Thanks Foster. Science & Ploughboys

I want to thank David Foster for putting up his post and thus allowing me to comment in a rambling manner.  I’m one of those people who doesn’t know what I think until I say it  – and having a forum is better than daily analysis.  (Indeed, given the results from Woody Allen’s intensive time on the couch,  Jonathan is probably more justified in charging a fee to posters & commentors than are some highly paid analysts.)

Some comments assume those in the hard sciences, engineering and business are likely to be conservatives/Republicans.  Since, of course, I agree on their broad picture, I haven’t nit picked.  Their position echoes Horowitz’s opponents, who also assume business & engineering departments are conservative.  Liberal arts & social science colleges are more heavily weighted (in some, I’m sure, Nader got more votes than Bush).  But I’ve seen studies finding most colleges within universities (business, engineering, hard sciences) lean left – just not as far.  Shannon notes that they are more centrist and that is probably true.  And, practicing engineers and scientists may well move right.  Academia attracts leftish sympathies and peer pressure is a factor.

Nonetheless, the only college likely to be majority Republican is the same that probably would do such projects as those cited by Chel and Anonymous - Ag schools.  They are also often geographically separated from the university because of the land-consuming nature of their research.  I support funding that research and many who share my general political positions would.  I came out of one of the great American institutions – the land grant college – and respect that history.

I won’t,  however, relinquish all ground.  I’m not that crazy about funding projects designed to rediscover the wheel (surprising though the results may be to those who begin with faulty assumptions).  Those are likely to be in the social sciences.  Caveat:  Of course, some grant money in the social sciences goes to quite worthy research and some in ag goes to pet – and not necessarily useful – projects.  Those in both fields are human and so are granting committees. 

I wonder what a survey would find that asked people to identify concepts, leading figures, etc.  For instance, in which college do the majority of people know who Borlaug is but can’t define Chomsky’s political theories?  Vice versa?  How many have a clear idea of demographic trends and how many don’t?  What was the “Green Revolution” that began in the forties?   Science, like Reason, should not be worshipped for itself.  Nonetheless, a person’s respect for its gifts may be more complicated to assess than some who see themselves as spokesmen for its truths understand.

4 thoughts on “Thanks Foster. Science & Ploughboys”

  1. Hi Ginny,

    If its any consolation at my academic institution, the University of Minnesota, I think a lot of folks know who Norman Bourlag is. He’s one of our most famous alums. He had the opportunity to attend “the U” (as we affectionately call it here) because of one of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs which provided work study programs for students in need. Interestingly he went through the General College, which had been sort of back-door opportunity for students who didn’t quite meet the academic requirements of the U to get up to speed and then transfer to regular classes. This had been a major gateway to the university for disadvantaged students. Sadly the General College was shut down in 2006 despite much protest. My understanding was that the powers that be at the university decided they wanted to move up in the rankings and the General College was holding them back.

    In any event, Bourlag is featured on plaques and in the alumni museum.

    However, I would guess that 70% of the faculty at this land grant university voted Obama.

  2. Chel,
    Appreciate the response.

    That is interesting (I’d heard about his sense of sympathy & awareness when he first arrived at college from the farm). I have no idea – given his work with Carter, he, too, may prefer Obama. I don’t want to imply otherwise.

    My remark came in part because I’ve been at faculty dinners here (where he now teaches); a room full of people in the liberal arts won’t recognize his name. I do think ag research has improved our lives in many ways and we too seldom appreciate it.

    We also forget the helpfulness of their sister fields. These seem to have disappeared but often have just been renamed, giving emphasis to the public, professional application of what were once described as domestic arts.

    I would think the Minnesota faculty would vote at higher rates than 70% for Obama, but wonder if the generalization that Academic Studies made a few years ago about the ag college might not be true there?

    My mother and aunt both went through home ec programs; both worked their way through & my aunt was in an early co-op. During the depression, this was important on the Ag campus at Nebraska. That systen flourished at UT (both my older daughters went that way), but here the Corps served a similar function (well, that was a part of what the Corps demanded and gave back.)

  3. You know after I hit submit, I was thinking to myself two things.

    First I think you are right, I bet the Obama vote was even higher among U. of Minnesota faculty. I was really surprised by how universal Obama support is in Minneapolis. I cross the southern part of the city daily, and I only saw Obama signs. And that was just in the city, he must have gotten an overwhelming landslide with the faculty vote. It actually amazed me how “I hope Obama wins” was the default conversation starter even among people who didn’t really know each other. Actually, it made me feel a bit awkward at times, I think it’s inappropriate at work to talk politics since you never know where people are coming from.

    Second, I bet even at UMN there’s more Chomsky familiarity than Borlaug. I mean Chomsky just gets way more airtime.

    Thanks for sharing your family’s higher ed history! I think it’s fascinating how people chose, pay for, and maneuver through their post-secondary education.

  4. Ginny, I’ll admit it’s been a while since I was in school, but it was always my observation that the physical sciences, math, and engineering faculty leaned considerably more right than the humanities faculty. It’s hard to say for sure because, in most of these schools, classroom discussion of politics was usually considered off-topic. But of the few that I knew on a personal basis, I’d characterize most of them as libertarian.

    One factor to consider is that faculty in the hard sciences and engineering are far more likely to have contact with industry, compared to the humanities faculty. Many S&E colleges rely heavily for their funding on corporate-funded R&D.

Comments are closed.