Intellectual Diversity in the Academy Revisited:

Herbert London has a column in today's Washington Times, "The Intellectual Diversity Hoax" that discusses this new report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). The press release and summary of recommendations is available here. As opposed to external efforts such as David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights, the purpose of this report is to offer constructive suggestions to colleges and universities within the context of academic self-governance to study the impact of intellectual orthodoxy on the student learning experience and to respond where appropriate. I don't endorse everything in the report, but there are certainly some very good ideas here and the recommendations merit sober evaluation and consideration.

In my opinion, efforts to encourage the academy to take its self-governance responsibilities are quite preferable to external regulations such as the Academic Bill of Rights. At the same time, I recognize that efforts such as Horowitz's are born of the frustration of the academy's failure to live upt to its self-governance responsibilities seriously. I think the ACTA report is useful in that it goes beyond merely kvetching or calling for external command-and-control regulation, and instead offers proactive self-governance steps that colleges and universities can take to evaluate and act on these concerns.

Meanwhile Dan Klein and Charlotta Stern have posted a new paper, Narrow-Tent Democrats and Fringe Others: The Policy Views of Social Science Professors (forthcoming in Critical Review) measuring the degree of ideological homogeneity in the academy. Here's the Abstract:


This paper provides copious results from a 2003 survey of academics. We analyze the responses of 1208 academics from six scholarly associations (in anthropology, economics, history, legal and political philosophy, political science, and sociology) with regard to their views on 18 policy issues. The issues include economic regulations, personal-choice restrictions, and military action abroad. We find that the academics overwhelmingly vote Democratic and that the Democratic dominance has increased significantly since 1970. A multivariate analysis shows strongly that Republican scholars are more likely to land outside of academia. On the 18 policy questions, the Democratic-voter responses have much less variation than do the Republicans. The left has a narrow tent. The Democratic and Republican policy views of academics are somewhat in line with the ideal types, except that across the board both groups are simply more statist than the ideal types might suggest. Regarding disciplinary consensus, we find that the discipline with least consensus is economics. We do a cluster analysis, and the mathematical technique sorts the respondents into groups that nicely correspond to familiar ideological categories: establishment left, progressive, conservative, and libertarian. The conservative group and the libertarian group are equal in size (35 individuals, each), suggesting that academics who depart from the leftist ranks are as likely to be libertarian as conservative. We also find that conservatives are closer to the establishment left than they are to the libertarians.

Klein & Stern find that 79% of those surveyed self-report as Democratic and 9% self-report as Republican. Moreover, Klein & Stern find that party self-identification turns out to be correlated with views on a range of political issues, such as attitudes toward gun control, free trade, government production of primary schooling, and redistribution policies. Moreover, as the abstract notes (and the study finds) self-reported Democrats show a much less variation in response on these ideological issues than do Republicans (in the authors' words, the Democratic tent is "more narrow" than the Republican). Klein & Stern also explore more general "worldview" and ideological views, such as general attitudes toward the government's proper role in regulation of personal choice and economic regulation. Overall, they find a very high degree of ideological homogeneity in the composition of the modern academy.

Another interesting point is that Klein and Stern find that Republican scholars are more likely to be employed outside academia relative to Democratic scholars. The effect tends be most pronounced with respect to those in History and Anthropology-Sociology. One possible implication of this finding is that it may shed some light on the question of bias versus self-selection in the academy, and in particular, the question of whether non-left individuals are "greedier" by nature and as a result differentially self-select for less-lucrative non-academic positions. Klein and Stern's research casts some doubt about this particular self-selection hypothesis. First, the respondents to the survey are those who have already attended graduate school, thus the initial self-selection bias is absent because these individuals have already demonstrated a self-identified preference for an academic career path. Nonetheless, the differences remain. Second, Klein and Stern find the greatest difference to be in History and Anthropology-Sociology, two of the disciplines studied that probably have the lowest opportunity cost to being in academia versus outside. By contrast, Democratic and Republican Economists and Political Scientists are just as likely to be found inside and outside the academy. Leaving aside Political Science for the moment, economists seem to have the highest opportunity cost of being in the academy, suggesting that they would be most likely to self-select out of the academy into consulting and other private sector jobs. And indeed, they find that economists have the highest propensity to land in nonacademic positions.

What does this all mean, then? Well first, if the propensity of economists to be found in nonacademic positions is the result of self-selection (higher opportunity cost), this suggests that Democratic and Republican economists are approximately as likely to self-select out of the academy. This piece of evidence is inconsistent with the proffered self-selection hypothesis that conservatives are more "greedy" and hence more likely to self-select for a nonacademic career. In fact, liberal and conservative economists seem to choose income over the academy at roughly the same rate. Second, the differences in academic placements appears to be greatest in those fields that appear to have the sparsest nonacademic alternatives, History and Anthropology-Sociology (and to a lesser extent in the study, Philosophy). This suggests that the differential placement in the academy for these fields is not the result of self-selection, but rather some involuntary obstacle (such as, but not necessarily, ideological bias). Combined, the various observations offer little support for the hypothesis that the differential location of conservatives and libertarians inside versus outside the academy results from differential propensities to self-select for higher-paying nonacademic positions.

All of these contributions leave open plenty of room for additional debate and evaluation. I think that both the ACTA report and the Klein-Stern study merit serious analysis and that further research in these directions would be very helpful in understanding this complex issue.