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Mistah Kurtz, he dead right

Reporting on a brand-new survey of college professors, Howie nails us:

College faculties, long assumed to be a liberal bastion, lean further to the left than even the most conspiracy-minded conservatives might have imagined, a new study says.

Even the most conspiracy-minded conservatives? I don’t know any conspiracy-minded conservatives who are obsessed with liberal professors.  Do you?

By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at U.S. universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

The disparity is even more pronounced at the most elite schools, where, according to the study, 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.

“What’s most striking is how few conservatives there are in any field,” said Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author of the study. “There was no field we studied in which there were more conservatives than liberals or more Republicans than Democrats. It’s a very homogenous environment, not just in the places you’d expect to be dominated by liberals.”

Religious services take a back seat for many faculty members, with 51 percent saying they rarely or never attend church or synagogue and 31 percent calling themselves regular churchgoers. On the gender front, 72 percent of the full-time faculty are male and 28 percent female.

The findings, by Lichter and fellow political-science professors Stanley Rothman of Smith College and Neil Nevitte of the University of Toronto, are based on a survey of 1,643 full-time faculty at 183 four-year schools. The researchers relied on 1999 data from the North American Academic Study Survey, the most recent data available.

Hold the phone—1,643 full-time faculty?  Folks, Penn State alone has more than 1,643 faculty.  You’re telling me that this survey is based on an average of nine professors at 183 different schools?  And let’s see . . . there are over two thousand four-year colleges in the United States, so . . . well, you do the math.  All I can tell is that this “72 percent” figure keeps coming up:  72 percent are liberal, 72 percent are male.  I’m not a specialist in statistics, but my guess is that it means that all the male faculty are liberals.

I do know, however, that the survey was undertaken for very scientific reasons:

The study appears in this month’s issue of Forum, an online political-science journal. It was funded by the Randolph Foundation, a right-leaning group that has given grants to such conservative organizations as the Independent Women’s Forum and Americans for Tax Reform.

But pay no attention to the men behind the curtain!  Look at what these far-left professors actually believe:

The liberal label that a majority of the faculty members attached to themselves is reflected on a variety of issues. The professors and instructors surveyed are, strongly or somewhat, in favor of abortion rights (84 percent); believe homosexuality is acceptable (67 percent); and want more environmental protection “even if it raises prices or costs jobs” (88 percent). What’s more, the study found, 65 percent want the government to ensure full employment, a stance to the left of the Democratic Party.

Did you get that?  A stance to the left of the Democratic Party! That’s gotta be some wild, far-out stuff there—completely off the Howard Kurtz map altogether, or perhaps marked only by a blank space and an ominous legend, here there be Spartacists.  It’s a good thing the survey didn’t ask us how we felt about workers seizing the means of production!

But wait, let me take this thing more seriously for a moment.  After all, there’s really no question that college faculty are generally more liberal than the rest of the population.  OK, now, let’s see . . . I’m strongly or somewhat in favor of abortion rights, check—whatever that “somewhat” means (rape? incest? life of the mother? for Sherri Finkbine and no one else?).  I believe homosexuality is acceptable, check—though I’m really curious about the five percent of “liberals” who disagreed with this one.  I want more environmental protection even if it raises prices or costs jobs, check—though it all depends on whose jobs we’re talking about.

Which brings me to the bit about the government ensuring full employment.  Here’s where I’ve got to part ways, yet again, with some of my brothers and sisters on my left.  “Full employment” sounds nice—it’s sort of goofy and utopian, like imagining that access to health care is a human right or something—but it’s dangerously naive.  Certain people should definitely be unemployed.  In fact, I have a nice long list of names on my hard drive, all alphabetized and ready to go.  (But readers can feel free to make their own suggestions in comments!)

In the meantime, something needs to be done about all these totalitarian leftist professors, and in this as in so much else, Florida is leading the way.  The next time your liberal biology professor insists that you have to accept “evolution” in order to take his class, just sue the bastard! 

Posted by on 03/30 at 10:01 AM
  1. I’m sure all right-thinking conservatives will realize that the invisible hand of the marketplace keeps conservatives out of higher education and encourages liberals. We’ll have more conservative professors when more conservatives actually choose to become professors. It would seem, from the available evidence, that not many conservatives want to pursue this career path.


    Oh, wait! That’s the argument for why there aren’t more women and minorities working as professors! I got confused there for a second. No, what I meant to say was, “This is clear evidence of the *real* discrimination taking place in higher education!”

    Posted by Buzz  on  03/30  at  12:29 PM
  2. This from the story about Florida. Baxley is the Republican sponsor of the bill:

    But Baxley brushed off Gelber’s concerns. “Freedom is a dangerous thing, and you might be exposed to things you don’t want to hear,” he said. “Being a businessman, I found out you can be sued for anything. Besides, if students are being persecuted and ridiculed for their beliefs, I think they should be given standing to sue.”

    During the committee hearing, Baxley cast opposition to his bill as “leftists” struggling against “mainstream society.”

    “The critics ridicule me for daring to stand up for students and faculty,” he said, adding that he was called a McCarthyist.

    Yeah, I know they’re just quotes and (Herr Baxley might argue) could be taken out of context, but doesn’t it sound like he’s saying one of these things?

    1) Freedom is overrated, and people shouldn’t be allowed to say things you don’t want to hear.

