Affirmative action for Republicans

by | Aug 31, 2022 | Editor's Blog | 9 comments

Yesterday, the John Locke Foundation’s Carolina Journal wrote a piece bemoaning the lack of Republican professors at UNC-Chapel Hill. Of course, the implication is that conservatives don’t have voices on college campuses. The other implication is that universities should hire more conservatives. And I thought they opposed affirmative action. 

The study, conducted by a conservative web site called The College Fix, says that professors at Carolina are “16 times more likely to be registered as Democrats than as Republicans.” According to their report, in the departments they examined, the school has 204 Democrats, 13 Republicans, and 67 unaffiliated professors. They couldn’t identify the party registration of another 121 faculty members. 

First, nothing is more common these days than conservatives whining that they’ve been slighted. The GOP has morphed from Reagan’s Party of Ideas into Trump’s party of resentment. If Republicans were a sitcom figure they would be Ralph Kramden or Archie Bunker. Everybody is out to get them and they yearn for the good old days that exist only when looking backwards through rose-colored glasses.

Second, of course most academics and intellectuals are more liberal. Conservatives have spent the last three decades denying science and empirical knowledge. They are just now coming around to believing in the reality of climate change, though many are still in denial. Even George H. W. Bush said the supply-side nonsense that holds tax cuts pay for themselves is little more than “voodoo economics.” They have embraced their anti-intellectual bent and wear ignorance on their sleeves, bragging about their lack of education and denigrating the value of liberal arts degrees

To put it another way, about 50% of Republican primary voters still support Donald Trump. Enough said. 

Third, conservatives and Republicans with college degrees tend to be more interested in making money than research or teaching. They are perfectly happy to take the benefits of a higher education degree and put it to work for themselves, but they are less interested in putting that degree to work helping other people. Of course in their minds, making money is helping other people through the all-powerful free market. It’s the Randian rationalization that their self-interest is in the best interest of society as a whole. So why would they accept less money in academia when they could make far more in the world of business? 

Finally, conservatives are, by nature, averse to change and much, if not most, of the research in universities and academia is about uncovering new ideas and introducing them to the world. William F. Buckley famously described a conservative as “someone who stands athwart history yelling Stop!” That philosophy stands in stark contrast to the people in academia who are exclaiming “Eureka!” Those people are searching for innovative concepts that can improve the world or, at least, our understanding of it. 

Nothing illustrates conservatives antagonism toward academic change more than the debate over history right now. Republicans, the political wing of the conservative movement, desperately want to hang onto the narrative we’ve told ourselves about the country for the past 250 years. Progressives want a more honest telling of our national story, especially where race is concerned. 

Conservatives prefer a tidy image of benevolent, brilliant men who came together to construct a virtually infallible constitution and founded a country based on virtues and universal truths. While they are correct that the men who wrote the Constitution and started the fledgling republic on a continent largely unexplored by Europeans had high ideals, the reality is much more messy and many of those same men failed to live up to the standards they expressed. The conservative story really doesn’t hold up very well under the scrutiny of scholarship. 

Republicans like to crow that Democrats were the party of segregation and Jim Crow. To a point they are correct, but, back then, Democrats, especially in the South, were the conservative party. In the 1890s, they opposed Fusion politics, a coalition of Republicans and progressives that included African Americans and small farmers who demanded more corporate regulation, higher taxes, investments in public education, and better access to the polls, among other things. When Fusion won the state in the mid-1890s, a Democratic backlash led to the disenfranchisement of Black voters and the beginning of the one-party South. 

But that’s not where history ended. And it’s not where politics ended, either. Politics were much more nuanced than the polarized parties of today. National parties had far less influence than state ones in the first half of the 20th century and even into the latter half, with liberal Republicans up north and conservative Democrats down South. 

With the introduction of the New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt and the integration of the armed forces under Harry Truman, conservative Democrats in the South began leaving the Democratic Party, first as Dixiecrats and then, at the urging of Goldwater and Nixon, as Republicans. By 1968, the GOP in the South became the party for disgruntled White voters who resented Lyndon Johnson for signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Combined, the two laws ended segregation and made African Americans a voting force in the South for the first time in the 20th century. It also began the resentment and victimization that defines the Republican Party today and led to the nomination of Donald Trump as GOP standard bearer. 

But for Republicans, history stopped when Democrats were the party of White supremacy and Republicans were the party of voting rights. That’s why, I shit you not, the John Locke Foundation is making a movie about the Wilmington Massacre that’s a “captivating, fast-paced love story.” The fiction they put on screen is the same fiction they believe today. 

That Republicans make up a small percentage of intellectuals and academics is really not surprising at all. They don’t want change or progress. They are vested in their desire to turn back the clock despite all of the evidence that the advances we’ve seen since the New Deal and Great Society have made our country more fair and equitable. They are an anti-intellectual party while academia is an intellectual pursuit.


  1. Carl Perry

    They are convinced that professors (esp. liberal professors) indoctrinate impressionable students. I guess that indoctrination is just fine if done by a professor with a conservative bent.

  2. TC

    The more I read and hear, the more I’m convinced we are seeing the true face of the Republican party. Republicans, for decades, have worked diligently to dismantle the public education system. Siphoning money into vouchers and forcing public money to be used to fund contractors otherwise known as “charter schools” stands as evidence to that end. They roil in the utter ignorance of their supporters. They extol the virtue of ‘common sense’ while knowing that an educated and knowledgeable populace runs counter to their very existence. They also know that ‘common sense’ really isn’t any more. If it were, Republicans would again have themselves a tough row to hoe.

    And now, the party of the affluent, downtrodden and offended, are beside themselves since there are not professors in the University system that see things the same way they do. Stange though it was all about Chapel Hill. Although a private university, I wonder what those results would show if you went down the road to Duke? The most recent past regime had one Stephen Miller as a part of that debacle. He was a Duke alum. Are those the kinds of ideas we can expect from an education based in North Durham?

    I took a look at the study. A couple of conclusions were notedly false. I did however find it telling when it came to the Religion department at UNC. 20 professors and associates. Not one was found to be registered as a Republican. The party of the religious right had no one thinking and educating in the skewed and egregious way they twist religion and their beliefs.

    How about that.

  3. ctw

    Well done.

  4. Fetzer Mills Jr.

    You stated the obvious in an exceptional way. John Hood, who probably wrote it is fascinating to me. Art Pope’s slave who’s a faux intellectual.

  5. Ed Bleynat

    Good article. Though, the notion of Republican business people putting their education to work in a way which is good for themselves, but which also helps form strong markets, which in turn helps form a stronger community, is not Randian per se. It is a basic premise of market economics throughout the West, even in places like Northern Europe. Where the Ayn Rand cultists and the voodoo economists and the rest of that crowd go off the rails is when they forget the inherent limitations in markets (e.g., the free rider problem) and that some things are done quite well by governments (e.g., a strong public university system with low cost to the student) such that the market is a starting point; but not always the final point, nor the only point, in forming a more perfect union.

    That said, an excellent summary of collective Republican make believe.

  6. Caroline

    Excellent, thank you!

  7. Rod Lee

    Your main points about conservatives and academics should be self-evident, but you have done a masterful job of stating it clearly and putting it into historical context. Thank you!

  8. Mel Page

    Bravo! A tour de force. I began my thinking life as a conservative, but as I continued thinking about the world around me, rejected the conservative cool-aid.

  9. James

    Nicely done.

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