Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A liberal education

Babble on.

From Kate at SDA, we learn of this story from the WaPo:

By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

The disparity is even more pronounced at the most elite schools, where, according to the study, 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.

"What's most striking is how few conservatives there are in any field," said Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author of the study. "There was no field we studied in which there were more conservatives than liberals or more Republicans than Democrats. It's a very homogenous environment, not just in the places you'd expect to be dominated by liberals."

Ben has weighed in recently on this issue - it's about to become a very personal one for him yet again - and while he remains skeptical, others are not so sanguine about the perceived bias.

Buried way, way below the lede is a telling quote:

When asked about the findings, Jonathan Knight, director of academic freedom and tenure for the American Association of University Professors, said, "The question is how this translates into what happens within the academic community on such issues as curriculum, admission of students, evaluation of students, evaluation of faculty for salary and promotion." Knight said he isn't aware of "any good evidence" that personal views are having an impact on campus policies.

"It's hard to see that these liberal views cut very deeply into the education of students. In fact, a number of studies show the core values that students bring into the university are not very much altered by being in college."

It would be interesting to look first-hand at the studies to which he refers, but unfortunately, the WaPo remains frustratingly linkless. It's obvious to even a no-degree dunderhead like me that the next study that needs to be commissioned is an impact study: how does the established liberal bias of university faculties affect the way they admit, teach, and evaluate students? Moreover, how does this bias affect the hiring and promotion of faculty, and the research and publishing they choose to do?

Declan links somewhat apocalyptically to this story from Florida:

Republicans on the House Choice and Innovation Committee voted along party lines Tuesday to pass a bill that aims to stamp out “leftist totalitarianism” by “dictator professors” in the classrooms of Florida’s universities.

The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, passed 8-to-2 despite strenuous objections from the only two Democrats on the committee.
The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative “serious academic theories” that may disagree with their personal views.

According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities.

Students who believe their professor is singling them out for “public ridicule” – for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class – would also be given the right to sue.

“Some professors say, ‘Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,’” Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.

Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, warned of lawsuits from students enrolled in Holocaust history courses who believe the Holocaust never happened.

Similar suits could be filed by students who don’t believe astronauts landed on the moon, who believe teaching birth control is a sin or even by Shands medical students who refuse to perform blood transfusions and believe prayer is the only way to heal the body, Gelber added.

“This is a horrible step,” he said. “Universities will have to hire lawyers so our curricula can be decided by judges in courtrooms. Professors might have to pay court costs — even if they win — from their own pockets. This is not an innocent piece of legislation.”

What a ridiculous, nanny-statist, legal nightmare of a solution to the problem of academic bias. But just because the solution proposed is an awful one doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist, as Declan implies.

Conservatives shouldn't create specious legislative remedies with this sort of an issue. They should simply create an alternative structure to promote conservative thought. Easier said than done, I know, but it's the right way nonetheless.

Babble off.


At 2:10 p.m., Blogger Jane said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7:04 p.m., Blogger Jane said...

First comment didn't seem to work... second try:

Yawn. Intelligent people are ipso facto not conservatards. If the smartest people in the country reject your political views in overwhelming numbers, that's a clue that your worldview ought to change. Perhaps it's time to finish that degree?

At 8:56 p.m., Blogger Jodeon said...

Jane is assuming that education and intelligence are correlated. I beg to differ (undoubtedly so would anyone who watches The Apprentice). Sort yourself out Jane.
As a conservative currently attending university the impact the liberal educators have on these young minds is quite apparent. Thankfully my mind is not so young and my views are strong. And Damian, waste not your valuable time on finishing the degree, you had it right when you kissed it goodbye.

At 10:27 p.m., Blogger The Tiger said...

Damian --

Blogger's commenting system seems to be on the fritz, so if you see three comments from me, that's why. (I say that you should switch to TheirSay! or Haloscan.)

Anyway, my $0.02: it's a good thing, given that we "conservatards" are so dumb, that we have the enlightened like Jane to set us straight. I mean, with such solid argumentation and high-minded intellectual discourse, she may yet convert us all to the joys of life on the left.

At 10:48 p.m., Blogger The Tiger said...

Also -- it ain't all bad. Look at this article.

In the States, there are some bastions of liberty -- Chicago's department of economics, for one. And the Hoover Institution, which is associated with Stanford. Canada needs to work on its own group -- and that's where, I believe, private foundations and private universities could pick up the slack.

Whatever. I'll be at the Kremlin on the Charles for a couple of years, and I dare say I'll do just fine. If I go on for a doctorate after that, I may switch over to Stanford or Chicago, if I have the talent & don't quite feel that I fit in at the big H.

At 9:23 a.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Conservatards? That's much more clever than right-whingers Robert...oops, I mean Jane. You must have started paying a ghostwriter instead of cribbing insults from the local playground.