    2) As a businessman I got stuck with a bunch of frivolous lawsuits (from damn liberal trial lawyers), so don’t (you or any liberals who support trial lawyers) tell me it’s wrong to sue.

    2a) Guess what? You can sue for anything! This country is great! It’s about time students got to jump on the tort train!

    3) I’m not a McCarthyist because I’m not using hearsay, intimidation, and ignorance to track down Communists. I’m a patriot because I’m using hearsay, intimidation, and ignorance to track down brainwashing leftist professors.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  12:30 PM
  3. Hey, Brian, don’t forget the hilarious paragraph that follows the bit about Baxley complaining that he was called a “McCarthyist”:

    Baxley later said he had a list of students who were discriminated against by professors, but refused to reveal names because he felt they would be persecuted.

    But as for “freedom is a dangerous thing, and you might be exposed to things you don’t want to hear,” and how this relates to businessmen and frivolous lawsuits, I simply have no clue.  I think Baxley was experimenting with cut-up technique, myself.

    Posted by Michael  on  03/30  at  12:46 PM
  4. Just one question:  how is it that a scholar from the U of T was involved in such a survey?  Don’t they all have to take a Liberal (in the Canadian sense) Loyalty Oath before signing their employment contracts?

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  01:01 PM
  5. I shall be interested in the Randolph Foundation’s next survey showing that 91% of the denizens of the megamedia are more liberal than Dan Rather.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  01:21 PM
  6. Well, just when you think Howie can’t sink to even lower depths of pap-minded whoredom, there’s this. As somebody who has listened ad nauseam to self-righteous neocon relatives belittle my academic interests as “trivial” because they are not centered in a frantic, clawing race for pelf and posing, tasteless, wretched excess, I do not find it surprising that most academics are liberal. Academia requires an open mind, an ability to question one’s most cherished prejudices and a willingness to think on one’s own, ideological lockstep be damned. These, and a love for knowledge for its own liberating sake, are not qualities one associates with conservative “thinkers.” So, they prefer to exercise their “intellectual” masturbation in the isolated echo chambers of their “think” tanks, where their “scholarship” need never be rigorously vetted as long as it stays on script. I’ve had to sit in class with the type of student that would feel persecuted by campus liberalism. To a person, I found them close-minded, misinformed, bullying, doctrinaire and terrified of any new idea that might sneak into their brains. It comes as dismaying news to me that their erroneousness is to be treated as valid thought and remain unchallenged. But, then again, these are the same people who push science museums across the land into banning movies on undersea volcanoes because it goes against their accepted view of creation. Silly me thought that a valid idea had nothing to fear from contradiction because it contained within it its own proof of soundness. Obviously they don’t have much faith in their ideology’s ability to do this.  When will this society say “Enough” to this disgusting and retrograde bullying of the rest of us into their level of, yes, stupidity? UGH.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  01:23 PM
  7. Here’s the detournement by which we should seize the debate: why aren’t there more conservatives who are smart enough and of stout enough character to earn Ph.D’s? What does that say about the atrophy of the intellectual standards of American conservatism? And what does it have to do with the soft bigotry of low expectations on the right, where clearly inferior intellectual work is rewarded with money and praise so long as it toes the party line?

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  01:54 PM
  8. Buzz is on the right track.  The problems with this “survey” extend well beyond those outlined in the post--for the implication is that the “liberal” professors are somehow keeping out the “conservative” ones.

    Does Kurtz, in the article, address the question of why academia “is” so liberal?  No.  He wants people to assume that the conservatives are being kept out.

    Ignorance and presumption: that’s what he is promoting.

    Certainly not thought!

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  03/30  at  02:01 PM
  9. You know, Michael, you complain a bit too much about this. It’s a Well Known Fact that you lefty academics have deliberately allowed your salaries to dwindle to the point where few conservatives find jobs in the University attractive. If you really supported diversity of academic opinion, you’d all insist on faculty pay levels commensurate with private companies.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/30  at  02:03 PM
  10. It ain’t just the salaries, Chris-- it’s the adjuncts!  Over the past thirty years, we’ve effectively de-professionalized about half the professoriate, converting full-time, tenure-track lines to part-time gigs with little or no benefits and no job security.  Why?  Just to keep the conservatives out.  It’s nasty and brutal, but it works.

    Posted by Michael  on  03/30  at  03:08 PM
  11. Hey! Hey, now! That last comment cuts a little too close to home.

    Posted by PZ Myers  on  03/30  at  03:09 PM
  12. OUCH!  I’m with you, PZ.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  03:10 PM
  13. Oh my goodness!

    We’ll be back teaching and writing for the love of it soon.

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  03/30  at  03:11 PM
  14. They should have asked how many of those radical, far-left professors favor the ability of their graduate students to unionize...then they’d see some conservatism.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  03:12 PM
  15. So this good news tells us that there is either hope for the future as waves of youth continue to be indoctrinated in socialist business practices; or that nobody is paying attention in school because the graduates of these institutions keep electing a bunch of radical Republicans to run the country.

    Maybe you professors need to give better grades to the conservatives in your classes so they dont retaliate later by electing the likes of Shrub.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  03:23 PM
  16. uh, guys, Librarian is getting really creeped out now:

    Katherine Haley Will, “Alma Mater as Big Brother,” Washington Post, 3/29/2005, p. A15 (GO READ THIS.)


