In Culture Wars or Duke-Bashing, Do Facts Matter?

July 10, 2008

It's the kind of quote that sums up the worst fears of some conservatives about academe: "No. We don't hire Republicans because they are stupid and we are not. Why should we knowingly hire stupid professors?"

Attributed to a Duke University department chair, the quote has been getting nice play in recent weeks. It appeared June 17 in a column in American Thinker, attributed to the chair of Duke's psychology department. On Monday, the quote was part of a slightly reworked version of the column appearing in The Jerusalem Post, this time with the quote attributed only to "the chairman of one of its major departments." That column in turn was praised Tuesday, with the quote highlighted, in the higher ed blog of The National Review, where the statement was cited as evidence of "just how brazen and arrogant this power grab [of academe, by the left] has become."

As the quote has gained currency, it has also been questioned on blogs such as Notes From Evil Bender and College Freedom, which speculated that the quote was based on a very different quote from a very different chair (philosophy, not psychology).

The author of the much-discussed column is Edward Bernard Glick, an emeritus professor of political science at Temple University. Inside Higher Ed located him to ask for the source of the quote and in an interview Wednesday, Glick confirmed that there is no such quote.

Glick said that he heard a quote on a radio show, while he was washing the dishes, "months and months ago," before he ever thought about writing the column. When he was read the quote that College Freedom suspected he heard, Glick confirmed that that was the quote he had heard -- not the one he wrote.

The real quote appeared in The Duke Chronicle, the student newspaper, in 2004, in an article about complaints by conservative students about what they viewed as the lack of intellectual diversity at the university. The part of the interview that is closest to what Glick wrote is where Robert Brandon, the philosophy chair, says this: "We try to hire the best, smartest people available. If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire. Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too."

That part of the article, however, follows an earlier quote from Brandon, in which he says flatly that his colleagues don't know or care about the politics of colleagues -- and that it would be inappropriate to do so. "I don't know the political affiliation of all of my colleagues in philosophy, nor do I care," Brandon told the student paper. "Our last hire was in the history of modern philosophy. We hired an expert in Kant and Newton. Politics never came up in the interview."

While the part of the interview in which he reflected on Mill has been criticized (but with the quotes correct) in several publications (including a column published by Inside Higher Ed), the central point Brandon made was that there could be no political litmus test for hiring because candidates' views on politics aren't probed. That's different from a policy of refusing to hire Republicans.

Brandon, who is a professor but not the chair of Duke's philosophy department now, said via e-mail that it is "outrageous that Glick totally makes something up and then puts it in quote marks. And then attributes it to someone in psychology (philosophy, psychology, what's the difference?)." He said that the point he was trying to make in the original interview was that "we try to hire the best person available, period. Of course, I cannot speak for all departments everywhere, but that has been my experience."

As for Glick, he said that he wrote "what I thought I heard." He said that it might have been better had he "not named Duke" as the place where the quote originated. Asked if he knew of any department chair anywhere who had uttered the words he used, Glick said "No." But he added that it was still correct. "Do I believe that is true? Yes," he said, adding that he believes that regardless of what department chairs at top universities say or don't say, those in many disciplines will not hire Republicans. "I am convinced that is the climate today."

But for the record, nobody at Duke said that.

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