The Liberal Academy (Again):

The Washington Post reports on yet another study documenting the leftward tilt of the academy. The study is published in the March issue of The Forum, an online political science journal.

The Post summarizes the study's conclusions as follows:

By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American 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. . . .

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 comprehensive data available.

More on Campus Intellectual Diversity:

Howard Kurtz reports today on a new study on the lack of intellectual diversity on campus College Faculties A Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds. I haven't been able to find a copy of the actual underlying study, so if someone knows where it is, please point me to it. So I'll rely on Kurtz's summary here.

According to Kurtz's summary:

By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American 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.

Broken down by departments:

The most liberal faculties are those devoted to the humanities (81 percent) and social sciences (75 percent), according to the study. But liberals outnumbered conservatives even among engineering faculty (51 percent to 19 percent) and business faculty (49 percent to 39 percent).

The most left-leaning departments are English literature, philosophy, political science and religious studies, where at least 80 percent of the faculty say they are liberal and no more than 5 percent call themselves conservative, the study says.

As I said, I haven't been able to find the underlying study, but as reported by Howard Kurtz, the finding here are consistent with the findings of Dan Klein's research, which I commented on a few weeks back. At that time, I was struck by a couple of things. First, that although a lot of people nitpicked at the study, none of them were able to rebut the central conclusion of the study. In fact, most of the criticism seems to have been done by critics who apparently didn't read all of Klein's underlying research which looks at both policy views and party affiliation.

Second, no one has provided any evidence that contradicts the central findings of these studies, whether Klein's or the apparent conclusions of the new study. I'm sure that advocates of the status quo will find something to pick at in the new study as well--but if the findings of these studies are fundamentally flawed, at some point wouldn't someone find something to the contrary? If the evidence was otherwise mixed, then nitpicking at particular studies is one thing, but when the evidence begins to accumulate, at some point it seems like nitpicking is somewhat unresponsive to the underlying issue.

If there is evidence out there that shows a libertarian/conservative takeover of academia, I haven't seen it.

The evidence is mounting that there is an ideological one-sidedness to university campuses today. The relevant question is whether it is having an effect on the education of American college students. Interestingly, one observation in the Kurtz article is striking:

When asked about the findings, Jonathan Knight, director of academic freedom and tenure for the American Association of University Professors, said, *** "It's hard to see that these liberal views cut very deeply into the education of students. In fact, a number of studies show the core values that students bring into the university are not very much altered by being in college."

This is consistent with what I hear from many of my own students--university campuses have become so cartoonishly left-wing that many students are essentially just tuning out their professors. Students report that they just go through the motions of pretending that they are converted, then they just regurgitate the mantra on exams in order to get a good grade. Meanwhile, many students dismiss their professors as risible ideologues (a good example here).

Perhaps the fact that students are largely unchanged by their university experience is the most damning comment of all about what is going on at universities today.

Finally, is anyone else surprised that Religious studies is self-reported as one of the most liberal departments? I would have thought if conservatives were present anywhere, it would be in religious studies.


I see my co-conspirator literally was simultaneously writing on the same article as I was.


As for my question at the end--the answer is "yes," apparently I am the only one who is surprised. I heard from several readers who studied religion in college or grad school and they are not the slightest bit surprised and report that most university religious studies departments today are devoutly multiculturalist (many religious university religious studies professors study non-Western religions) and tend to be quite hostile to Christianity. I didn't take any religious studies courses in college, so I wasn't familiar with the sociology of the profession, which was very interesting to me.

Pete the Elder adds:

I for one am not surprised that religion departments are liberal based on my undergraduate experience. Secular biblical studies for instance seems very liberal to me with the focus being on showing that the traditional views about the Bible are way off in areas like original authorship (did Paul write all the letters attributed to him?) and accuracy of the texts (did Jesus say what the Gospels record?). See the Jesus Seminar for a good example of this liberal/post modern dominance.

The Liberal Academy Again (Again):

The Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte study purporting to show liberal dominance among university faculty is now available on-line. Here is the abstract:

This article first examines the ideological composition of American university faculty and then tests whether ideological homogeneity has become self-reinforcing. A randomly based national survey of 1643 faculty members from 183 four-year colleges and universities finds that liberals and Democrats outnumber conservatives and Republicans by large margins, and the differences are not limited to elite universities or to the social sciences and humanities. A multivariate analysis finds that, even after taking into account the effects of professional accomplishment, along with many other individual characteristics, conservatives and Republicans teach at lower quality schools than do liberals and Democrats. This suggests that complaints of ideologically-based discrimination in academic advancement deserve serious consideration and further study. The analysis finds similar effects based on gender and religiosity, i.e., women and practicing Christians teach at lower quality schools than their professional accomplishments would predict.

