Tag Archives: Leftist monoculture

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.

Should Colleges Coddle the Whiners?

Our recent campus upheavals, focusing at times on offensive speech, have provoked a worry: are colleges infantilizing their students? Last March, the journalist and cultural critic Judith Shulevitz raised this concern in a tour de force of an op-ed, in which she argued that protecting students from offensive speech, except in the most extreme cases, is a species of educational malpractice: “People ought to go to college to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they’ll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They’ll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates they have so carefully controlled.”  This argument has since taken off.

It has taken off, in part, because it is a good argument. To take one of Shulevitz’s own examples, students invite the charge that they are infantilizing themselves when they construct a “safe space” that contains “cookies, coloring books, Play-doh, calming music, pillows, blankets, and a video of frolicking puppies,” particularly when this safe space is to protect them from being “bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.”


I don’t want to dissent from Shulevitz and others who have made related arguments, but I do think that the debate between those who wish to protect students from offensive speech and those who want to expose them to it is incomplete.

John Stuart Mill, one of the foremost champions of freedom of discussion had no illusions concerning its benefits. “I acknowledge,” he says in On Liberty, that the tendency of all opinions to become sectarian is not cured by the freest discussion but heightened and exacerbated thereby.” Mill thinks that free discussion will tend to heighten partisanship, as those whose dear and cherished beliefs are challenged by their intellectual and political enemies cling to those beliefs all the more fiercely. For Mill, this drawback is made right by the benefits that accrue to people who are observing the quarrel: “It is not on the impassioned partisan, it is on the calmer and more disinterested bystander, that this collision of opinions works its salutary effect.”

I think that Mill is right and that although the trade-off he describes is plausible in public discussions, it would be a peculiar model to follow in a college setting. Clearly our job is not only to, so to speak, toughen up our students, though that couldn’t hurt, but to educate our students to benefit, as Mill’s “calmer and more disinterested bystander” does, from the free exchange of ideas. That many of our students at present are not in a position to do so is no reflection on their childishness. Anyone who has paid a moment’s attention to “adult” political discourse will have noticed that getting angry, alleging bad faith, taking umbrage, and even demanding censorship, are standard. This is not new, though I don’t deny that our therapeutic response to it is somewhat new. As Hamilton says in Federalist #1 of “cases of great national discussion,” in which people’s interests and passions are deeply implicated, “a torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose.”


Insofar as such discussions work their way onto college campuses, there is no reason to think that simply throwing our students into so polluted a sea in the hopes of hardening them, will result in an education. For that reason, I think it is singularly unimaginative to try to resolve the problem of a too liberal academy by inviting, though of course people are welcome to invite whomever they want, conservative controversialists like Milo Yiannopoulos to our campuses. Instead, we need to think much more than we presently do about teaching our students how to benefit from the arguments they hear.

John Locke, in Some Thoughts on Education distinguishes between the “art and formality of disputing,” which tends to turn a student into “an insignificant wrangler, opinionated in discourse, and priding himself in contradicting others,” and the art of reasoning. I am not sure whether our present focus on “critical thinking,” even when it somehow gets through to our students, does enough to distinguish between wrangling and reasoning, or between philosophy and sophistry. But I am confident that a “Crossfire” approach to campus discussion is not going to help our students make such distinctions.

To throw our students into such an atmosphere and invite them to deliberate may avoid the danger of infantilizing them but it also demands more of our students than we demand of adults. Indeed, in some ways the university oscillates between treating students too much as adults and treating them too much as children.

In a Slate column, Eric Posner, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, inadvertently illustrates the problem. On the one hand, he argues that today’s students are like children and consequently need protection. In the midst of an exaggerated argument in favor of this proposition, he says at least one sensible thing, namely that professors know that students need an education, which is why classrooms are not typically free for alls, in which students go at each other, hammer and tongs. But then he says that colleges should give in to student demands for protection because “that’s what most students want.” So which is it? Are we supposed to treat students like children, in need of protection, or like adult sovereign consumers?


