Tag Archives: diversity of thought

College Faculties, Heavily Tilted Toward the Left, Shun Diverse Viewpoints

A paper recently published in Econ Journal Watch, “Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology,” shows what almost everyone believes to be true – that college faculties in the social sciences are predominantly left of center. More than that, it shows that this is truer in some fields and geographic regions than others and, most importantly, that the leftist trend is becoming more pronounced over time.

Authors Mitchell Langbert, Anthony Quain, and Daniel Klein describe themselves as classical liberals who find both major parties to be “by and large, horrible,” so the study cannot be dismissed as merely partisan griping.

Related: The Age of Liberal Education Is Ending

They describe their findings modestly: “Other than indicating that Democratic-to-Republican ratios are even higher than we had thought (particularly in Economics and History), and that an awful lot of departments have zero Republicans, and that, yes, the ratios are higher at more prestigious universities and lower among older professors and among professors with higher-ranking titles, and that there are some regional effects, the paper does not offer new results of any great consequence.”

I think the authors are too modest, too restrained. Their findings are quite disturbing for anyone who holds a right-of-center or classical liberal philosophy since the paper points up the success that “progressives” are having with their project of seizing and holding the commanding heights in the war of ideas.

The authors surveyed voter registration data for professors in the five disciplines noted in the title at a wide array of schools. Out of 7,243 professors, 3,623 were registered as Democrats and just 314 as Republicans. Moreover, registrations for the Green and Working Families parties, both radically statist in outlook), equaled or exceeded Republican registrations in 72 of the 170 academic departments included in the study, and in many departments, there were no Republicans at all.

Related: Affirmative Action for Conservative Faculty?

Economics was the field with the lowest ratio of Democrats to Republicans (5: 1) and history the field with the highest (36:1).  In the middle were journalism (21:1), psychology (19:1), and law (9:1).

The fact that economics professors are mostly left-of-center will probably surprise many people since it’s widely believed that economics is the one social science discipline where free market/classical liberal scholars outnumber the left/interventionists. (See, for example, Peter Sacks’ MTC essay, “Don’t look for Marxists or Keynesians in Economics Departments.”) In an earlier study, Klein and Charlotta Stern showed that among members of the American Economics Association, only 8 percent held to what they regard as free-market principles.

If you thought that college students would be reeled back into reality when they take economics (which relatively few do anyway), the findings here are grim news.

Another worrisome conclusion from this paper is that the leftist domination of the faculty is intensifying. For example, in 1963, the D:R ratio in history was about 2.7:1. Today, it has mushroomed to36:1. Furthermore, the data show that the D:R ratio is lowest among emeritus professors and highest among assistant professors. Therefore, it appears, in the future college faculties will be even more politically and ideologically lopsided than today as the conservative older cohort retire.

The subject of the left’s domination of academe has been hotly debated, with different explanations offered. The explanation advanced by Langbert, Quain, and Klein is “groupthink,” which is the tendency for people to prefer to associate with individuals who hold similar beliefs and to avoid people who robustly disagree. That is especially true in the academic world, where ideas count for almost everything. Also, because academic hiring is controlled by departments, once an ideological slant sets in, groupthink drives them toward ever-greater uniformity.

Related: The Leftist Intellectuals Hovering over the Campus

What this means is that non-leftist students face — and let’s use the right word here — discrimination if they want to pursue a teaching career in these (and quite a few other) disciplines. Knowing that, most of them turn to more hospitable academic fields or look for employment outside of academe after graduation.

The big question is whether this matters. Leftists tend to make light of studies like this one, arguing that voter registration tells us nothing about the way professors conduct their courses. Overwhelmingly, they assert, these professors are devoted scholars who teach their courses without any bias. The authors, however, think otherwise, writing, “Works like Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind (2012) and Christian Smith’s The Sacred Project of American Sociology (2014) represent a trend toward recognizing that scholarly interpretations and judgments are inseparable from a scholar’s sense of duty to higher purpose.”

That “higher purpose” is to serve as “change agents” as many professors admit they see their role. Sometimes we come across confessions from “progressive” faculty members that they feel proud and justified in teaching with a leftist bias to overcome what they see as the lamentable “right-wing” upbringing of many of their students. A good example is the book by English Professor Donald Lazere entitled Why Higher Education Should Have a Leftist Bias. (I wrote about that book here.)

So the classes taught by these professors probably won’t be taught without some ideological slant, and frequently with a very strong one. Even if students aren’t entirely “flipped” from right to left, the constant promulgation of leftist ideas is certain to affect quite a few of them, making “middle-of-the-road” students more inclined to accept leftist notions and making those who were already leaning that way into Social Justice Warrior types, the students who have been responsible for so much turmoil on campuses in recent years.

