T Nation

Liberal Professoriate


Interesting new numbers to mull over:

The voting numbers seem to mean the most to me, given I haven't accessed the political questions asked to see how they coded for "moderate", "liberal" and "conservative" answers.

The latter part of the article with Larry Summers' observations is also very interesting.

Query: How much should we care as a society if the institutions charged with teaching our young adults to think and problem solve are only giving them one perspective? [Assume for the sake of this discussion that this is happening - I only have the anecdotal evidence and the many, many cases filed by FIRE concerning the repression of politically incorrect speech to go on here].


My concern isn't so much the perspective being taught as long as it is noted openly in the course description and syllabus. It is impossible to teach without providing some perspective or another. Whether or not there are opposing view points discussed or not is irrelevant as long as the instructor makes these known and allows an open dialog of these views as permitted.

The major problem is not teaching from certain perspective but rather when professors place value judgments on certain perspectives over others.

Teaching truth from an absolutist perspective is a different matter altogether. The only knowledge that can be taught this way is aprioristic knowledge. All knowledge other than aprioristic knowledge is a result of cooperative human action and is therefore nuanced by differing perspectives.

It is impossible for these disciplines to have only one perspective but it is equally impossible to cover every perspective that a discipline might have. The purpose of curriculum is to define what perspectives should be taught. In every case there are concessions that must be made. This is the reason that professors implore their students to take lectures from other professors.

For example, when teaching beginner courses in physics it is difficult to teach from the perspective of modern physics without laying a foundation of classical physics. The beginner physics student has no need to know that there are quantum effects at play in the universe when learning about electricity. Often the professor makes these assumptions known but asks that the student ignore it for the sake of simplification. There is nothing wrong with this. To someone who does not plan to become a physicist a knowledge of quantum mechanics is mostly unnecessary so it is a perspective that can be ignored.


Here is the underlying study:



Anyone ever wondered WHY our institutes of higher education are predominantly liberal?

And, for the record, go to college. It ain't that skewed, or the GOP wouldn't have won for so long.


Because intelligent radicals who despise markets have relatively few career options - particularly any in line with their preferences?

And I don't think your counterfactual gets you where you want to go -- unless professors decide electoral outcomes?


Here's a good post indicating that the study may be underreporting the left-wing slant due to procedural issues:


[i][Ilya Somin, October 9, 2007 at 3:21pm] Trackbacks
Academics' Ideology and "Moderation":

Gross and Simmons' important new study of academic political ideology ( http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/%7Engross/lounsbery_9-25.pdf ) may underestimate the degree of liberal dominance because of the way it categorizes political "moderation" among academics. As discussed in my last post, the authors find that 43.5% of academics are liberal, 47% are "moderate," and 9% are conservative. This leads the authors to conclude that, while there are very few conservative academics, the overall valence of the academy is moderate rather than liberal.

One problem with this conclusion, discussed in my previous post, is that the preponderance of liberals is much greater in those fields where ideology actually matters. Another is Gross and Simmons' analysis of "moderation." As they explain, the "moderate" category in their Table 2 (reprinted in my earlier post) is actually a combination of survey respondents who described themselves as "slightly liberal" (18.1%), "middle of the road" (18.0%), or "slightly conservative" (10.5%). I wonder, however, whether these self-descriptions are based on a reference group of other academics (who are well to the left of the general population) or of the general public. Many people who do not follow survey research understandably define "moderation" relative to the orientations of the people they know. For academics, these reference groups are disproportionately likely to be other academics and nonacademics with ideological backgrounds similar to those of people in the academic world. The famous anecdote about the New York intellectual who couldn't believe that Nixon had won the 1972 election because no one he knew had voted Republican may be an exaggeration; but it does contain a kernel of truth. Thus, self-described "middle of the road" and "slightly liberal" academics - perhaps even "slightly conservative" ones - may be well to the left of center by the standards of the general population.