The answer, as I suspect most teachers grasp, is that college-aged students are neither children, to be protected from scary ideas nor adults, who either, in Posner’s way of viewing things, should have what they want or, in Shulevitz’s (to judge from the op-ed alone), should be thrown into the water and told to swim. They are neither children nor adults, and what we owe them is an education.

The education I have in mind makes no sacrifices with respect to inquiry into the questions that divide us. Instead, it puts the aim of conversation inside and outside the classroom, at the center of education, and thereby demands that our approach to conversation be tailored to that aim. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates admonishes Thrasymachus, who cares only about whether he has won or lost the argument, in these terms: the argument is not about just any question but about how one should live.”

How do people who genuinely think they can make progress in important matters act in conversation? Among other things, they practice the courage that enables them to continue an inquiry in the face of threats to their cherished beliefs, and the moderation that enables them to hear others out and to look for what use can be made of their arguments, rather than for how their arguments can be dismissed. But what every educator who has reflected on his or her experience knows is that such virtues do not come naturally to people. All our attentiveness as teachers may barely be sufficient to cultivate them in our students.

Is the Glut of Liberals In Academia Benign?

Academe is Overrun by Liberals. So What?” UCLA historian Russell Jacoby both declares and asks in a long Chronicle of Higher Education essay. Although published on April 1, it is presumably not an April Fool’s joke.

For a number or reasons — not all of which coexist easily —Jacoby dismisses out of hand the notion that there is any cause to be alarmed, or even concerned, about any “underrepresentation” of conservatives in academia.

His reasons:

1)They are really not so underrepresented. Why, he asks, is the concern always limited to humanities and social sciences? “Why not the medical sciences? Earth Sciences? Aerospace engineering? After all, those fields … possess the clout, money, and prestige.” The reason, he says, “is obvious: Liberals do not outnumber conservatives” in many fields that cover “a lot of turf — indeed, most of the university.”

2) Nothing new here. Jacoby is particularly critical of the social psychologists associated with the Heterodox Academy and their concern with the increasing political imbalance of college faculties. “That social psychologists tend to be liberal cannot be surprising,” he points out. “Virtually all the founders or key figures of American social psychology — Carl Murchison, Gordon Allport, Kurt Lewin — belonged on the left.” Also not surprising is that Jacoby did not attempt to make that argument for history or economics or political science or even sociology (see Emile Durkheim).

3) There are so few conservatives because so many are so dumb. “[T]hat there are many serious and responsible conservative thinkers cannot be doubted,” Jacoby begrudgingly acknowledges, but it also cannot be doubted that he doesn’t think there are very many of them. He equates conservative with Republican and then argues that any analysis of the paucity of conservatives in academia “cannot be taken seriously” if it “ignores” the fact that the “party of Dwight D. Eisenhower … became the party of Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Marco Rubio, all of whom denounce higher education, science, and the Department of Education.” Since “an anti-science, anti-evolution, and anti-climate-change ethos increasingly characterizes the Republican Party,” he is not surprised that so few of its members find their way into the humanities and social sciences. One gets the idea that Jacoby believes the only “serious and responsible” conservative is a former Republican.

4) No evidence that “left-wing unanimity distorts research and teaching.” Those who lament the underrepresentation of conservatives assume that “a balance of conservative and liberal professors would lead to better teaching and research, Jacoby writes. Conversely, having fewer conservatives on campus damages the educational enterprise. But is there evidence for that belief? Virtually none.” Implicit in this mistaken lament, he notes, “is that Democrats and Republicans teach or do research differently. A course on Chaucer or Rome taught by a Democrat supposedly diverges from that taught by a Republican.”

Related: Social Psychology—a Field with only 8 Conservatives

Russell Jacoby, meet Bloomberg News columnist Megan McArdle, also writing on April 1:

The politicization of the humanities was well under way when I was an English major in the early 1990s, and my education suffered as a result. This wasn’t because I was so oppressed as a conservative, but because in roughly half my classes, there was no easier route to an A than to argue that some long-dead author was a sexist pig, racist cretin or homophobic jerk. Being, like so many college students, not overly fond of unnecessary labor, I’m afraid I all too frequently slithered along the easy path to the 4.0.

