The assumption that most college campuses lean left is so widespread in American culture that it has almost become a caricature: intellectuals in thick-rimmed glasses preaching Marxism on idyllic grassy quads; students protesting minor infractions against political correctness; raging professors trying to prove that God is, in fact, dead. Studies about professors’ political beliefs and voting behavior suggest this assumption is at least somewhat correct. But Shields and Dunn set out to investigate a more nuanced question: For the minority of professors who are cultural and political conservatives, what’s life actually like?
Finding out wasn’t easy, in part because so many conservative professors are—as they put it—closeted. Some of the people they interviewed explicitly said they identify with the experience of gays and lesbians in having to hide who they are. One tenure-track sociology professor even asked to meet Shields and Dunn in a park a mile away from his university. “When the sound of footsteps intruded on our sanctuary, he stopped talking altogether, his eyes darting about,” they write. “Given the drama of this encounter, one might think that he is concealing something scandalous. In truth, this professor is hiding the fact that he is a Republican.”
I spoke with Dunn and Shields about life as a conservative professor on an American college campus.