I cannot reliably prove or disprove this theory based on the data presented in the Gross and Simmons paper. But there are some indications that it captures an important part of what is going on. For example, Gross and Simmons found that 78% of their respondents voted for Kerry (77%) or Nader (1%) in the 2004 election, and only 20% for Bush (Bush won the popular vote by a narrow 51-48 margin in the general population). Assuming that most of the self-described conservatives (20 percent of the total sample, if you count the "slightly conservative") voted for Bush, this implies that nearly all of the self-described "slightly liberal" and "middle of the road" academics voted for Kerry. By contrast, CNN exit polls ( http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/pages/results/states/US/P/00/epolls.0.html ) indicate that self-described "moderates" in the general population voted for Kerry by a much narrower 54-45 margin. While ideology is not the only influence on voting behavior, this result certainly suggests that self-described academic centrists are on average much further to the left than moderates in the general population.

UPDATE: I should note that while there is good reason to suspect that academic "moderates" overall are more liberal than those in the general population, it is impossible to tell from the Gross-Simmons paper how this breaks down in particular disciplines. For example, it is possible that self-described "middle of the road" academics in the hard sciences are more moderate than those in the social sciences and humanities.

UPDATE #2: It is worth pointing out that Gross and Simmons do not deny the fact that academics are more liberal than the general population. As they put it (pg. 72), "we would not contest the claim that professors are one of the most liberal occupational groups in American society, or that the professoriate is a Democratic stronghold." Their main original claims are that 1) academics are more moderate than usually assumed, and 2) there is more diversity of opinion among left of center academics than conservative critics claim. The first conclusion depends crucially on the authors' definition of moderation - the issue discussed in this post. The second may well be true. In fact, I suspect that it almost certainly is. There is likely considerable divergence between the roughly 20% of humanities and social science professors who describe themselves as "radical" (see my last post) and those who are mainstream liberals. However, this finding does not change the fact that academics are overwhelmingly on the left rather than the right. Political diversity among academics does exist, but much of it is confined within a truncated liberal to radical political spectrum.


What I mean to say is... what the hell does it matter if it is obviously not affecting the voting outcomes?

And you answered your own question. Free market. What are we gonna do, make an affirmative action for the right in unis?



The adage "those who can't do, teach" unfortunately cuts close to the bone. It doesn't have to be that way, of course - it's just that academia is a refuge for those types. It's interesting - I know a great number of people in the private sector who I think are brilliant - and they would be great professors if they opted to move into that camp. Rarely does the reverse hold true, in my experience.

Couple that with the built-in protectionist measures of tenure and publication requirements - which nowadays essentially serve little purpose other than to keep talented people from competing for spots in academia - and you have the sclerotic state of left-wing academia we see today.

The radicals of the ivory tower like their monopoly - and they like to create tough barriers to entry for talented people. After all - if thrown to the winds of the private marketplace, they would be the smartest people you know on public welfare.


No, not affirmative action for conservatives -- but several things should happen. First, current faculty should be disallowed from considering the political positions of new hires. Second, for the purpose of instruction of students (ostensibly the purpose of universities), faculties should attempt to make sure all important schools of thought are represented. Third, again for the purpose of instruction, and in keeping with universities as bastions of free speech, universities should make certain that professors allow all viewpoints to be heard from students and don't attempt to indoctrinate students or smother dissent. Lastly, they should abolish tenure; professors who merit it don't need it, and vice versa.


If you're talking about 22 year-old graduates in liberal studies I might agree with you. If you are talking about people who spend their life studying and defending their chosen field of academia you don't know what you are talking about. Many professors are experts at what they do -- which is not just the stereotypical litany of theorizing on black boards and drinking coffee.

When you generalize in such a way it shows a bias against intellectualism. I don't think scholars are the end-all be-all but they are charged with keeping these discussions alive and honest in a classroom. There is still such a thing as peer review inside universities. You can debate the claims of these scholars on an individual basis but to imply that those who teach don't know how to do is an ignorant generalization.

Many of these people teach precisely because they can do -- not not to sound defensive at all.


Entry into a professorship at a (real) university is one of the toughest and most competitive things one can attempt. It takes more than just a Ph.D. It requires years of study and defense of positions that could at any moment be torn apart by new science -- not to mention being torn apart by a strict peer review process. Once one gets in...it is a club no one willingly leaves.