    Posted by Librarian  on  03/30  at  03:26 PM
  17. Wow, highly educated people who are willing to work for less pay at jobs that allow more intellectual freedom tend to be liberal!  Damn, who’da thunkit.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  04:22 PM
  18. We also like the dress code.

    Posted by Michael  on  03/30  at  04:32 PM
  19. So wait, they wouldn’t let you dress like an Orange Revolutionary if you worked at GE? Damn, there go my career hopes.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  04:42 PM
  20. You know, I think we’re taking the wrong approach here.  If we’re part of a Vast Leninist Conspiracy — and of course we are — I think we should just take it out in the open and ask for protective legislation of our own.  After all, if pharmacists and doctors can request umbrage for their “moral objections” and refuse to dispense legal prescriptions or treat certain kinds of patients, those of us in the VLC should consider taking a similar course.  In fact, I’m going to make my stand this afternoon.  Because I have moral objections to one of my students’ support for the war on Iraq, I’m going to ask him to see another professor if he wants to know how the second World War ended.

    Posted by David Noon  on  03/30  at  04:51 PM
  21. Wouldn’t know, Rob, but if it helps, I dressed like a GED when I worked at Orange Julius.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/30  at  04:51 PM
  22. Today’s IHE article on the study pointed out the sampling problem (it focused on 4-year institutions), and other readers may poke holes in the survey methods. But let’s focus on a few things in the article, assuming that the method was otherwise rigorous:

    1) There’s no evidence of a one-party campus. Half of surveyed faculty were Democratic, which leaves half with either Republican, independent, or minor-party affiliations.

    2) The explanatory power in the multivariate analyses was fairly minimal—only about 20% of the variance in the institutional prestige index was accounted for with all of the independent variables, including faculty productivity, race, sex, religion, political inclinations, party affiliation, etc. That means around 80% appears to be unexplained statistical noise. (There’s the other question about why institutional prestige is evidence of discrimination, but I’ll leave the full debate on that to others.)

    3) Within the multivariate analyses, there are two individual variables with large raw coefficients: sex and political affiliation/inclinations. I expect those to be linked in future debates (i.e., if you believe that the institutional positions of women in academe are related to discrimination, people are going to ask you why you won’t believe the same is true of political inclinations/affiliation based on the same evidence).

    4) Adjusting for the standard deviation in each variable (using beta coefficients), faculty productivity had a stronger association with institutional prestige than the political variables. I’m cautious about using betas, and I’m curious whether there’s a restricted range for productivity in the same that may create that as an artifice.

    All of this also presupposes that a statistical association between political affiliation/inclination and institutional positions is evidence of discrimination. There’s the literature on occupational segregation to provide alternative hypotheses, and maybe free-market conservatives are more likely to want to make money than spend time in grad school for the off chance of being hired on the tenure track? At the risk of appearing to be your solemn doppelganger, I’ll hazard a serious prediction: if you conducted the same survey of doctoral students finishing up their degrees, you’d find that the doc students have either a similar political profile as faculty more generally or an even more liberal one.

    Posted by Sherman Dorn  on  03/30  at  05:03 PM
  23. Michael,

    You link to an article about a Florida House bill (H-837), but the link at the bottom of that article is to the Florida Senate website.  I searched for “837” in that site but didn’t get a hit.  This link is all over the ‘Net today.  If there’s an error somewhere, you’re probably going to get some flak, even though it isn’t yours.

    BTW, I am a fan of yours for several reasons: 1)I am a graduate of the U.of I. (B.S. & M.S. Microbiology, ‘65,’67) (They didn’t play basketball like this when I went there.) 2)I’m a LIBERAL and proud of it 3)I read your book “Life As We Know it...”


    Posted by  on  03/30  at  05:30 PM
  24. Like a Global Equity Derivative, Chris? I like this visual.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  05:33 PM
  25. Don’t know if I can make it to the Horowitz shin-dig here at Bowling Green tonight.  I’ve some weird sort of viral fever thing (Red Scare?), for about a week and it has me floored.

    Questions I want to ask him:

    “Horowitz--love your work.  Would you say your centralized state control of academics could be better described as Maoist or Stalinist?”

    “Second question--what are you going to call the shock troops that secure our campuses from free thinking.  I personally prefer HGB myself [Horowitz’ Goons and Buffoons]”

    Posted by DocMara  on  03/30  at  05:44 PM
  26. All I can tell is that this “72 percent” figure keeps coming up:  72 percent are liberal, 72 percent are male.  I’m not a specialist in statistics, but my guess is that it means that all the male faculty are liberals.

    So all the female faculty are conservative? Nope, the numbers don’t actually work out that way. For every 100 faculty members, 72 are liberal; there’s no way to determine their sex on the basis of these numbers (unless they teach at Harvard). But then, I assume you are being facetious ...

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  06:36 PM
  27. Even more striking is the vacuity of the term “Liberal.” It means “straw man” as far as I can tell.

    Let me put it this way--"I don’t think I would like 72 percent of...those people.”

    Precise imprecision.

    Posted by DocMara  on  03/30  at  06:44 PM
  28. Here’s the report that didn’t make it into the mainstream media:

    Financial institutions, long assumed to be a conservative bastion, lean further to the right than even the most conspiracy-minded liberals might have imagined, a new study says.

