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Professors: Just As Liberal, Or More Moderate?

October 10, 2007

The Chronicle of Higher Education, the voice of liberal academia, says that an important new study shows that liberal dominance among professors is much less than commonly believed. Not really. The study, by sociologists Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, found that in 2004, 78 percent of faculty voted for John Kerry (77percent) or Ralph Nader (1 percent), while only 20.4 percent voted for President Bush. Among social science professors, Ralph Nader and “other” received a percentage of the 2004 vote as large as that of President Bush.

Other findings:

* Liberals outnumber conservatives by 11-1 among social scientists and 13-1 among humanities professors.

* 25.5 percent of those who teach sociology identify themselves as Marxist. Self-identified radicals accounted for 19 percent of humanities professors and 24 percent of social scientists.

* Although business school professors are believed to be predominantly conservative, professors of business voted 2-1 for Kerry. These professors were barely more conservative than liberal.

* Only 19.7 percent of respondents identify themselves as any type of conservative, compared to 62.2 percent who say they are any type of liberal.

* At elite, Ph.D-granting schools in general, 60.4 percent of faculty members are Democrats, 30.1 percent are independents and 9.5 percent are Republicans.

* Gross and Simmons believe that liberals are losing ground to moderates among faculty, though conservatives are not gaining at all. Faculty members who are 35 or younger are less likely that their elders to be left-wing, and less likely to be conservative as well.

The survey drew 1,417 repsonses from full-time instructors at 927 colleges. Gross and Simmons created a new category – “moderates” – by lumping together middle-of-the-road professors with “slightly conservative” and “slightly liberal” respondents. In this analysis, 43.5 percent were liberal, 47 percent moderate and 9 percent conservative. Even with the removal of the “slightly” conservatives, who were less numerous than the “slightly” liberals, conservatives were outnumbered by liberals by almost 5-1. Still, Gross and Simmons concluded that because the “moderate” category in the study is larger than the liberal one, the academy is actually more moderate than left-wing.

That opinion was challenged yesterday by Ilya Somin, an assistant professor at the George Mason University School of Law. Writing on the Volokh Conspiracy site,Somin noted that surveys of the general public showed that moderates voted 54-45 percent for Kerry, while nearly all the moderates in the Gross-Simmons analysis seem to have voted for the Democrat. Somin wrote that “this result certainly suggests that self-described academic centrists are on average much further to the left that moderates in the general population.” Endless polling on ideology among professors may have taught many respondents to heave toward a moderate identity as a way of disarming conservative critics and making the campus appear more balanced. The study did not take on one crucial question: what percentage of instructors feel entitled to use the classroom as a political stage, promoting social change and inculcating a particular political viewpoint in their students?

One surprise in the study is that almost half of all those polled oppose affirmative action preferences. This means that a massive opposition to preferences has remained silent and hidden for years, not speaking out or attempting to protect the students punished for bucking preferences (stolen newspapers, canceled speakers, punishment for “bake sales” that mock preferences). Another finding is that more than two-thirds of all instructors (68.8 percent) say “the goal of diversity should include fostering diversity of views among faculty members.” Question of the day: How many professors have actually said this out loud? Fear or indifference may be the reason for reticence. Or maybe a great many professors are caught in a persistent vegetative state, too paralyzing to let them say on campus what they tell pollsters they actually believe.

Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of the history of education at New York University , was appalled by the 31 percent of instructors who couldn’t bring themselves to tell the Gross-Simmons survey that intellectual diversity should be fostered. “What were they thinking?,” Zimmerman asked Saturday at a Harvard symposium on the study.

Lawrence Summers, deposed president of Harvard, got it right at the symposium, noting that not one social science instructor at a PhD-granting institution reported voting for President Bush in 2004. “There is an overwhelming tilt toward the progressive side,” Summers said, “Compared to the underrepresentation of other groups whose underrepresentation is often stressed, the underrepresentation of conservatives appears to be rather more, perhaps.” Yes. this certainly seems so. No perhaps about it.

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