Liberal Bias and the Academy

In 1951 when the precocious 26-year-old William F. Buckley, Jr. published God and Man at Yale charging the American academy for forcing a liberal ideology upon its students, it caused quite a stir among intellectual and academic circles, not to mention his alma mater. Dinesh Dsouza’s 1991 bestseller, Illiberal Education had a similar effect. However in recent years, “getting agitated about political correctness on college campuses has been the near exclusive sport of beleaguered conservative professors, rambunctious college Republicans, and David Horowitz.” An April 2007 article in the Claremont Review of Books, compared “complaining about political correctness on campus”….“to complaining about your taxes in April.” This rings true in my experiences, as a personal example, this past fall semester in my “20th Century Political Thought” course during a lecture on the late Richard Rorty’s magnum opus, Achieving our Country: Leftist Thought in America, my professor sympathized with Rorty’s criticism of conservatives’ critics of political correctness and liberal bias in the academy. He complained to the class, that conservatives are always talking about the great “political correctness conspiracy.” The question then is, do conservatives have a legitimate complaint about liberal bias in the American higher education system?

A recent article in The New York Times, titled “Professor is a Label that Leans to the Left,” provides substantial empirical research on the topic and arguably, a conclusive “yes.” What distinguishes this research study from “so much of the hubbub that surrounds this subject is their methodology.” This is one of the only studies to use data from the General Social Survey of opinions and social behaviors that compare professors with the rest of Americans, while the majority of these studies rely heavily on anecdotes. The thesis of the article is that the overwhelming majority of professors are liberals because their profession is “typecast.” The author compares this to the nursing profession, which is dominated by women (less than 6% are men) due to the fact that many consider nursing to be a “women’s career.” Sociologists call this a “gender-typed” profession, while professors, journalists, and social workers are considered “politically typed.” However, the study also showed that “typecasting” is of course, not the only cause for liberal slant in the profession.

“Nearly half of the “political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular, share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between education and income.”

For a substantive example, at my institution for instance, The George Washington University, the faculty donated $221, 490 (92 %) for Democratic candidates and an aggregate of $20, 500 (8%) for Republican candidates in the 2008 primary election. In the presidential election, the ratio is nearly the same, 91% to 9%. This is of course, not to be viewed in isolation, but rather as an example of the academy in general. In the 2004 presidential election, at President Bush’s alma mater (Yale) for example, the faculty donation ration of Kerry to Bush was 150:3. The ratio at Princeton wasn’t much different, 114:1, nor at Harvard, 406:13. These numbers along with the national collegiate trends such as the rejection of western civilization, euro-centrism, and the classical liberal arts curriculum in favor of new academic disciplines such as “Queer Studies” and “Africana Studies,” is all evidence that liberal bias in higher education is real and its existence today is arguably more prevalent than ever.

Sam K. Theodosopoulos is the Editor-at-Large of the GW YAF Blog.

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