    By their own description, 72 percent of those working at U.S. financial institutions are conservative and 15 percent are liberal, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is more striking in partisan terms, with 80 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves Republicans as and 11 percent as Democrats.

    The disparity is even more pronounced at the most elite financial institutions, where, according to the study, 87 percent of financiers are conservative and 13 percent are liberal.

    “What’s most striking is how few liberals there are in any field,” said Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author of the study. “There was no field we studied in which there were more liberals than conservatives or more Democrats than Republicans. It’s a very homogenous environment, not just in the places you’d expect to be dominated by conservatives.”

    Poetry readings take a back seat for many financiers, with 51 percent saying they rarely or never attend them and 31 percent calling themselves regular poetry-philes. On the gender front, 72 percent of the financial industry workforce are male and 28 percent female.

    The findings, by Lichter and fellow political-science professors Stanley Rothman of Smith College and Neil Nevitte of the University of Toronto, are based on a survey of 1,643 full-time financial industry employees at 183 institutions. The researchers relied on 1999 data from the North American Financial Study Survey, the most recent data available.

    The study appears in this month’s issue of WTF, an online political-science journal. It was funded by the Randolph Foundation, a right-leaning group that has given grants to such conservative organizations as the Independent Women’s Forum and Americans for Tax Reform.

    The conservative label that a majority of the financiers attached to themselves is reflected on a variety of issues. The financial industry employees surveyed are, strongly or somewhat, opposed to abortion rights (84 percent); believe homosexuality is unacceptable (67 percent); and want less environmental protection “especially if it lowers prices or creates jobs” (88 percent). What’s more, the study found, 65 percent want the government to howl derisively at the idea of full employment, a stance to the right of the Republican Party.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  07:33 PM
  29. quick for Kingsley above: i found the bill listed by a different code as a House bill, the 837 is the Senate number.  the link was messed up.  I have the pdf of it; it is really pretty awful.

    These sorts of studies seem to be, as Isotope pointed out, funded and focused for particular views and publications.  My suggestion would be to find some folks to do a proper study, using appropriate and verifiable methodologies, on the political and social preferences of university and college administrations and governing boards.  If the argument is that faculties are liberal, then that statement assumes that those who choose to employ them are also guilty of believing in those positions.  I seriously doubt that the University of California Board of Regents is liberal in any sense of the word, and after watching the Chancellor of UCLA discuss leadership with students, he certainly is not a liberal.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  07:59 PM
  30. I just now found a moment to look at the link Michael provided to the Beeb’s story on Sherry Finkbine, and found this sentence:

    In recent months there has been increasing evidence suggesting Thalidomide causes severe foetal deformities including missing limbs, deafness and blindness.

    I guess, technically, you could say the guy with the thalidomide deformity that was in my high-school graduating class is only 570 months old now. That’s recent by some measures.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/30  at  08:33 PM
  31. I would be cautious about taking Robert Lichter too seriously. As director of The Center for Media and Public Affairs, he decided that the mustachioed rightwing hustler John Stossel deserved a $10,000 prize for his news reporting in 2003. The year before Stossel had to confess to his ABC audience that he lied when he said that organic produce is more dangerous than regular produce. Lichter is also a media analyst with Fox-TV, which is a little bit like being a nutrition adviser to McDonald’s restaurants.

    Meanwhile, Stanley Rothman is co-author of “The IQ Controversy: The Media and Public Policy,” which has as one of its goals the correction of the false perception that IQ tests are biased against minorities, primarily blacks and Hispanics, as well as against the poor--according to a review of the book by Linda S. Gottfredson in the March-April 1994 Society. Above all, the book appears to be a sophisticated attempt to salvage the reputation of the racist Arthur Jensen by painting his critics as liberal panty-waists.

    Posted by Louis Proyect  on  03/30  at  08:53 PM
  32. I don’t see the exact wording of the question anywhere, but there may be a certain ambiguity in “full employment,” and much hinges on the verb “ensure.” I don’t think anyone seriously takes “full employment” to mean that 100% of all adults should have jobs or even 100% of all willing workers, which would be impossible anyway.  Standard textbook treatments assume that you will always have a certain % of workers genuinely between jobs or needing retraining, though whether this is say 2% or 6% is a matter of debate.  What “full” usually means in these contexts is the % of employment that you could expect during a period of moderately strong growth, and it contrasts with the amount of additional involuntary unemplyment that you get in the trough of a recession.  At least in past decades, pursuing “full employment” simply meant that gov’t adopted policies aimed at growth with plenty of jobs, a relatively mainstream idea.  There certainly do exist more ambitious proposals in which gov’t would be an employer of last resort.  (Here’s a nice discussion, for example: http://www.levy.org/default.asp?view=publications_view&pubID=f73a2049a0 and there’s more at the Jerome Levy Institute site)
    but I somehow doubt that 65% of my colleagues across the disciplines have even *heard* of those proposals.  In any case let’s not get buffaloed too easily in these matters.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  09:54 PM
  33. I tried & tried, but couldn’t google up an online political science magazine called Forum, nor the North American etc etc, so help me out here, somebody.

    What I wanna know is, are any of these 183 schools Bible Colleges? What percentages of institutions that give out higher-learning degrees are Bible Colleges?  After all, if Creation Science is Science to these twerps, then Bible College is indeed College as well, and should be included in any alarmist survey.

