Better Off Wed

Harvard Punts a Conservative Book

Does Harvard University Press, perhaps the most respected academic publishing house in the country, discriminate against conservative authors?

One Stanley Kurtz asked the question in an October 18 op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal after his ire was roused by HUP's recent decision not to publish a book called The Case for Marriage. The book, which has since been published by Doubleday, was written by Linda J. Waite, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, and Maggie Gallagher, a conservative syndicated columnist. It argues that, despite its current failure rate, marriage is good for us. The book has since been positively reviewed by renowned scholar James Q. Wilson. Yet the book never made it at HUP. After undergoing the traditional peer evaluations, to which HUP submits all its manuscripts, and receiving positive reviews, Waite and Gallagher's manuscript went before HUP's ultimate arbiter, the Board of Syndics, where it was rejected. This was ostensibly because, as Kurtz paraphrases the anonymous board critique, its "tone was too strong and its evidence too meager."

Strange when you consider, as Kurtz did, that other HUP authors like Catharine MacKinnon are harpies on the page. Meanwhile, just recently, another celebrated HUP author, Carol Gilligan, was taken to task in the media for her 1982 classic, In a Different Voice. She was criticized, as she had been previously in sociology journals, for drawing sweeping, highly subjective conclusions from meager evidence.

Besides, the published version of The Case for Marriageis no polemic. The book makes its case, but hardly with a blunt instrument. It's true that the peer reviews, copies of which I've read, criticized the original manuscript for being "hyperbolic in places," and the authors for having a tendency to "overstate their case." But both recommended that HUP publish the book. Moreover, the authors revised their manuscript, to the peer reviewers' subsequent satisfaction. Bruce Nichols, a senior editor at the Free Press, who read the manuscript after HUP rejected it, says, "It marshaled a lot of careful statistical evidence. I didn't see that it was deeply twisted by politics at all."

On October 20, The Boston Globe did a follow-up piece on the controversy, in which it offered HUP the chance to defend itself by naming a few of its conservative authors. The press named several. The two most prominent were Richard A. Posner and Abigail Thernstrom—who are legitimate enough—though Posner is staunchly critical of social conservatives. But embarrassingly, they also named Cass Sunstein, a well-known liberal legal theorist. Oops.

The case against HUP gets worse, though. It turns out that two homegrown Harvard scholars who, like Waite and Gallagher, had written quality, conservative-minded books both submitted them to HUP and both had them rejected for what they considered unjustifiable reasons.

Peter Berkowitz, formerly a professor at Harvard, now a professor at George Mason University School of Law, published his first book, Nietzsche: The Ethics of an Immoralist (1995), with HUP. The book did well and won considerable accolades, but when Berkowitz submitted the manuscript for his second book, Virtue and the Making of Modern Liberalism (Princeton University Press, 1999), HUP refused to publish it, even though it, too, had received glowing peer reviews. Both of Berkowitz's books are critical of postmodern thought, and the second is especially critical of liberal feminism. Berkowitz thinks this played a role in how he was treated by HUP.

Likewise, Harvey Mansfield, a professor of government at Harvard who is notorious for his conservative views, submitted a proposal for a book on manliness to HUP. He says it "was rejected because it was thought or found to be antifeminist; so I learned." Mansfield won't say on the record who told him this.

Though I made repeated calls to HUP, only a spokeswoman would talk to me, and just to repeat the names she gave to the Globe. I worked at HUP in the early '90s, for acquiring editor Michael Aronson. He is an extremely fair-minded intellectual. If anyone is biased at HUP—and their list is heavily weighted toward radicals—it isn't he. By way of partial explanation for the Waite-Gallagher fiasco, Nathan Glazer, one of HUP's syndics, told the Globe that journalists and professors from outside Cambridge are not given as much leeway at HUP as Harvard professors. Hmm. So how does that explain Berkowitz and Mansfield? Just wondering.

 
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