What is to be done? The authors offer no suggestions.

One palliative that I think helps slightly is to fund programs that bring professors who advocate free market and classical liberal thinking to campuses that are notoriously leftist.  At the University of Colorado, for example, a program brings in a visiting professor each year who will advance conservative and libertarian ideas. Last year’s visiting professor, Brian Domitrovic, wrote about the experience for the Pope Center. Clearly, it was a year well spent.

While such efforts are beneficial at the margin, they are rather like trying to stop a forest fire with your garden hose.

The depressing truth is that except some institutions, the faculties at our colleges and universities will continue becoming more leftist in their composition and more virulently political in their teaching. It’s a condition with no known cure.

‘Diversity’ at Harvard: 96% of Profs’ Donations Go to Dems

The Crimson published a lengthy study last week analyzing the contribution patterns of Harvard professors in recent campaigns (2011-2014). The tally: 96 percent of the donations from the arts and sciences faculty went to Democrats. These results shouldn’t come as much surprise at this stage, but they’re a reminder of just how limited the ideological perspective is on the nation’s campuses.

As always, a disclaimer is needed when discussing the relationship between political affiliations and the campus atmosphere. There isn’t necessarily any linkage between the two; Democrats can be critics of the campus status quo (I’m, obviously, an example of this), and Republicans can support the current climate. A margin of 60-40 or even 70-30 in one direction or the other would deserve little comment. But a breakdown of 96-4 has to raise some questions. Even Harvard dean Michael Smith remarked, “I am amazed at how high that number is.” The dean gave no indication, however, that the high number would trigger any changes in hiring patterns.

Four broader points emerge from the Crimson’s figures. First, and perhaps most important, the data exposes the hypocrisy of many “diversity” advocates, who demand certain types of diversity (but never intellectual or most types of pedagogical diversity) allegedly to ensure that students encounter a wide array of perspectives on campus. Here’s Lawrence Bobo, chair of the African-American Studies Department, minimizing the significance of the findings: “I think that this is an institution that really chafes against simplistic adherence to one point of view or approach . . . It is one of the great virtues of the University.”

Imagine if instead of a 96-4 split in favor of Democratic donations, the Crimson had revealed a 96-4 split in terms of white faculty members. Does anyone believe that Prof. Bobo would have dismissed these figures on grounds that Harvard “is an institution that really chafes against simplistic adherence to one point of view or approach”?

Second, the figures should (but almost certainly won’t) prompt Dean Smith to more closely examine hiring patterns, to ensure that groupthink isn’t excluding certain pedagogical perspectives. Again, there’s a difference between what might be expected from a slight imbalance and a ratio in some departments of 25- or 30-to-1. To take examples from history: it’s certainly possible that a professor whose specializes in, say, African-American women’s history will be a Republican, and a military history expert will be a Democrat. But all other thing being equal, neither outcome (especially the first) is all that likely. To what extent, then, does the 96-4 split indicate that Harvard is excluding certain types of more “traditional” pedagogical approaches from its hiring patterns, or that groupthink has caused the institution to seek to replicate existing professors in new hires?

Recall the sort of answers that asking that question often reveals. For instance, during the Mark Moyar case, it was revealed that the University of Iowa’s History Department had more than 20 registered Democrats and zero registered Republicans. (Moyar’s work, which defended the U.S. approach in Vietnam, made clear his conservative bent.) The then-chairman dismissed the relevance, by arguing that two-thirds of the registered voters in the university’s home county were Democrats—as if 67 percent and 100 percent were the same, and as if the university only recruited from Johnson County, Iowa.

Third, the Crimson data shows that many Harvard science professors made large donations to Democrats, and there appears to have been scant difference between the donation patterns of science professors and those of their colleagues in the humanities. I suspect that even a decade ago, these figures would have been much more balanced. But in the past ten years, political culture has featured two highly-charged debates over science issues—the teaching of intelligent design; and the reliability of climate change science. The Republicans’ position on the latter in particular has served the political interests of the party well, but it seems to have come with a cost on campus.

The science figures, however, are all the more striking when compared to the donation patterns of faculty at the Harvard Education School, one of the leading such institutions in the country. As Jon Chait has frequently observed, a tense relationship exists between teachers’ unions and the Obama administration’s education reform efforts; the unions seem eager for a return to Clinton-style deference to their wishes. And yet 100 percent—100 percent—of the Ed faculty who donated did so to Democrats.

That figure, of course, recalls the efforts of FIRE and ACTA against NCATE’s “dispositions” standards, in which the accrediting agency sought to require all Ed schools to certify that prospective public school teachers had a “disposition” to promote social justice. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out whether a faculty that gives 100 percent of its donations to a single party will take an ideologically balanced approach to such a politically charged concept.