    I’ll be glad to do the Research.  Just somebody please, get me to the source.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  09:55 PM
  34. I got into the document (go to http://www.bepress.com/forum/vol3/iss1/art2/ and do a little registration) and if you put together what’s on pages 7 and 14, the question consisted of the statement

    “The government should work to ensure that everyone has a job”

    to which responses were

    Strong Agree: 25
    Somewhat Agree: 41
    Somewhat Disagree: 23
    Strong Disagree: 11
    Don’t Know: 0

    So given the qualifying words “work to,” and the fact that only 25% strongly agreed with even that, I do not think that the reported

    “What’s more, the study found, 65 percent want the government to ensure full employment, a stance to the left of the Democratic Party.”

    is justified.

    So Michael, no need yet to lecture your colleagues for socialist softheadedness, and maybe someone wants to suggest that journalists read a little more carefully.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  10:35 PM
  35. Chris Clarke,

    The article you referred to was written in 1962.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  11:00 PM
  36. Hey, I’m just an editor on deadline. I can’t be expected to notice things like the first part of the headline of a story.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/30  at  11:53 PM
  37. So you’re telling me that forty years of running headlong against people who think cause might in some cases lead to effect has damaged the Republican party amongst Smart People?

    Damn. Whoda thunk it.

    Posted by julia  on  03/31  at  10:49 AM
  38. "The study appears in this month’s issue of Forum, an online political-science journal. It was funded by the Randolph Foundation, a right-leaning group that has given grants to such conservative organizations as the Independent Women’s Forum and Americans for Tax Reform.”

    Hah, like that’s an objective source.

    Posted by Trish Wilson  on  03/31  at  11:05 AM
  39. I knew Howie Kurtz when we both worked on our college newspaper.  At one point, we both had columns.  Mine was a humor column (I used to be funny until reality outran my ability to satirize it) and his was straight commentary.  I ran a column once affectionately lampooning the other columnists in the paper.  The send-up of Kurtz was him skimming the Times and other sources of the utterly conventional establishment liberalism of the day and cribbing for his own column.  I havven’t had anything to do with him in nearly 30 years, but I wonder whether he has changed or whether the conventional wisdom has moved so far right and dragged him with it.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  12:17 PM
  40. For those interested in the Florida legislation, I spent quite a bit of time going over it, and the Alligator article, here.  In my post you will also find links to the article, the bill itself, etc.  Spooky reading, and not for the faint of heart.

    Posted by Moon  on  03/31  at  12:21 PM
  41. Let me be the voice of partial dissent here and suggest that there is, in certain humanities departments, subtle discrimination against conservatives. I can’t prove it, but it seems common sense that insofar as the trends in a particular field align, in some broad way, with liberal politics, then a conservative grad student or professor — whose scholarly leanings buck the trends — would be at a disadvantage in looking for a job. (Even my girlfriend, who’s solidly on the left, has been gently warned about the insufficent concern paid, in her dissertation, to the Holy Triumvirate of race/class/gender.)

    I’d be happy to discuss at great length what it means for an academic trend to “align … with liberal politics” — there’s nothing inherently liberal or leftist, to take an extreme case, about criticism influenced by Heidegger — but I wonder if anyone would also be willing to wrestle with what it would mean if I’m right. 

    What’s the moral/practical/ethical/political significance of fewer conservative professors in the Academy? For one, it’s a serious harm to those conservative individuals — maybe a few dozen, or a few hundred, a year — who either are discouraged from pursuing a PhD in the first place or who are denied jobs after obtaining a PhD. It’s a slight harm to the nation’s students, who have a slightly less politically diverse, and maybe a slightly less excellent, faculty at their disposal. Also a slight harm to the leftists and liberals themselves, who are deprived of a few colleagues against whom to test their ideas.

    There’s the question of indoctrination. There’s little empirical evidence, I think, that the politics of a student’s professors have a significant influence on the students’ eventual politics. David Horowitz, I think, would disagree, but Horowitz has also made a somewhat different argument, contending that the universities function as a counterpart to the right wing think tanks, subsidizing left-liberal professors and their propagation of left-liberal politics. The indoctrination of students, then, is less the issue than the indoctrination of our entire culture.

    We can take that last bit with a grain of salt — as Michael said recently, we’ll happily trade them the universities for all three branches of government — but it’s worth making the right’s case as strongly as possible, at least in the privacy of Michael’s comments page, for two reasons. One is that the left tends to lose credibility with the public when it evades the emotional grain of truth in the right’s attacks (over welfare, affirmative action, abortion, etc.). The other is that the best arguments in defense of the Academy — or if not the best strategically, then the most truthful — are those that argue on behalf of the Academy even with its flaws.

    No institution on earth is perfect, and the balance of evidence seems to suggest that a.) most professors do the best they can to teach, rather than to propagandize, their students. b.) the Academy, on the whole, does a pretty good of job of educating our country’s students and of adding to the store of our civilization’s knowledge, c.) most university towns are thriving, cosmopolitan communities, and that’s a good in itself d.) our universities attract top students from around the world, which is a boon to the economy in all sorts of ways d.) there’s nothing inherently wrong with certain institutions leaning one way or the other politically (we might want the armed forces, for instance, to lean a little more to the left, but we don’t really expect soldiers to have the same hostility to militarism that we do),

    and e.) the political issue, as it’s being contested, isn’t really about fairness but about power. I actually believe that David Horowitz believes that he’s fighting the good fight in the name of fairness, but his sincerity doesn’t change the essence of the anti-university movement, which seems to be about destroying liberalism, about using fringe academics to taint the image of the moderate left, and about feeding the right wing media machine with an endless supply of anecdotes — what Thomas Frank somewhat awkwardly calls “Plen-T-plaints” — about the evils of the liberal elite.


