Why Is Higher Education So Dominated By The Left?

Jul 27, 2011 by

John Tierney of The New York Times examines why exactly it is that post-graduate education is so dominated by liberals

It is commonly understood that institutions of higher learning, and specifically graduate and post-graduate work, are dominated by liberals and those to the political Left. But why exactly this is – that’s a tougher answer to pin down. Writing in The New York Times, John Tierney tackles the matter in his latest piece.

Why are conservatives such a minority at so many graduate schools? Conservatives like to blame liberal bias. Liberals like other explanations.

One — the most tactful hypothesis — is that conservatives just aren’t interested in academic careers. Another — the most smug hypothesis — is that conservatives are just too close-minded and dimwitted.

Tierney goes on to point out that we have something beyond biased hypotheses. These come courtesy of scholars who have been taking a close look at their colleagues’ political affiliations. Some have even conducted a “small sting operation” that they believe is the first field experiment on political bias in academia.

This group investigating the matter includes Neil Gross, a professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, whose previous work showed that Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 4 to 1 among professors, by at least 6 to 1 at elite universities, and by still higher ratios in departments of the humanities and social sciences. Dr. Gross, himself a Democrat, and his co-authors posed as undergraduates checking out grad schools. They sent e-mails to the directors of graduate studies at the top 75 departments of sociology, political science, economics, history and literature.

Each director received an e-mail from a fictitious male student describing his interests and credentials, and asking whether the department would be a good fit for him. In some letters, the student mentioned having worked on the Obama presidential campaign and in others, they mentioned work on the McCain campaign.

Either way, the students got a prompt response, and there was no statistically significant difference in the level of enthusiasm, leading the researchers to conclude: “It is unlikely that discrimination is a major causal factor accounting for professorial liberalism.”

That conclusion jibes with a survey of faculty at 140 institutions, published this year in a book titled “The Still Divided Academy,” showing that only 7 percent of Republican professors believed there was serious discrimination on campus against people with right-wing views. But then, these respondents weren’t your typical Republicans. Nearly two-thirds of them favored stricter environmental regulations — hardly a right-wing agenda.

Read the rest of Tierney’s column right here.

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