Jacoby is a cultural historian, and thus it is odd he ignores the anti-conservative hostility that is pervasive in academic culture and dominant in many precincts of it. Intellectual diversity on campus is hindered not just by the paucity of conservative professors but also, perhaps especially, by the way conservative arguments are often treated, when they are treated at all.

In their recent book, Passing On The Right: Conservative Professors In The Progressive University Jon Shields and Joshua Dunn Sr. describe chilling examples of outright bias. A sociologist, in one example, wrote an article “with findings that affirmed a progressive critique of an important American institution” that was widely admired and featured in Contexts, an American Sociological Association Journal that attempts to disseminate important research to a wider audience. The author subsequently discovered a coding error that changed his results, but he could not get the corrected article published anywhere.

In a similar vein, in Mismatch Richard Sander describes (pp. 77-83) several episodes of prominent law professors and journals refusing to correct clearly demonstrated errors that undermined their conclusions. In one of them, he noted, the “results were stunning … a powerful, independent confirmation that law school mismatch was dramatically hurting minority law students.” If the authors, widely “respected empiricists,” had “fully and fairly reported their [corrected] results,” Sander concludes in both sorrow and anger, “the entire course of debate on law school affirmative action might have been quite different.”

Related: Affirmative Action for Conservative Faculty?

Jacoby does not discuss the bias and discrimination against conservatives and politically incorrect arguments that might have some bearing on the nature and quality of intellectual diversity in the academy, although he does mention Passing On The Right, a book that is filled with examples of it. Readers of Minding The Campus will know (from my review of it) that I am not a big fan of that book, but Jacoby’s brief reference misrepresents its argument.

Jacoby’s polemic is devoted primarily to rejecting affirmative action for conservatives, but the argument he attacks is largely a straw man. Thus he quotes Shields and Dunn stating that “The Bakke rationale obliges its defenders to support affirmative action for conservatives.” On their next page, however, they state explicitly that “To be clear, we are not advocating for or against affirmative action for conservatives.” And in case that was not clear enough, in a March 18 Op-Ed summarizing their book in Jacoby’s hometown newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, Shields and Dunn stated unequivocally that “We don’t endorse preferences in graduate admissions and hiring.”

Jacoby’s confusion, if that’s what it is, flows from the fact that he assumes that anyone who believes that a paucity of conservatives on campus is a problem must favor a solution of not only affirmative action but preferential treatment leading to proportional representation. Referring to studies by the “Heterodoxians and their sympathizers” showing “political lopsidedness on American college faculties,” Jacoby writes, “The assumption of all these studies is that political variations require correctives. But why should political proportions be constant across society?”

Of course, neither the “Hetereodoxians” nor any of their sympathizers of whom I am aware demand proportional hiring of conservatives. Nearly all of them would be more than satisfied if the “diversity” and “inclusion” that is so incessantly preached in academia were actually practiced more consistently — if, that is, “inclusion” were extended far enough to include conservatives and conservative ideas.

Jacoby’s fundamental fallacy is that he denies the existence of the disease — the disturbingly small number of conservatives in many areas, with the resulting injury to intellectual diversity — because he opposes the cure that he mistakenly imputes to those who wish to treat it.

The Power of Buzzwords, like ‘Dispositions” and ‘Social Justice’

Mitchell Langbert, a professor at Brooklyn College, wrote last week about the grandly titled and resolutely leftist faculty union that he and all teachers at CUNY are stuck with, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). Langbert mentioned, briefly, that PSC had made no effort to defend our excellent writer, KC Johnson when KC was under attack at Brooklyn College and nearly lost tenure.

Langbert wrote, “When favored faculty—those with left-wing views, or those whom a departmental chair favors—are denied appointments or tenure, the PSC has been quick to protest. However, when KC Johnson, a politically moderate history professor who had published two acclaimed books but wasn’t sufficiently zealous about many leftist causes was denied a promotion, the union sided with the departmental chair who had denied it. (Eventually, Johnson’s position was secured, but only because of the intervention of trustees and the chancellor.)”