As I've noted before, I don't think that such disparities are primarily the result of conscious bias. While I know of cases where ideological bias torpedoed a candidate -- and I know of schools that would not interview me because of my political views -- I believe this is the exception, not the rule. In most cases, I believe other, more subtle factors play the dominant role. As I wrote in 2003:

Most of the hostility faced by conservatives (and libertarians) is not explicit, and often not conscious or deliberate. In many cases, the subject matter and methodology of conservative scholarship is simply of no interest to those on the left (and probably vice-versa). At schools where there are no tenured conservatives, job candidates and junior professors may be left without a "champion" to help them navigate the process. The lack of right-of-center views at some schools may also make even moderate conservatives appear "kooky" or extreme. By the same token, it is clear to me that many conservatives in academia cry "wolf," or seek to blame political opposition on their failure to succeed in a highly competitive environment. Contrary to what some believe, not every conservative's failure to get tenure is the result of politics. . . . [In sum,] the bias against conservatives is real (if overstated) in many parts of the academy, particularly the humanities. Nevertheless, careful and talented conservatives can succeed in the academy . . .

For more thoughts on this question, I recommend Professor Bainbridge's post on the subject (along with the follow-ups and this TCS column).

Why Campus Intellectual Diversity Matters:

The other day, I posted on a new study regarding the ideological imbalance on college faculties. There is a huge amount in the blogosphere, including of course, a few things right here by Juan. It appears that this time around, at least, no one is actually denying that the imbalance exists. I'll just comment on one key question that has been raised, which is, if there is such an imbalance, does it matter (as implicitly raised here)?

Intellectual diversity matters because it goes to the core of a liberal education. My remarks here will focus on colleges, because the underlying study doesn't address law schools. Also, this is a long post already, so I venture no speculation on the causes of the imbalance or opinions on rectifying it (the trackbacks to my first post have some interesting views on those matters especially this one), just my views on why I think it is an educational problem.

The way I see it, college education exists for three purposes: (1) to develop human capital, (2) to educate and develop critical thinking skills and intellectual self-discovery and character in students, and (3) to develop individuals who can participate as responsible citizens in a free and democratic society.

(1) Developing human capital: Ideological diversity has little to do with this really because it is just developing skills, such as in engineering, science, computer science, and business administration. Clearly this is an important part of education, but not the only thing, because otherwise we wouldn't offer English, Philosophy, etc., in universities. So I will set this aside.

(2) Educating critical thinking skills and intellectual self-discovery: Ideological diversity has a lot to do with this. The purpose of education should be to teach students how to think, not what to think. I don't know how you can teach students to analyze arguments and determine the truth value about claims about the world if you don't expose them to a variety of ideas. As Greg Ransom observes the presence of an intellectual orthodoxy on campus can severely hamper student's critical reasoning skills. Ransom's experience is that many students do in fact absorb some degree of indoctrination at a very superficial level, and that the virtual absence of any serious counterarguments leaves them at this very superficial and unreflective mode of analysis. I think this is probably right--for instance, I am amazed at the shallowness of analysis that I hear from ostensibly educated students. Comments I hear about environmental issues, in particular, come to mind.

UPDATE: I added as an update after my initial post "intellectual self-discovery" for students in response to a perceptive reader comment. I did mean to include this as well as part of this point--in addition to developing individual critical reasoning skills, it is also important to develop individual student intellectual skills to understand themselves and the world better as well as guiding ethical and character attributes. Obviously this requires students to wrestle with various ideas in coming to their own world views.

(3) Educating citizens for a free and democratic society: One of our major goals as educators is to educate individuals who can participate as citizens in the governance of a free and democratic society. If not, then I can't understand why the taxpayers of many states subsidize colleges. If so, it seems to me that it is imperative that students be exposed to all viewpoints about the world and to learn to evaluate the truth and resonance of competing world views. Living together as citizens in a free society, and having the kinds of connections and conversations that make that possible, requires developing a depth of understanding that cannot be created in an atmosphere of one-sided intellectual orthodoxy. It is a pretty short road from the impoverished discussions in modern universities to the idiocy of Michael Moore and red v. blue America. I don't pretend that American political discussion was ever that exhaulted, but surely we used to hold educated people to a higher standard of discourse then we see today, especially on university campuses? I personally would add to this that as part of educating free and responsible citizens we should make sure students understand the intellectual and historical foundations of the western world, but I recognize that this is a more controversial proposition.

So if the purpose of education is to educate students to think for themselves and to develop critical thinking skills about the world, as to become good citizens, leaders, and self-reliant individuals, does this require a diversity of opinion on the faculty? Or is it sufficient to leave up to individual professors on the honor system to try to present all sides of an issue in class and to make sure that students engage the various arguments on all sides of an issue?

While there are many good professors who create an open and balanced forum for a true exchange of ideas, there are many situations where this plaintly is not the case. Most obviously, the entire point of many courses today is to present a particular viewpoint, not to create a balanced discussion, such as Women's Studies, African-American Studies, and GLBT Studies (for instance, when Dartmouth added a GLBT Studies program a few years ago, its first course was taught by a local activist, rather than a properly-qualified professor).

