In the Controversies From The Past Department, we recall this story. (I was reminded of it after reading an article at ProfessorBainbridge.com.)
Six years ago, a list was published that showed the political affiliation of the Duke “All Men Are Potentially Rapists” University faculty. Some departments, like History, had no Republicans; the others had large majorities of Democrats.
The list caused such a stink that professors were compelled to respond publicly. They held a public forum to discuss “How Could This Happen?”
At that forum, the chairman of the Philosophy department, Robert Brandon, and therefore a man who would be expected to have at least a passing familiarity with logic said this:
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.
He later claimed that he was joking.
In response in the Duke Chronicle, Mary Bejan, a Duke parent, pwned Brandon so badly that the man still has trouble sitting:
Any student of Elementary Logic knows that J.S. Mill’s observation that “Stupid people are generally conservative” does not imply that “People who are conservative are generally stupid.” Such an inference would be a formal fallacy. Even if this were not the case, the meanings of the terms “conservative” and “liberal” have changed since the time of Mr. Mill, as I am sure Professor Brandon knows, however entertaining he may find Mill’s observation to be in the present context. Many of today’s so-called “conservatives” would not be conservative in Mill’s sense, but “liberal” in the classical sense of the term…
There could be a “benign” explanation for the homogeneous nature of the political affiliations of Duke liberal arts faculty (e.g. one might choose to register Democrat or Independent regardless of political philosophy in order to vote in the more meaningful primary races in North Carolina).
However, rather than simply resting with the observation that he did not “know” and did not “care” about the politics of his colleagues, Professor Brandon seems to imply that they could not be conservative as they are not stupid. They are, in fact, “smarter than average.” It is not difficult to draw the conclusion that he would assume an individual to be stupid if he knew him or her to be conservative and therefore would not consider hiring that person, perhaps without even considering the value of their scholarly output.
Other, non-benign, explanations are: conservatives do not bother applying for jobs at Duke; they do apply but are rejected by current faculty on ideological grounds; they apply and are hired but skedaddle once they discover the outrageous zealotry of their colleagues; they apply and are hired but leave depressed after realizing too many kids don’t belong at university; they apply and are hired and then lie about their affiliation to get along.
And there is another point of error in Brandon misfired jocularity: he assumes he and his colleagues are intelligent. The only proof he offered for that assumption is his elementary mistake in reasoning. Then we recall that Duke, in its “diversity” efforts, hired Houston Baker, one of the eighty-eight professors who signed a letter condemning the Duke lacrosse team (regular readers will recall that I emailed Baker asking about this: he has not yet responded).
(Though, in Duke’s favor, they have a lot of Bayesian statisticians, who are all highly intelligent by definition.)
Note: Brandon is still at the Philosophy Department at Duke, where he announces, humorously, that he is teaching the Symbolic Logic course. His department is suspending graduate admissions for next year. The Duke lacrosse team press-lynching took place two years after the diversity forum.