rights. Yes, the government shouldn’t arrest you for dissent, but it doesn’t stop there. Free speech is good, not just a minimally tolerable quirk of society, as the author seems to think.

    And politically diversity in professors matters! They don’t just recite textbooks back at students. Liberal professors actively shame, disparage, and often even grade down conservative students. It’s a persistent feature of the regressive left, and I’m sad to see articles like this demonstrating what Cornell has apparently become.

    • Do you have any evidence of such or is your argument based upon gut feeling? Because, interestingly, my entire letter is about how arguments like yours don’t actually provide any evidence for their claims.

      • Small example, but still an example: One of the final questions in Oceanography was along the lines of “Should you feel guilty for eating a hamburger?” in reference to the amount of methane produced by cattle, which (obviously) has a negative impact on the environment. Had this question been worded differently, it would have been totally valid. Maybe “Would it be reasonable for someone to cut their beef consumption in an attempt to be more environmentally conscious?” could have worked. But the wording of the question, which technically was asking for an opinion, made it clear only one opinion was correct. I actually don’t eat beef for environmental reasons, but I wish I could’ve answered “no” because my personal belief is that you shouldn’t feel guilty, but rather be actively conscious when it comes to consuming beef. This is one small (but real) example of students with more conservative opinions being potentially downgraded for such views.

      • As a Cornell student and Libertarian (fiscally conservative), I can give you several instances of professors sharing their political opinions and shaming others, and I’m not even in Political Science. I usually defend my view as I trust professors not to let their personal politics get in the way of grading and I know if they do I can report them (though it is difficult to confirm grading bias in arbitrary paper grading), but that certainly isn’t a comfortable scenario to be in and a wrong mindset to find myself in. If you believe professors should be able to force conservative students to feel this way, think about how you would feel on the reverse.

        Last semester there was one time I didn’t speak up. I was told that caring about the national debt is stupid because we’re the United States and we can’t ever default. It’s obvious that I vehemently oppose that sentiment. But I didn’t speak up because I knew I would have that professor in future years.

        I am lucky to not have too much experience with this kind of behavior from professors but I have certainly faced it. If you want to learn more about it, find a conservative on campus and talk to them; they are likely to have a story.

        Interestingly, your letter doesn’t provide any evidence that claims from conservatives do not provide any evidence. Here is sone evidence.

        P.S. I am posting this comment as anonymous because of the above fear of a professor reading my comment here.

  • This is very well written and well argued. Thank you from an alum.

  • Pitiful.

  • […] Brickhouse recently penned an ambitious essay in this newspaper. Amongst other things, the author argued against the idea of creating a political […]

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