    Posted by  on  03/31  at  12:23 PM
  42. Hey, Michael. I have a list “ready to go” too.  Guess who’s at the top?

    HINT:  The initials are “M.B.”!

    Sorry, couldn’t pass up the easy mark…

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  02:12 PM
  43. Those of us that went into universities in the 60’s and came out desiring to continue working in them as careers, were imbued to some extent with the open liberalism of the times.  If by liberalism we include the increasing attention to the politics of race, creed, gender, species, etc.  But campuses in the 60’s were hardly “liberal;” the ratios between socio/politico activists and the mass of the student populations would be surprising to most of today’s popular culture.  Even then professorships were not easy to come by, as our own forebearers were only in their forties or early fifties for the most part.  They had grown up in depressions, famines, blacklists, and wars, and the majority were, for good reason, reticent to invoke the mantras of political attitudes. 

    My generation is now retiring(i did so a year ago now) out of the academic priesthood.  Yesterday for example, i was connecting with a dear friend at ASU who is now the second most senior member of his department, which is very much a “liberal studies” type one.  He is surrounded by younger, in some cases much younger, assistant and associate professors whose interests are sharply focussed, not on political agendas or activities, but on the necessity of sustaining and increasing their commitment to scholarship.  As Daniel so eloquently points out, the university atmosphere is invigorating, not just for itself, but for the communties around it.  I live in a very dynamic university/college area(five major universities, six private colleges, eight community colleges--w/ overall population well under a million) where the vitality of community activities are infused with the heady mix of intellectualism.  And this is not a liberal region, and thus i get a healthy dose of conservative rhetoric regarding the makeup of university faculties.

    I think that those agitating against perceptions of liberalism are not for the most part attacking personnel, as much as they are attacking specific areas of studies.  These are the people who don’t want to see evolutionary biology taught in public high schools.  These are the people who do not want sociology research produced that may enlighten the citizenry to various issues of race and gender.  These are the people who do not want students reading a variety of texts that offer insights into the diversity of human interests and ideas.  These are the people that will forever maintain that the actual laws still on the books in CA to prohibit the teaching of communism and socialism, in K-12 schools, are necessary and should be applied to universities and colleges as well. 

    There are whole areas of academic inquiry now that were not available in the 60’s.  I personally benefited from the creation of American Indian Studies as an accredited discipline, one that did not exist even when i began grad school.  I am pretty certain that many of Horowitz’s and Kurtz’s allies do not like these types of area studies.  I am pretty certain that a course i team taught on shamanism and mysticism is not something these folks want to see more of either.  I am pretty certain that they don’t want to see universities and colleges offering coursework within disciplines such as history or literature that focus on non-western perspectives in which criticisms of colonialism and imperialism come to rest on the US. 

    Of the younger faculties i have met and spent time with, most don’t have time to be political activists; they don’t have time to be advocating agendas in their coursework.  The message that the reckless conservative activists are sending out is that they want to silence inquiry across all of academia.  They want to take away the perceived “liberal studies,” returning us to the golden age of classical studies and the rudimentary sciences.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  02:58 PM
  44. Pardon me, Daniel, if I think you’ve had a little bit of Kool-Aid to drink. Why even bring up this case of a “few humanities departments”? Are they the ones wielding real cultural power these days?  I wish.  Go talk to profs in the Business and Econ programs of your choice and see if the political balance doesn’t shift the other way. 

    My own discipline, art history, has swung far to the right in the last 10 years.  Yes, there are a few departments in which you might say theoretical interests are aligned with a left-leaning political perspective (Visual culture departments). For the most part, however, there has been subtle snickering at the demise of critical theory and its lefty origins, coupled with a happy return to issues of connoisseurship and positivist historical method.  This is fully aligned with the museum-and-gallery world of art, which is to say on the side of business.

    I have seen ideological struggles play themselves out within art department faculties; in most cases, it has resulted in the conservative leaving the department (by choice, not by force), only to find a better position elsewhere. 

    I imagine that political position does play a role in the choice of graduate school programs.  It certainly did for me the first time around at SUNY-Binghamton.  I am not ready to start worrying about whether my conservative colleagues are able to find departments to suit them, either intellectually or politically. In my field, there are still plenty of opportunities for them.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  03:19 PM
  45. Snu-Dogg, I didn’t say that the humanities departments were wielding real cultural power. What I said, or tried to say, was that there’s truth to the notion that universities skew liberal-left, and that the environment on many campuses assumes that the default student, and the default professor, is on the left.