Exactly correct.


It's a conspiracy.


What I want to know is this;

If all of our nations colleges and universities are filled with liberal professors spewing liberal-biased material, and the kids of America are the following sheep we know them to be when they reach college, why do Republicans still win any seats in either house? How have they controlled the house and senate? How did GWB get elected? Why do conservatives still exist?

Face it, Universities aren't as liberal as the conservatives like to claim. neither or the professors. I've met plenty of professors who fall all over the political spectrum. Even the very liberal and very conservative colleges I;ve visited have had a decent range of opinions and party distributions among teachers and students alike.

And seriously, being a scholar at a university is just about one of the hardest jobs to get and keep. They become scholars because they are obsessed with their material, not because they can't get any other jobs. There aren't many business opportunities that cater to academic interests. It's either "doctor" if you like the human sciences, or you get a goddamn university job. No one is simply an "economist" or a "neurologist". These positions do not exist outside of the university system, because Universities are the centers of new knowledge.

Deciding to follow an acedmia instead of a business nature does not make them any less important or relevant.


Wrong - it is precisely the old, woolly professors who wanted to take their "long march through the institutions" that I am talking about.

Absolutely hilarious, since the problem with the "sclerotic academia" - and my beef with it generally - is exactly that it doesn't permit intellectualism. I don't have a bias against intellectualism - and the fact that you think so solely because I am critical of the current state of academia demonstrates the same mediocre stuff we've become accustomed to from you.

Nonsense - peer review isn't serious. The current state of peer review in academia is to perpetuate the comfortable monopoly the tenured enjoy.

I absolutely expect you to be defensive - after all, you are an anarchist-libertarian who hates the state and loves the market who refuses to ply his trade in the market and works for the state.

Strangely though, I am the one arguing for more "market forces" in academia to remedy its ills, while you defend the sclerosis. Oh well.


Well, a couple of flip answers:

(a) Young people don't vote very much

(b) By the time they get old enough to get serious about voting often, the real world has sobered them up from the dubious socialization they got as part of their college education

The professoriate is extremely liberal - that doesn't mean they are evil. The best professor I ever had was an avowed liberal, and he helped me tremendously and I still keep in touch with him. But, in class, he played both sides of the ball equally - you never knew his personal politics.

Unfortunately, that isn't the case enough. And that is the problem.

It is hard to get - not hard to keep.

I absolutely agree - I don't think every pursuit can be commodotized, nor do I think every endeavor of thought need be part of a profit-driven profession. I love the idea of academia. But far too often, academia is the refuge of those folks who want to hide out in the world of theory. Never forget, professors don't just sit around be paid to be philosophers - they have to teach people and impart knowledge. If a professor does nothing but sit around and spin useless theory all day long, he isn't doing his job.

And that is being generous. Never forget, the radical Left explicitly stated in the 60s that they wanted to start a "long march through the institutions" in order to get the next generation to challenge society/the patriarchy/the military-industrial complex, etc. - and higher education was ground zero for that agenda.

They outrightly said this is what they wanted to do - and you don't believe them?

I actually agree with this, absolutely - but I do think many academics use academia as a refuge because they would otherwise starve in the real world.


Your main problem is the underlined assumption above. Luckily, there's a good number who can think for themselves.

Your second problem is that a lot of those kids who can't be more than sheep while in school graduate, get jobs and realize the crock of crap they've been fed.


Fox news is evil with it's right-wing leanings. Well, that's often the impression I get from a number of posters here. Yet, left-leaning academia warrants no more than a "ho-hum, no biggie."


The market does enter into the equation. If there is no demand for science there will be no new scientists. Perhaps you are confusing the means to the ends? It is impossible to operate outside the market. There has to be a demand for new scientists/scholars before there can be a supply.

You cannot just produce Ph.D.s and expect there to be a demand. Keynesian theory is flawed in this respect.


When was the last time you submitted a paper and had it rejected by your peers?