Discrimination at Cal Poly? Say it isn’t so

March 13, 2013
Roger Freberg

Roger Freberg


(Editor’s note: This is part two in a two-part opinion piece.)

“It’s not every day that left-leaning academics admit that they would discriminate against a minority.” – Washington Post

College life today

College has changed since the 70s. For one thing, it is ridiculously expensive these days. Parents are paying $60,000 per year at private universities, and I think the price tag is leading to a lot of new questions.

Question: Do you still have to be a good “parrot” of your professor’s political ideology to succeed?

Answer: Yes, you do!

Question: Is it worth it?

If you talk to Cal Poly students today, you will find that the political climate on campus is much more extreme than the one I experienced in the Vietnam era 1970s. Nowadays, it’s not enough to conform to your professors’ ideas in essays and papers; you can expect to be humiliated on a regular basis if you are conservative and are expected to ridicule others if you are not.

So, why do faculties feel so free to publicly humiliate the students in their charge? One reason is that they know they are among like minded friends. There are no peers or supervisors on campus who might complain about their boorish behavior. Their bad behavior unfortunately extends beyond the classroom, marginalizing not like minded faculty and restricting access to things like sabbaticals, grants and opportunities to all but ‘their people.” My wife hasn’t had a sabbatical in years, even though she continues to try, but that is another story. She knows why and has a good sense of humor about it.

In walks Jonathan Haidt

Over the past few years, a psychologist named Jonathan Haidt (formerly at the University of Virginia, now at NYU) began to challenge his colleagues about the lack of conservative voices in psychology. After all, psychologists talk a lot about stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination; he felt a need for balance was missing. At a convention of personality and social psychologists, Haidt asked the proverbial question to over 1000 attendees, “How many of you are conservatives?” Would you be surprised to learn that only three hands went up?

“This ‘statistically impossible lack of diversity’ likely leads to discrimination against political conservatives and an unwillingness to consider alternative hypotheses in research, Haidt told the audience” (as reported by Napp Nazworth).

Haidt said that there are two risks from a lack of intellectual diversity. First, this limits the questions that will be asked. Secondly, existing data will be skewed and misinterpreted. Most people raise an eyebrow or two when they are presented ‘facts’ that are designed to manipulate your opinion or actions. Holy Sequester!

Only skewing the facts Ma’am

Let’s see the misinterpretations at work. Gender studies professors believe that biological differences between men and women, other than reproductive systems, are “small and behaviorally insignificant.” At the same time, they will argue that 100 percent of sexual orientation is the result of, you guessed it, biological differences. They seem blissfully unaware that the sexual orientation researchers used the existing studies on the difference between men and women’s brains as a starting place for their work. Biology is okay when it fits the leftist world-view, but otherwise it’s meaningless. This is why some many people have lost faith in bad science in general and many debunked scientists in particular.

We also see academic articles smugly reporting that conservatives are more “fearful” than liberals, based on arousal measure like eye blink rates. A better understanding is to note that most of the American military tilts conservative, and it is unlikely that Marines are more “fearful” than a bunch of liberal college professors. Instead, perhaps we could say that conservatives respond to perceived threat more than liberals do. This could go a long way in explaining differences between the political groups in matters of foreign policy. Conservatives see a problem on the horizon and liberals don’t see it until it falls into their laps.

The unwillingness to look at data straight without the filter of political bias, is not just an academic problem, but one that has cost many lives. Several years ago, the FDA was running clinical trials for a new heart medication. At first glance, the data looked unimpressive. But then some bright, unbiased researcher noticed that the drug only worked extremely well on African-Americans, but not people of other races. Instead of approving the drug with instructions for physicians regarding who would benefit, the FDA sat on the drug for several years out of fear that the approval would show that race was somewhat biological, rather than just a “social construct.” If your grandmother had died during those years because of someone’s misguided political correctness, how are you supposed to feel?

As the eminent Harvard linguist Steven Pinker once said, “facts are not biased.” It’s how people use facts that can be biased.

Over a beer with Inbar and Lammers

In the audience of one of Haidt’s talks were two Dutch psychologists, Yoel Inbar and Joel Lammers. They simply could not believe what they were hearing and seeing, and over a beer (probably Heineken, they are Dutch), they decided to test it out. They sent questionnaires to all members of their professional organization (SPSP) representing personality and social psychologists. Their findings were amazing, as reported below:

“1) the best estimate we have of conservatives in social psych is 6 percent (presumably almost all grad students);

2) there really is a hostile climate for conservatives, and

3) conservatives are likely to face active discrimination when they try to publish or apply for grants or jobs.

The Inbar and Lammers findings are explained in Inside Higher Ed, and on many blog posts such as Assoc. for Psych Science.” — Jonathan Haidt’s University of Virginia webpage

We have all heard the stereotypes offered by leftists — conservatives are stupid, too money-grubbing, and too closed-minded to enter academia. Inbar and Lammers paint a very different and more sinister and realistic picture:

“More than a third of the respondents said they would discriminate against the conservative candidate. One respondent wrote in that if department members ‘could figure out who was a conservative, they would be sure not to hire them.’” – Washington Post

Inbar and Lammers also point out that based on numbers alone, the discrepancy among personality and social psychologists meets the legal definition of discrimination (Teamsters vs. United States, 1977).

Okay, you’re thinking, social psychologists are a relatively small group of faculty. Surely not all faculties are like that?! Well, as my wife’s dissertation advisor, Robert Rescorla, was fond of saying, “it’s an empirical question.”

The Cal Poly experiment – A case of discrimination

One enterprising Cal Poly undergraduate recently undertook a replication of the Inbar and Lammers study, with an expanded view. First, he surveyed all departments across four CSU campuses, receiving nearly 700 responses, and second, he asked mirrored questions about whether liberals experienced discrimination and whether conservatives would discriminate against liberals. (In the second part of this article, he will share his results with you.)

His research has already gathered a lot of attention. It has been accepted for presentation at the prestigious Association for Psychological Science (APS) annual convention in Washington, D. C. in May and also at the Western Psychological Association (WPA) annual convention in April. He also shared his work with Yoel Inbar, who was very supportive of what he had done.

Next came the reality test, the Cal Poly student wondered how can you show that biased individuals will actually follow through with active discrimination. He decided to present his project to Cal Poly’s selection committee to see if it would be chosen to be one of 10 sent on to the CSU research competition. As expected, his project was not chosen; in fact, it was enthusiastically not chosen by one account. Just for reference, some of the selected projects, one in particular, was professionally embarrassing.

Specifically, the Cal Poly selection committee objected vehemently to the axis labels on his histograms and questioned just about everything but his manhood. I’m not kidding. Frankly, some unqualified committee members were making observations and criticisms about his use of statistics with apparently little understanding of the topic. By contrast, one outside reviewer thought that his study was a remarkable dissertation project (leading to a doctorate) and found it hard to believe that is was merely a study by an exceptional undergraduate.

Does the study by the young researcher show that Cal Poly meets the “legal definition of discrimination?” My guess is that they probably do, but you can read it for yourself soon enough.

Stay tuned for the Cal Poly Research “that you were never supposed to know about” in part two.

Roger Freberg is a San Luis Obispo resident who is using his retirement to write a culinary-inspired blog, comment on important local events and occasionally enjoy getting sued for his journalistic excellence.


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Always fun to see academics justify their existence… not with facts… but just with wind