    I don’t think that this is a bad thing, nor do I think that it means that professors are the unacknowledged legislators of our culture. And I’m happy to consider that my theory - of academic trends aligning with liberal politics - is complete bunk. The point I’d like to stand by, though, is that it’s worth it for us to contemplate the truth of the conservative attacks a.) because we should try to get to the truth no matter what, and b.) so that we can construct a defense that isn’t premised on an evasion. A defense of the liberal academy shouldn’t begin by arguing that the academy’s not liberal; it should begin by defending the liberal academy. This is, as I understand it, what Michael has spent much of his career doing, though I’m only on p.10 of Public Access, so I can’t say for absolute sure.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  03:38 PM
  46. Daniel, you’re messing with my long-term strategy of discussing the “liberal academe” phenomenon semi-facetiously on this blog and saving the more serious consideration of left-leaning academic departments for the book.  But let me just say here that Liberal Arts does indeed contain substantial discussions of what it means when departments or disciplines produce what one of my conservative interlocutors calls a liberal “moral mist,” and that I also manage, at one point, to express my conviction that bright young liberal/ progressive undergraduates who want to work for social change should go to law schools or public policy programs rather than Ph.D. programs in the humanities.

    Posted by Michael  on  03/31  at  05:03 PM
  47. What, Florida AGAIN?  Isn’t there a fault line we can dynamite or something, to set those peninsular loonies adrift?  What a relief that would be. Let Fidel deal with them-- and vice versa, and give ‘em something to REALLY whine about!

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  06:25 PM
  48. Actually a pretty good ratio considering that there are so few intelligent conservatives.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  09:36 PM
  49. Uh, you’re clearly “not a specialist in statistics” if you don’t realized that 1000+ is an absolutely sufficient sample size to get a valid result from a survey, particularly for a relatively straightforward question like “are you liberal or not?”

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  05:44 AM
  50. TWAndrews, the survey didn’t include any such question.  And it excluded professors from two-year colleges from the sampling pool, as well.  The Inside Higher Ed story makes this point, and cites a broader study:

    “The American College Teacher” is a major study by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles that features some questions on politics. The last survey, in 2001, found that 5.3 percent of faculty members were far left, 42.3 percent were liberal, 34.3 percent were middle of the road, 17.7 percent were conservative, and 0.3 percent were far right. Those figures are only marginally different from the previous survey, in 1998.

    Yep, we’re a pretty liberal bunch.  But that doesn’t mean you should take Lichter and Rothman at their words.  For a sample of their previous work on the “liberal media,” check this out.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/01  at  08:52 AM
  51. Bob Ramos is right.

    Liberals are very open-minded and they all believe that a valid idea has nothing to fear from contradiction because it contained within it its own proof of soundness.

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  11:49 AM
  52. "In fact, I have a nice long list of names on my hard drive, all alphabetized and ready to go.”

    Like, a network?

    Posted by Sadly, No!  on  04/01  at  02:02 PM
  53. Like, a network?

    Sadly, no!  A network is organized into affiliation groups, foundations, “totalitarian radicals,” “affective leftists,” and the like.  All I’ve got is this list that begins with Abrams, Elliot. . . .

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  03:50 PM
  54. While Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte’s research overstates the political gap between liberals and conservatives in academia today, it is true that liberals traditionally outnumber conservatives in the humanities and social sciences, particularly at research institutions that require a doctoral degree as a condition of employment. What should be conservatives’ response to that? I submit that conservatives ought to congratulate themselves. Thinking like the proverbial Rational Economic Man weighing opportunity costs and maximizing utility, many conservatives made the economically correct choice of staying out of Ph.D. programs, especially academic sweatshops in the humanities and social sciences.

    Liberals and leftists, on the other hand, should proffer a left-wing remedy that addresses a right-wing grievance while solving at least some of the many problems that plague the life of mind: increase tenure-track jobs massively, and raise faculty salaries as well as teaching assistant wages dramatically, in order to make academic compensation packages competitive with what plastic surgeons, corporate lawyers, business executives, and politicians turned lobbyists would expect. In short, give conservatives what they do not have today: financial incentives to become academics. Turn the ivory tower into a field of conservative dreams of big money: if you build it, they will come.

    (For a longer take, visit http://montages.blogspot.com/2005/04/conservatives-underrepresented-in.html. )

    Posted by Yoshie  on  04/02  at  08:28 PM
  55. This isn’t about how US academics are lefty - it’s about how far right the rest of the USA has lurched.

    Posted by  on  04/04  at  10:21 AM
  56. One wonders if academia can see the train that is heading for them.

    Hell, we’ve always know that faculty have a leftist bent.  It was true 20 years ago when I was there and it’s true now. 

    The defference is that the internet has allowed the mainstream to peek inside the ivory tower.  What they’re seeing is not just the soft liberalism of our youth but an elitist, hard left, anti-American, anti-free market institution.  It’s nice that you all rallied around Ward Churchill, but do you consider how that played in Peroria?

    Is it any wonder that the mainstream taxpayer is increasingly asking, “Why are we paying for this?”

    Posted by  on  04/12  at  11:33 AM
  57. It’s nice that you all rallied around Ward Churchill, but do you consider how that played in Peroria?

    Someone besides me rallied around Ward Churchill? I didn’t notice, and I was looking.

    Aside: Michael, if you have ever considered a “commenter tpoy of the year” type award, I’d like to nominate “Peroria.”

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  04/12  at  11:37 AM
  58. I’m an assitant professor and I’m one of those “stupid, bigoted” Republicans (amazing huh? I actually managed to get a Ph.D.).  But since I don’t yet have tenure, you can rest assured no one in my field (let alone my department) has any idea of my politics - I’m quite smart enough to realize what would happen if they did.

