Many critics of my thesis about “tribal moral communities” claim either that 1) there is no actual discrimination against conservatives (because their underrepresentation reflects only self-selection) or 2) discrimination against conservatives is justified, because conservatives are dumb, closed minded, or anti-science. Many of these arguments hinge on claims about group differences, such as the regression coefficient relating politics and IQ, or the degree to which distributions overlap on traits such as openness to experience. But as Ravi Iyer put it in a recent post: on this blog:
These are not just data points, but actual human beings. One human being discriminated against is one human being we could serve better, even if the vast majority of under-representation is due to self-selection.
Ravi exemplifies the compassion and open-mindedness of liberalism at its best. (In fact, his name was the 4th hit in my Google search for “liberal social psychologist”). In an effort to appeal to compassion from others, I have gathered here selections from the dozens of emails I’ve received in the weeks since my talk was publicized. My talk included the phrase “Closeted Conservatives.” I made no effort to solicit such reports, and I have received no emails from conservatives who deny that they have faced difficulties because of their political identity. I have edited these reports only to shorten them. I obtained permission from all of the writers to post their words anonymously. All are graduate students or faculty in the social sciences, mostly in social psychology.
As a closet conservative minority I read the transcript of your talk with great interest and gratitude… Everything you describe fits my experience perfectly. As a well liked minority, I experience what you describe even more intensely. My career is beginning to take off, and I find myself needing to hold my tongue more than ever. I am travelling and publishing, started my Ph.D. at an elite university… but I find myself hiding my intellectual views and values every single day…. Like everyone else you have heard from I prefer anonymity for my own survival.
I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it was for me in graduate school, because I am not a liberal Democrat. As one example, following Bush’s defeat of Kerry, one of my professors would email me every time a soldier’s death in Iraq made the headlines; he would call me out, publicly blaming me for not supporting Kerry in the election.
I was a reasonably successful graduate student, but the political ecology became too uncomfortable for me. Instead of seeking the professorship that I once worked toward, I am now leaving academia for a job in industry. Universities boast about actively seeking to ever-increase the numbers of under-represented minorities in their ranks. Although, as a fiscal conservative, I have found my minority political beliefs abjectly unwelcome. While articles in my college alumni magazine celebrate the wonderful diversity and universal acceptation present on campus, they fail to mention the one exception: those whose political beliefs are not in lock-step with theirs.
I hope that a community of scientists would welcome a debate of ideas. Isn’t that how we learn and move forward our respective fields? Since when are academics so afraid of a dissenting opinion? If the political climate inside the graduate school is only comfortable to liberal Democrats, then only liberal Democrats will remain. This is not only in Berkeley and Madison, this is in many of our universities… Hopefully, looking forward, your efforts will make room for someone whose views are in the minority to remain an academic and not leave for more accepting pastures.
I am a conservative social psychologist. I would describe myself as socially moderately liberal but very fiscally conservative. My research focuses on the malleability of stereotyping and prejudice. I can also attest to the “hostile environment” when one is a conservative amongst the many liberal social psychologists. While in graduate school, I was one of two conservatives within the whole psychology department. Thus, that is when I quickly learned to avoid political discussions and to keep my opinions to myself. For instance, I once had a professor yell at me and refuse to speak to me for two days all because I was respectfully critical of a political speech that he loved. For this reason, I have actually counseled some of my past undergraduate students about how to better deal with being a conservative in academia!
I have often tried to respectfully disagree or debate with some of my very liberal social colleagues without much success. I’ve often been told that as a social psychologist I should “know better” or that they are “disappointed” in me for holding an opinion that differed from theirs. The whole situation is one that continuously frustrates me as I strongly believe that the ability to avoid emotional moral reasoning is one of the biggest principles towards critical thinking. That point, however, seems to be ignored time and time again. Still, I refuse to quit. After all, I would hope that the abundant research on stereotypes, prejudice, and intergroup relations would help social psychologists carefully evaluate their own stereotypes and biases that they hold against conservatives.
