- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Christopher Scalia may not have been barred from the university for his conservative beliefs, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t play a role in his decision to walk away from the academy.

With an emphasis on Sir Walter Scott and other Scottish Romantics, Mr. Scalia taught English for eight years at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. He published enough to secure tenure, got along well with his colleagues and enjoyed opening bright, young minds with the help of great books.

But with a budding family and more lucrative employment prospects in other sectors, Mr. Scalia last year decided to hang up his academic regalia to pursue a career in public relations.

“For me, it was a financial issue,” he said. “I wasn’t earning enough money to raise a family, and there was no prospect of me earning more money anytime soon.”

In an anemic market for Ph.D.s, professors of all political stripes face financial pitfalls. But the obstacles placed before conservatives are perhaps especially severe.

Mr. Scalia said attempts to find higher-paying positions at other universities were futile, largely because the only openings were “for somebody who wrote on race and empire.”

“Those are great topics as subjects, but in the academy you go a certain direction with those topics,” he said. “My suspicion is conservative applicants won’t have written about those particular topics as much as others and won’t be as drawn to them.”

Although Mr. Scalia does not believe he faced discrimination in hiring as a conservative, that may be in part because he kept his beliefs hidden from his colleagues.

“I would very rarely state my political beliefs openly because I knew that nine times out of 10, they would disagree with them, and I would just rather not get in fights with my colleagues all the time,” Mr. Scalia said.

A new book suggests Mr. Scalia’s experience is typical of conservatives trying to navigate the choppy progressive waters of higher education.

In “Passing on the Right,” Jon Shields, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, and Joshua Dunn, professor of political science at the University of Colorado, contend that insidious discrimination alone cannot explain the disparity between liberal and conservative professors.

They say the ratio of conservatives to liberals varies by field. While conservative economists are prevalent across the higher education landscape, the authors could find only 12 sociologists out of a pool of 6,000 who identify as conservatives.

Dominant progressive worldviews, the authors contend, in some of the social sciences and humanities naturally filter out would-be conservative scholars.

“Certain fields like sociology and history, which have been very leftist disciplines for a long time, I think they’re just not especially appealing to conservatives,” Mr. Shields said at the American Enterprise Institute last week.

A conservative’s first instinct after reading Jane Austen, for instance, isn’t to draw parallels to third-wave feminism. Contorting the great books through the apertures of race, gender and class has come to define scholarship in many of the humanities and social sciences — and conservatives like Mr. Scalia want no part of it.

The authors point to research suggesting conservatives face overt discrimination in hiring, too.

George Yancey, a sociologist at the University of North Texas, found in a study that 30 percent of professors would be less likely to hire a Republican applicant than a Democrat.

There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence to support the conjecture.

In 2014, a court awarded Mike Adams, a conservative professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, a promotion, a raise, $50,000 in back pay and $710,000 in legal fees when he won his seven-year fight against the school for refusing to promote him because of his political beliefs.

The University of California, Los Angeles agreed to settle a case last year with James Enstrom, who was fired in 2012 for challenging research regarding the effect of diesel emissions on climate change.

Last week, Robert Oscar Lopez, a former professor of literature at California State University, Northridge, resigned from his tenured position after enduring years of harassment for his conservative beliefs.

Steven Teles, professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, said the way professors are hired and promoted lends itself easily to discrimination.

“Given the collegial form of decision-making, all it takes is one person on an admissions committee or an entry-level job committee to throw the file on the ding pile to exclude them, or for one person who strongly opposes someone to get them excluded,” Mr. Teles said at AEI.

But Mr. Shields and Mr. Dunn said harping on discrimination against conservatives is ultimately counterproductive. It brings to mind the victimhood culture supposedly disdained by conservatives, they said, and conservatives run the risk of overstating the severity of the problem and further discouraging like-minded scholars from entering the academy.

Indeed, Mr. Scalia was uncomfortable discussing whether he faced discrimination in the academy “because in the academic bias debate, the positions of liberals and conservatives are flipped.”

“Conservatives complain that liberals perpetuate the culture of victimhood, but in this context it is conservatives complaining about how victimized they are,” he said.

He noted that there are good and bad reasons to enter the academy regardless of political affiliation.

“Know that if you go into the academy, graduate school will be an extended state of arrested development, where you are going to be struggling to earn money, to raise a family, even if you do get a tenure-track job, which is a long shot,” he said. “If those are sacrifices you’re willing to make, then go for it.”

Despite the challenges, Mr. Scalia said, he would do it all over again if given the choice.

“I met my wife because of academia. I made some of my best friends because of it, and I got to spend 15 years between grad school and my job reading wonderful things and studying people I wouldn’t have known about otherwise,” he said. “I don’t regret that, no.”

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