Johnson clashed with the left at Brooklyn College over many issues, but one of the best known was “Dispositions,” one of the apparently harmless but actually dangerous buzzwords in use at the time. The word seemed to say simply that prospective teachers at teacher education classes must have the correct “disposition” needed to help the young learn. But what it really meant was that teaching candidates should be weeded out if they lacked commitment to the hard left. Indicators of a poor disposition were lack of commitment to “social Justice,” another buzzword whose meaning was never quite clear, although it seemed to include commitment to gay marriage, aggressive environmentalism and redistribution of wealth.

During the flap over Johnson, it apparently included mandatory resistance to teaching standard English to young black kids who spoke versions of black English. Soon it may mean telling public school girls that after gym class they must shower with boys who think they’re girls, because otherwise it may hurt the self-esteem of those boys, and besides the current tsunami of gender nonsense is basically a left-wing cause. Beware of apparently harmless buzzwords.

How the Leftist Monoculture Took Over the Campus

By Richard Vedder

I didn’t sleep too well last night, thanks to Heterodox Academy’s (and NYU’s) Jonathan Haidt and John Leo, who recently carried on a provocative exchange in this space. Two questions really bothered me: Why is there so little intellectual diversity in the academy? And what can we do about the related problem of weak university leaders capitulating to ever more outrageous demands from student protesters?

So why is the academy increasingly a leftist monoculture, at least in the social sciences and humanities?  The standard answers relate to self-selection: conservatives and libertarians want to make money, so they go into business or the professions, or, more uncharitably, they are not as smart and thus cannot meet academic standards. In short, they are cognitively unfit for a life of the mind. Last month, James Phillips in an excellent paper discredited the latter notion with respect to law-school faculty presenting compelling empirical evidence that conservative underrepresentation amongst law-school faculty likely reflects some ideological discrimination.

Faculty—Wards of the State

One reason discrimination exists is that faculties are in some respects like fraternities—they like to have people around them with similar tastes and preferences; people who are simpatico ideologically probably will be closer colleagues and friends.

But it goes beyond that: faculty are increasingly wards of the state. They derive their income in large part directly or indirectly from governmental largess even at so-called private schools. Progressives favor big governments; big governments shower more dollars onto college campuses, providing larger salaries and lower teaching loads for academics. Those on the left push for free college and loan forgiveness; those on the right talk about restricting student-loan programs. The progressive view promotes larger enrollments and budgets, and with that more and higher-paid faculty. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

That brings me to the problem of recent student protests and the spineless reactions of presidents of prestigious universities like Yale. As temperatures rise this spring, protests will mount (our fragile students don’t want to discomfort themselves by protesting in the cold). Continued appeasement of students who seize control of buildings and curriculum and threaten university leaders destroys the rule of campus law and further reduces intellectual diversity and academic freedom. What can be done?

More Adult Supervision

I agree with Jonathan Haidt: bring in some adult supervision. Specifically, trustees and prominent alumni were educated when children were not protected by their parents from hearing or seeing hurtful things, when kids were raised to endure hardships and occasional blows to their self-esteem. By and large, I suspect trustees and large donors do not approve of coddling students. And one thing trumps everything else on campus: money. You don’t offend big donors

Typically, trustees rubber stamp administrative actions, and are seen but not heard. But they have significant power that needs to be unleashed: to borrow from a misguided University of Missouri professor, “Let’s have some muscle over here.” Presidents should be told in no uncertain terms that groups of spoiled brats cannot be allowed to ignore university procedures, disrupt operations, and threaten unfettered scholarly inquiry.

The problem ultimately is one of ownership. Radical students think they own the university. Faculty think they own or co-own it. Senior administrators think they are the owners, as sometimes so do powerful wealthy alumni. Universities earn financial surpluses that get disbursed to the putative owners, much like the dividends corporations pay to stockholders. That is what “shared governance” is all about –give the faculty low teaching loads and good salaries, administrators armies of junior administrators to do the heavy lifting, students low workloads and good recreational facilities, and the alumni a good football team. Everyone is happy except those paying the outrageous bills.

But for non-representative groups of students to claim an absolute right to determine major policies in return for not using violence is extortion. The legal owners of universities need to assert themselves and tell the presidents to show leadership and not let the lunatics run the asylum.

Richard Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, teaches at Ohio University, and is an Adjunct Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.