|Back to December Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 263||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||DECEMBER 2007|
|Study Examines Professors' Political and Social Views|
A new study takes what many believe to be the closest and clearest look yet at American professors' political and social views. The study surveyed 1,417 full-time professors at schools ranging from community colleges to elite research universities, and broke down the results by professors' disciplines, ages, and other factors. The authors presented their findings in October at Harvard University, leading to a full day of stimulating presentations and debate among the assembled academics.
44% of professors who responded to the survey classified themselves as liberal, 46% as moderate, and 9% as conservative. The study's authors, Neil Gross and Solon Simmons, were surprised to find so many moderate professors, but other academics attending the presentation disagreed with their conclusions. Much of the conservatism and moderation in higher education cropped up in certain subcategories: the health science professions, for example, and community colleges and non-elite universities.
At community colleges, 37% of professors identified themselves as liberal, 44% as moderate, and 19% as conservative. Professors at liberal arts colleges were most likely to identify themselves as liberal: 61% were liberal, and just 4% conservative. Elite Ph.D.-granting institutions were fairly close behind, with 57% liberal, 33% moderate and 10% conservative.
Business and health sciences professors helped to boost the representation of moderate and conservative views at both elite and non-elite Ph.D.-granting universities, compared to liberal arts colleges. 20.5% of health sciences professors are liberal, 20.5% are conservative, and 59% are moderate. Business professors are another less liberal group, with 24.5% conservative, 54% moderate, and 21.5% liberal.
Predictably, humanities and social sciences professors were most likely to lean left. 17.6% of social sciences professors declared a Marxist political identity. Marxism also claimed 5% support in the humanities, and negligible support in other disciplines. 88% of social sciences professors voted for John Kerry in 2004, and 84% of humanities professors. Half of the social sciences professors who did not vote for Kerry voted for non-mainstream candidates, leaving the Republican Party with just 6% of their vote. Only health sciences professors supported Bush in 2004, by a narrow margin of 52% of votes for Bush and 48% for Kerry. Overall, 78% of academics voted for Kerry.
The survey also inquired about professors' beliefs on a number of social issues. 75% favor abortion on demand, for any and every reason. On the subject of homosexuality, 17% of professors believe it is always wrong for two people of the same sex to have sex, and 69% believe this is never wrong.
Professors' views on affirmative action surprised the study's authors. 49% oppose or strongly oppose affirmative action in college admissions. Only 11% strongly favor affirmative action. Also of interest, the survey asked how professors explain why more men than women go into math, science, and engineering. Only one-quarter blame discrimination; three-quarters say men and women simply have different interests.
Professors attending the presentation had interesting reactions to the survey. Lawrence H. Summers, economist and former Harvard president, said the survey results showed "even less ideological diversity" in the core liberal arts disciplines than he would have expected. Summers called for universities to seek out professors of a wider range of views, in order to create a more intellectually stimulating environment on campuses.
Summers questioned whether a lack of intellectual diversity on campuses had actually weakened liberalism in recent years. "It makes me wonder whether if you do not engage in intense dialogue with those whom you disagree with in substantial number whether your own arguments will be sharpened and honed to maximum effect," he said. Summers praised the conservative Federalist Society for engaging with progressives and seeking out debate. "I'm not sure that commitment is equally present in progressive communities," he owned.
Jonathan Zimmerman of New York University said that many professors reacted against the rise of the new right in the 1980s and 90s, and adopted an aggressive stance against the average conservative American. "The story we need to tell is about the alienation of professors from the public," he said.
Professor Louis Menand of Harvard expressed concern that the academy's liberalism might be self-perpetuating. With competition fierce for every position as either a humanities graduate student or a professor, tomorrow's professors are under a great deal of pressure to conform to today's professors' views. (Inside Higher Ed, 10-8-07)