*hand to forehead*

Now if only I can scrape together the shards of my shattered self-image and find a way to continue living without an undergrad degree...

At 9:52 a.m., Blogger Prolix said...

Well, there is probably value in having couterweights in society (e.g If the academics are liberal, well it could be said that the business establishment is conservative)... so perhaps having a largely liberal academic establishment, isn't such a bad thing. There is also value in having someone challenge your beliefs... helps temper the steel, or so they say.

I think Jane's comment is stupid, plain and simple. And, that's coming from someone who holds a master's degree...

At 10:14 a.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Prolix, I hadn't thought about the 'counterweight' angle...

First, I'd argue that educating young minds is more influential than what your boss thinks. I'd bet my bosses all vote Conservative, but I'm not sure, and I know for a fact their political views don't determine who gets paid what around here. If education is intended to be a counterweight to big business, it's arguably overkill.

Second, I don't know that business is necessarily conservative. The info Vitor Marciano pulled out of Elections Canada showed huge corporate donations to the Liberal Party - way more than what was given to the CPC.

I agree that challenging beliefs is an essential task for an educator, but I wonder how well the clash of ideas works with such an ideological imbalance.

I don't want to crush liberal ideas: they're essential to keeping the debate real. But I think the academic pendulum has swung too far to the left, and that we need to find a sane way to reintroduce balance into the classroom and the lecture hall.

At 12:33 p.m., Blogger Jane said...

Playground insults? Fair is fair, Damian. You call us moonbats, we call you conservatards. This is, after all, what passes for discourse in the blogosphere.

Seriously, doesn't the consensus among the most educated people in our society, in hundreds of colleges from coast to coast, imply that certain truths have been obtained?

At 2:28 p.m., Blogger Sacamano said...


I'd say that you take a bit of a narrow perspective on the relative influence of educators vs "business". Indeed, I think the argument could be made that the political views of business-types is far more influential than that of educators.

As the article states, it seems that the political views of most students don't seem to change much during a university education, although this is probably still an empirical question to be investigated. Contrast that with the influence that "Business" has on your every- day life. And here I'm not simply talking about "my boss", but the entire structure of "Business".

You say:
I'm not sure, and I know for a fact their political views don't determine who gets paid what around here.

I think it is pretty clear that the political views of the business "elite" do influence who gets paid what. Indeed, the entire structure of the business community reflects a fairly conservative world-view - so much so that the way our economy, markets, wage system, etc. is structured is fairly naturalized - we don't even question most aspects of it.

This is not a bad thing, it is simply reality.

It is also unclear whether a "Liberal" education is actually harmful to a "Conservative" business environment. For the last decade there has been a push by CEO's of large "Conservative" corporations for students with Liberal Arts backgrounds rather than "job-prep" degrees such as MBA's, etc. The argument is that Liberal Arts backgrounds engender critical thinking, writing skills, etc.

You would think that if these darn Liberal University Profs were churning out generations of left-wing nutbars that Business would react by devaluing University degrees. In fact, the exact opposite has happened. This suggests to me that even if university educators are overwhelmingly "Liberal", it isn't having the negative consequences that many conservatives seem to want to believe.

Finally, it is pretty difficult to determine political views from corporate donations. If you look back, Business tends to donates to who ever is in power.

At 5:54 p.m., Blogger Prolix said...

Damian, I don't think there is a direct correlation between donations and conservative viewpoint. Personally, I think there are a lot of, at least fiscal conservatives, who vote Liberal because: 1) they have been the only game in town for a while now; 2) the Business Liberals, led by Paul Martin, have been effective in controlling their party's left-wing and promoting a healthy economy, low inflation, a low dollar, and a moderate level of tax cuts.

Jane, why are you continuing to insist that just because you are an academic, you have all the answers. IT'S JUST ANOTHER PROFESSION (albeit with an unusual level of job security, potential for sabaticals and summers off)!

At 8:04 p.m., Blogger buckets said...

An interesting dscussion

At 8:17 p.m., Blogger buckets said...

Oops, sorry. An interesting discussion for me, since I'm a humanities prof at a mid-sized Canadian university who is this year a visiting prof at an elite liberal arts college in the states.

First comment. The reports about political leanings of the American college is correct: the people I've met here are overwhelmingly liberal and overwhelmingly democrat.

Second comment. When I mentioned this to one of my more self-reflective comments, he acknowledged it, but pointed out that being a college professor is something that liberals tend to aspire to more than conservatives do. (That is, being an educator is something than attracts do-gooders.)

Thus far, probably no surprises.

My third comment may surprise. I think that the lack of political diversity in academia is worse here than it is in Canada. Perhaps that's because we have three parties in English Canada-con, lib, & ndp. But I have more right-wing Canadian colleagues than American ones.


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