Second, many professors do abuse the power of the podium in order to proselytize for their particular ideological views and to attack competing ideas. When I was in college, for instance, my required introductory class for my major on international politics consisted of a sustained rant by the professor against Ronald Reagan and the Strategic Defense Initiative and why we needed to maintain the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (this was in 1984). My "History of the American South" class was a one semester narrative by a Marxist professor on how rich southern whites had conspired to manipulate racist sentiments among lower-class whites to keep them from banding together in the "natural" economic alliance of poor whites and blacks to plunder the property of rich whites. He was the only one who taught it, so if I wanted to take it (I was from South Carolina, so I was interested in it), I had to take it from him. I could go on, but I'm sure everyone has their own similar horror stories. The clear purpose of those teaching these classes it to proselytize and try to tell students what to think. Add political correctness into the mix and this is a pretty potent stew.

Leaving aside these obviously biased courses and professors, even the best professors are going to have a tendency to teach to their strengths and what they know best and are most interested in. And, I believe, this is perfectly natural, and probably is the way it should be because that is what makes for the best educational experience. But this is why you need to have professors with a variety of interests and strengths. Even something as simple as putting together a syllabus reflects a professor's views about what is important or interesting. I don't think that my experience as a Government major was unique--I read Marx in almost every class (often even in classes where he didn't even seem relevant). But for the fact that at the time Dartmouth had a Burkean and a Straussian on the faculty--both now retired--I don't know that I would have ever read Burke, Locke, or The Federalist. Fortunately I stumbled across the Institute for Humane Studies while I was in college, and so was exposed to classical liberal and conservative thinkers. But this requires taking the effort to look beyond the campus.

Intellectual diversity, therefore, is crucial in that exposes students to a variety of ideas and perspectives, and through that developes critical thinking skills and an understanding of different ways of seeing the world which is necessary for living in a free and democratic society. I think the failure to have a serious representation of libertarian and conservative professors on campus, and the resultant tendency of the left to trivialize that world view (which is, after all, held by roughly 50% of students!), breeds a cynicism in students about the whole intellectual enterprise in which we are engaged. If the university itself doesn't take ideas seriously and doesn't care about free, open, and informed discussion of ideas, why would we possibly think that students would be any more interested in it? And if we aren't going to teach them critical reasoning skills and to search for truth, they may as well major in Computer Science or Business Administration.

When universities fail to do their job, it seems to me that we get one of two results. First, we can get the shallow indoctrination phenomenon described by Ramson--opinions without serious intellectual support. Or second, we can the "tuning out" effect that I described in my earlier post (also noted here), where students simply ignore what happens in class and just regurgitate the mantra that they are fed. Either way, we have failed at the task of education.


To clarify, when I say "they may as well major in Computer Science or Business Administration" I do not intend to denigrate those majors in the slightest--I am just saying that if we don't accomplish the other two goals of a liberal education, then we should just treat colleges and universities as trade schools that just develop human capital, rather than developing good citizens, critical thinking skills, and intellectual self-discovery.

Still More on Campus Intellectual Diversity:

The Dartmouth Review has done a study of party affiliation of Dartmouth's professors and the results are unsurprising:

With these statistics in mind, The Dartmouth Review decided to revisit its investigation of the political affiliations of professors on our own campus. The results were not all that surprising: of the 341 professors registered to vote in Hanover, NH, Lebanon, NH, and Norwich, VT, 225 (66 percent) are Democrats and eighteen (5 percent) are Republicans. Ninety-eight (29 percent) did not register a party. Put another way, there are 12.5 registered Democrats for every registered Republican.

Moreover, since we last collected this same information, several professors have changed their affiliation to Democratic, presumably to vote in last year's presidential primary. None became Republicans.

When the Center for the Study of Popular Culture conducted a narrower study in 2002, it found that there were 38 Democrats and four Republicans in the eight Dartmouth academic departments it examined. Now, according to The Review's study of Hanover, Lebanon and Norwich voters, these departments contain 70 Democrats and still only four Republicans.

An peculiar anecdote from the article:

No Republican professor teaches in interdisciplinary departments, and many teach in very narrow fields, such as engineering or mathematics, which are not likely to attract non-majors, thus limiting their influence and profile on campus. Conservatives might anticipate safety within fields in which politics should have no bearing, but even the computer science department includes a professor who uses text in programming classes to praise Democrats and condemn President George W. Bush.

Prior research by Dan Klein and the most recent article by Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte has identified a very high correlation between party affiliation and views on ideological and political issues, so although imperfect, party affiliation in fact turns out to be a pretty useful proxy for intellectual viewpoints.

In fact, Dan Klein recently spoke at Dartmouth on his research (see news coverage here and here).