Monday’s Mtg: How Politically Biased Is Academia?

This one’s another great topic idea from Bruce. You may not know it, but the alleged left-wing bias of academia and its influences is a huge issue in conservative circles. It’s spawned a lot of pushback and activism, from creating student groups devoted to fighting discrimination in the classroom all the way to the Right creating its own large-scale infrastructure of universities and think tanks. The idea that the liberal bent of college professors and the university establishments biases research, indoctrinates students, and discriminates against conservative academics and students is an article of faith to conservatives.

But, how true are these accusations? Sure, college professors are pretty liberal, especially in humanities and social sciences programs, and we all remember our really liberal college professors. But, a little reading shows this bias question to be more complicated than it seems at first blush. First, what exactly do conservatives mean by “academia?”

  • Who? Do they mean just the professors or just the tenured ones? What about adjunct professors that now predominate at most colleges? What about all of the administrators and other people that run the huge educational establishments that support the profs? And, what about all of those research centers – many of which are partly or wholly privately-funded – that are everywhere on campuses these days?
  • Where? Is “academia” only the elite universities that drive the directions their fields take and educate the most accomplished students, or should we add in state schools and community colleges that educate the vast majority of kids? What about for-profit colleges, that enroll 11% of all college students? What about the Right’s own college and think tank system, like Liberty Baptist U., George Mason (libertarian), Heritage/Cato/AEI, et. al.?
  • Which fields? Just the humanities and social sciences? What about the hard sciences, engineering, and business?

Second, what do we mean by liberal? Professors’ party affiliations and voting preferences are easy to measure, and they’re overwhelmingly Democrats in most fields.  But is that the same as bias? What about the social science fields dominated by post-modern, deconstructionist paradigms?  Is any professor teaching the standard canon in such fields teaching biased material whether they intend to or not?

Third, what is “bias” as opposed to fact-based belief? Do conservatives have the evidence to prove that professors are teaching liberal opinions masquerading as facts or science?  But, does “liberal academic bias” sometimes just mean, “things conservatives disagree with?”

Lastly, is the hardest question to answer, IMO: Where’s the evidence that liberal academic bias harms anybody? Maybe it does.  But, how do you measure the effects that biased teaching has on students?  In a similar vein, is the lack of politically conservative professors in (most of) academia proof enough of discrimination? Worse, how on earth could one prove that the results of academic research itself are being skewed in an ideologically-biased direction? Like I said, great topic.

I’ll open us up on Monday by summarizing a few studies that have been done recently on academic bias. Then, I’ll try to take us through the questions I’ve posed so we can explore this issue a little bit systematically.  I’m looking forward to hearing from people that have strong views and know more than I do about this.


One Side

Other Side, or at least some “Howevers” –

Next Week: Is it time to abolish the death penalty? (2-hour executions anyone?)


2 responses

  1. It would be appalling to think that the intellectual world is divided in “liberals” and “conservatives.” It’s bad enough that our politics are so divided.
    Hard science, and even social sciences and humanities, deal with a irreducible stratum of hard fact. Facts are not “liberal” or “conservative.”
    Moreover, if we are still committed to a concept of open debate and academic freedom, there must be free discussion.
    At the same time, universities should not be run by ideologues, fanatics, and crackpots.
    What is acceptable and what is too far out is, of course, always a matter of judgment. Does the astronomy dept. have to hire someone who believes in flat earth? Does the economics dept. have to hire someone who want to go back to gold? I shouldn’t think so.

  2. Unfortunately, won’t be able to make the meeting

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