    I should mention that I’m not the least bit anti-gay; in fact, I have a real sympathy for what it must feel like to be in the closet.

    No one needs a study to know the political culture of the university: it’s totally obvious.

    Posted by  on  04/12  at  01:37 PM
  59. Sorry to get so late to the party. Some dope way high up opined that “Academia requires an open mind, an ability to question one’s most cherished prejudices and a willingness to think on one’s own, ideological lockstep be damned.” Was this meant to be parodic? His remarks reveal an incapacity for all of those things. They furthermore demonstrate the sealed nature of the academic mind, which is so little exposed to conservative thinking on the job or elsewhere as to be unable to conceive of even the possibility it might have value. Golly, I think I just define bigotry there. I notice as I glance through these postings that the professoriate appears to believe that earning a doctorate is prima facia evidence of not only keener intelligence but greater virtue and only a corrupt world would fail to understand and value this. Hollywood feels the same way about celebrityhood. I guess this explains why both wind up so often on the losing side. But keep it up. And continue to ask “What’s Wrong with Kansas?”

    Posted by  on  04/12  at  10:52 PM
  60. Jerry, slow down: just how does requiring an open mind and the ability to examine prejudice reveal “an incapacity for all those things?” And what is “sealed” about demanding that people open up?  Do you believe that it is more open not to ask people to look seriously at the underpinnings of even their own beliefs?  Also, be careful when you tell what someone else has done or knows: how do you know that these “academics” have not been exposed to conservative thinking--or that they cannot conceive that it might have value?  I can only speak for myself, but I most certainly have: Not only have I read Leo Strauss (and other founding lights of neo-conservatism), but I spent a decade (before returning to academia) founding and running a small business.  I’ve had over 100 employees and have seen the ups and downs of business cycles--and have been involved in “real world” discussions and decisions of a sort not even many conservatives have experienced.  Is that somehow discarded now that I am back in academia?  Personally, I have as much respect for the accomplishments of even a failed business-person as I do for the most successful academic.  The best of both worlds have several things in common: intelligence, the willingness to take risks, and the ability to examine their own prejudices and motivations--just the sort of things you seem to criticize.

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  04/13  at  07:41 AM
  61. The ‘sealed’ mind.  Nice turn of the phrase.  The insularity of academia is more a problem for liberals than conservatives.  Reason is that the campus is like a ‘training camp’ for minds.  But with little true intellectual debate on most campuses, faculty minds are not given a vigorous workout. 

    Hence, when these ideas drift out into the real world where the ‘game’ is played, they fall flat on their face.

    Conservative intellectuals, on the other hand, drift to the think tanks and into business, where intellectual life is lively and the mind is continually challenged.  Thus creating a a more powerful force in shaping society.

    Posted by  on  04/13  at  07:55 AM
  62. Aaron: I doubt you and the contributor whose posting I responded to are birds of a feather. Go back and read his in full.

    Posted by  on  04/13  at  08:32 AM
  63. Lively thought in think tanks?  Convervatives in business?  These myths continue, somehow, flying in the face of reality.

    I have never met a neo-con business-person (outside of corporations--and corporations, to entrepreneurs, are not, for the most part, business.  Risk-takers, at least, are not there).  In fact, most business-people are moderates, not inclined to align themselves with any particular political stance.  When, for example, I talk about economics, I sound more like a traditional conservative (one cognizant of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” but also quite aware of his warning about “scoundrels") than like a liberal.  On the other hand, I am extremely liberal on social issues--again in part because I own (and run--an important point) a business.  Yet I have seen the burdens for human needs shifted onto people like me, putting me in a position where I (like most small business-people) have to shoulder a too-heavy share of our cultural burdens--while large corporations get all of the breaks.

    If I sound like I am on the left, it is simply because I am frightened by the (yes) “sealed” minds on the new right that won’t allow consideration of an extremely complex world.

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  04/13  at  08:40 AM
  64. Jerry, I did read that in full.  And I sympathize with Bob Ramos’ post much more than I do with the position you stake out.

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  04/13  at  08:43 AM
  65. I’m afraid you’ve gone over to the dark side, Aaron. That aside, I’m not clear on how being, as you say, a risk-taking entrepreneur propels you to extreme positions on social questions. Is it an adrenalin thing? And why would being a businessman result in a neutering effect on political beliefs? So busy they don’t have time for it? Are we back to thinking a decent regard for social and cultural questions and a well-reasoned position in response are qualities confined to the academy and the readers of Variety in West L.A?

    Posted by  on  04/13  at  10:15 AM
  66. Well reasoned?  Jerry, come on!  You aren’t responding with reason, but with emotion.  To me, and to Bob Ramos.

    What extreme positions are you talking about?  That I care what happens to other people?  That I take seriously the Sermon on the Mount?

    Maybe Jesus was on your “dark side”?

    Also, you surprise me: I didn’t know that anyone believed that moderation is “neutered”!

    Finally, why are you insisting on putting thoughts and assumptions in other people’s minds?  Why not listen and consider, rather than simply reacting?  Given the discussion here, for example, your last question makes no sense at all.

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  04/13  at  10:25 AM
  67. Left and right are both owned and controlled by the same small group of criminals. If you ally yourself with either side you will be misled. Go to dprogram.net and WAKE UP !!!!!!!

    Posted by Rich  on  03/18  at  03:28 PM





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