Andrew Stuttaford writes at The Corner, regarding Duke philosophy prof. Robert Brandon's rise to notoriety, due to the late conservatives in academe kerfuffle:
What really is nonsense, however, is this claim:
“Typically, we know nothing about the candidates' politics until after they are hired.”
Oh come on, professor. In your discipline, a quick glance at a candidate’s publications, fields of interest and so on will be more than enough to reveal his or her political leanings. You don’t need to look for a bumper sticker.
I've been sort of meaning to weigh in on this issue myself. Tonight let me make a start by duly noting that the notion that you can discern a philosophy job candidate's politics from his/her CV is nonsense.
Let me soften that blow a little. I know what the man is thinking and, although it is utterly mistaken, it is not wholly mad. Thinks Stuttaford: there must be dozens of little clues - little whiffs of partisanship, wafting up from the page for the orthodoxy sniffers to delectate or disapprove. But just look at Brian Weatherson's paper blog. Or poke around via Dave Chalmer's page. Look at Kai von Fintel's semantics web page. Logic, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology and metaphysics. Here's your meat and potatoes, and it is not politicized. (It isn't like all Dems favor weak supervenience of mental events on physical events, or something.) You do history? That tells me precious little. And the analytic/continental split, such as it is, is not a partisan split. (Maybe continental philosophers are somewhat likelier to be lefties? But I'm not even confident about that.) It's even largely true of papers in political philosophy that you can't tell the politics of the author from the title - or even the abstract - because of the high degree of abstraction, and the likelihood that the author is critically examining - hypothetically taking up - a view he/she does not hold. You write "A critique of Rawls' Justice as Fairness". That tells me squat about your politics. You could be a libertarian, an Oakeshottian conservative, a Rawlsian liberal or a communist. What about papers in ethics? You're a Kantian? You're a utilitarian? You're a virtue ethicist? I cannot say who will get your vote. (I've published a fairly long paper on ethics - on moral dilemmas. I'll bet you couldn't guess my politics by reading the whole damn thing, let alone the abstract.)
That said, philosophy departments tend to skew left - I dunno, maybe 80/20 on average? (I just made that number up.) Given the manifest difficulty of hiring in philosophy in a partisan fashion; and given - I honestly believe this - the implausibility of the notion that many hiring committees really are diverting power to long-range sensors to pick up whatever faint hints there may be; well, I'd guess that the left-right ratio in philosophy departments gives you a pretty good baseline for how humanities departments look, politically, when there is damn near zero political bias in hiring.
So what's the explanation for the leftward skew? I myself don't subscribe to the 'conservatives are dumb' line that some favor. I think there are powerful cultural determinants, and ... things related to what Kieran said; and, well, that would be a very long post if I wrote it up. I actually believe that conservatives are often discriminated against in humanities departments, and that this is a bad thing - though it is not high on my personal list of wrongs that need righting. But these numbers that some find truly shocking need the following frame around them. In a truly politically-blind hiring procedure (if that is even an intelligible notion) I think lefties would still be pushing 80%. So 90%+ lefty dominance does not suggest to me the sort of vicious, total exclusion that some are alleging, or are on the verge of alleging, or are convincingly pretending to allege even though they may really know better.
UPDATE: I need to respond to some of these comments. No time just right now, but real quick ...
I should make clear 1) that I don't believe that conservatives are discriminated against in philosophy at all. 2) I agree with Brian and Matthew that the cut is made before grad school; and this is important. And mostly it is a self-selection process. 3) Chun is right that I should support my claims that conservatives are often discriminated against in the humanities more generally. Yep, I should. I'm going to try to write something a bit longer. A lot depends on how you are understanding 'left' and 'right', and I don't have time to sort that out this morning. 4) When I say that it is 'bad' that conservatives are discriminated against, I should have added: my reason for being indifferent to this injustice is not that it doesn't affect me personally - since I'm not conservative, though I have my moments - but because it is a minor injustice whose repair would cause greater injustice. It's also one of those circle of life things. Hakuna Matata and all that. Someday, when the world changes, conservatives will dominate academia and leftists will control Fox News. Also, the victims of this specific injustice are often committed to philosophical views according to which they have either suffered no injustice, or are not entitled to relief if they have. (It isn't right to judge people by their confused moral lights, rather than one's own correct ones. But it is pardonable to ratchet down a notch one's sympathy for the plight of conservative academics, out of sheer exasperation at David Horowitz' hypocrisy. This is a universal moral truth.)
2nd UPDATE: Oh, and quick response to David. In a sense it is precisely the fact that philosophy departments have resisted postmodernism, etc., etc. that make them a good test case. Critics of academe allege that postmodernism is responsible for the strong leftwards lean. (This is too simple, but you see what I mean. And I'm not going to touch the whole postmodern thingy itself today.) Philosophy departments are a counterexample. We are more conservative than most humanities departments, since conservatives are welcome in philosophy, though they don't usually apply; we are mostly raving rationalists, and we are - to an impressive degree - not voting Republican. So we are a baseline of sorts. (I don't really know what I'm talking about. I'm just making this stuff up over coffee.)