As a student at ________University (in the UK) I read with interest an article about your latest research relating to bias among academics. I completely agree, and I share the sentiments expressed by your students who are ‘in the closet’. I am one of them. In England, where cuts to Higher Education are framed by those on the left as being ideologically driven, the currency of liberal rhetoric is becoming increasingly valued. Those who support measures to increase student fees, typically those of the right such as me (I am a fiscal conservative but a social liberal), cannot confidently or even legitimately speak up. I remember one former professor, who is a member of the Conservative Party in the UK, told me that students and colleagues have such an ill-conceived idea of centre-right politics that he might as well be a member of the SS since anything which isn’t left-wing is so poorly regarded by the majority. It is my opinion that the dominance of left-wing opinion drowns out those with an alternative view, and institutions which should be fostering intellectual debates about the future of our country are in fact creating an intellectual vacuum. It is interesting that your findings, in my opinion at least, are not confined to a single country but can be found in higher education institutions across the Pond. I think it is a shame: we are less enriched because of it.
I’ve got a Ph.D. in Experimental Psych – emphasis in Social. But I don’t do much in Social psychology any more. I’m sure the reasons are multiple and varied – but I believe one of them is the lack of comfort I feel around my social psych colleagues. I’m an evangelical Christian. I don’t know if “conservative” is the best label or not, perhaps libertarian would be better. I’m certainly liberal in many ways as well. But as I reflect on where my sense of discomfort comes from I would probably most directly finger the implied belief that I perceive most of my colleagues hold – and that is a belief in the inability that a person of faith could be a real scientist, ostensibly because they would not be able to “tolerate” that truth, so to speak. This notion that there is an inherent conflict between a Christian worldview and a pursuit for truth is so pronounced that it makes it very hard to even bother with trying to combat it.
I’m currently a Ph.D. student in a department of sociology… I’m actually quite liberal on both social and fiscal issues. Prior to enrolling in the sociology Ph.D. program I served as a police officer in a large city. But, after only a few weeks in graduate school, I began to hide this fact from others and never spoke about it openly. Colleagues were looking at me and interacting with me differently than other students. I finally realized that I was being “labeled” a conservative before people had even spoken to me. It was astonishing: even being LABELED conservative, regardless of whether I actually was conservative or not, had become detrimental to my experience in the department. I presume this label was applied to me since many police officers are very conservative. However, I had become the victim of the very type of negative labeling that these academics would pride themselves on trying to fight…
I am a conservative, and like the students you mentioned, I felt very frustrated during my time in grad school. All of the faculty members were liberal, and they constantly made political jokes and comments, assuming that we all shared their ideology… I had originally wanted to do my dissertation on an ideological topic, but my advisor kind of steered me away from that. …
This specific issue affected me so much during my graduate school years, that it actually steered me away from research, and I took a teaching position at a local community college after graduation. Of course, I now see the same exact situation at my community college. It seems that “everyone” (including my department head and dean) is very socially liberal, and the other faculty constantly make fun of conservatives and bad-mouth them, assuming that I am a liberal–like everyone else! I do feel that even at the community college level, I must keep my views to myself or risk being discriminated against.
I do think (in fact I KNOW) that conservatives can bring an important alternative voice to the science of psychology. I have seen many instances of bias in the research that is being done, and in the interpretation of specific findings (although researchers can be blind to this phenomenon because of their ideology!) I do believe that in order to further social psychology as a science, this alternative and critical voice that is missing must eventually be heard. I wanted to write you to let you know that by speaking up, you are providing a voice for individuals like me (who have felt excluded for a very long time)!
Whatever the reason for the underrepresentation of conservatives in social psychology, and in the social sciences more generally, the near-total absence of conservatives has allowed a tribal moral community to develop in many fields. Those who don’t share the same sacred values must either hide, leave, or live stigmatized lives with stunted career prospects. These are real people. We should do what we can to break up the moral force field and welcome them in.