A filtering process, from graduate school admissions through tenure decisions, tends to exclude conservatives from what Mark Bauerlein calls academia's ``sheltered habitat.'' In a dazzling essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University and director of research at the National Endowment for the Arts, notes that the ``first protocol'' of academic society is the ``common assumption'' -- that, at professional gatherings, all the strangers in the room are liberals.
It is a reasonable assumption, given that in order to enter the profession, your work must be deemed, by the criteria of the prevailing culture, ``relevant.'' Bauerlein says various academic fields now have regnant premises that embed political orientations in their very definitions of scholarship:
Schools of education, for instance, take constructivist theories of learning as definitive, excluding realists (in matters of knowledge) on principle, while the quasi-Marxist outlook of cultural studies rules out those who espouse capitalism. If you disapprove of affirmative action, forget pursuing a degree in African-American studies. If you think that the nuclear family proves the best unit of social well-being, stay away from women's studies.
This gives rise to what Bauerlein calls the ``false consensus effect,'' which occurs when, due to institutional provincialism, ``people think that the collective opinion of their own group matches that of the larger population.'' There also is what Cass Sunstein, professor of political science and jurisprudence at the University of Chicago, calls ``the law of group polarization.'' Bauerlein explains: ``When like-minded people deliberate as an organized group, the general opinion shifts toward extreme versions of their common beliefs.'' They become tone-deaf to the way they sound to others outside their closed circle of belief.
When John Kennedy brought to Washington such academics as Arthur Schlesinger Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, McGeorge and William Bundy and Walt Rostow, it was said that the Charles River was flowing into the Potomac. Actually, Richard Nixon's administration had an even more distinguished academic cast -- Henry Kissinger, Pat Moynihan, Arthur Burns, James Schlesinger and others.
Academics, such as the next secretary of state, still decorate Washington, but academia is less listened to than it was. It has marginalized itself, partly by political shrillness and silliness that have something to do with the parochialism produced by what George Orwell called ``smelly little orthodoxies.''
Many campuses are intellectual versions of one-party nations -- except such nations usually have the merit, such as it is, of candor about their ideological monopolies. In contrast, American campuses have more insistently proclaimed their commitment to diversity as they have become more intellectually monochrome.
They do indeed cultivate diversity -- in race, skin color, ethnicity, sexual preference. In everything but thought.