Tuesday, February 21, 2017



Mark Chelgren, a Republican state senator in Iowa, has proposed a bill that would force public colleges and universities in Iowa to tailor their faculty hiring so that the percentage of faculty belonging to either of the two major parties couldn’t outnumber the other major party by more than ten percent.

I try to stick to relatively judicious language and thoughtful consideration of ideas, as a general rule.  It’s part of my brand.  But some ideas are so catastrophically stupid that they need to be punched in the face, at least rhetorically.  This is one of those.  No.  Just, no.

The idea is so utterly devoid of merit that addressing it as if it had any feels like lying.  

We have an automotive tech program that trains students to work on cars.  Do Democrats have a different approach to transmissions than Republicans do?  If not, why should I care to which party, if any, the automotive faculty belong?  I neither know nor care, and that seems about right.

The math department teaches hundreds of sections of algebra, pre-calculus, and calculus.  Do Republicans use a different quadratic formula than Democrats?  Is the Pythagorean theorem partisan?  (Hint: it predates our political parties by a couple thousand years…)

This is silly.

And that’s before even addressing the secret ballot.  Did you know that you can register as a Republican, but vote for Democrats?  And vice versa?  It’s true.  Somebody should mention that to Senator Chelgren.  If he wants to abolish the secret ballot, let him say so.  Otherwise, people can easily register one way and vote another.  In fact, they could sabotage primaries in the other party, leveraging their new access to wreak havoc.  Be careful what you wish for...

And that’s without even mentioning third parties.  In Utah last Fall, Evan McMullin (running with Mindy Finn on the “McMuffin” ticket) got a quarter of the vote, and came in second.  Should Utah’s colleges now have a quarter of their faculty registered with whatever party it was that sponsored the McMuffin ticket, assuming it still exists?  Ross Perot got 19 percent in 1992.  If we had staffed up with 19 percent Reform Party folk, they wouldn’t have lasted very long.  Political balances shift.

And what’s so special about higher ed?  Let’s apply the same rule to the police, corporate leaders, and Iowa’s legislature and Congressional delegation.  Fair is fair.  If proportional representation is the goal, let’s move away from winner-take-all districts and allocate seats based on total votes.  If fairness is the actual concern, let’s start there.  I care a lot more about partisan leanings of the legislature than I do about them in the English department.

It also assumes that the existing partisan split encompasses the entire range of possible positions or answers.  It doesn’t.  Part of the point of academic freedom is the ability to follow the truth wherever it leads, regardless of popularity.  If a professor’s research on, say, farm subsidies runs counter to the preferences of the Iowa government, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  Besides, the political spectrum in America is confined to a markedly narrow range by world standards. (Bernie Sanders would be in the mainstream in Sweden; Donald Trump would have been a familiar type in Italy or Argentina.)  Ruling out any other perspectives ahead of time defeats the purpose of academic research.  If you already know the answers, why ask the questions?

No, the idea amounts to trolling.  It’s somewhere between taunting and censorship, depending on how far it gets.  It’s offensive, impractical, and deeply stupid.  

So, no.  I will not conduct inquisitions as to the political party registrations of the faculty.  I will not be the thought police.  I hope nobody else will, either.

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