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 –
- [Sunday update: Reading just this one article and the other one I re-highlighted will get you up to speed if you have no time for the others.]
- Yes, most professors are liberal, but they don’t indoctrinate students. Or read this shorter summary. Or, these 5 myths about this topic. Recommended.
- Another study same: College kids are not being politically indoctrinated.
- Other forces make academia more conservative, at least in some ways. Recommended
- Movement conservatism’s hostility to science has driven most hard science professors away from it. [Sunday – This is the other best one – and more nuanced than I thought.]
Other Side, or at least some “Howevers” –
- Lots of discrimination against conservative academics in hiring, etc. Recommended
- A survey found 37% of psychology professors admitted they would discriminate against a conservative job applicant.
- But, let’s not overstate this problem, says one conservative scholar.
Next Week: Is it time to abolish the death penalty? (2-hour executions anyone?)