Political beliefs of academics
|A guide to|
|Hail to the Chief?|
|Persons of interest|
There is much talk in countries including the U.S. about the political beliefs of academics. Some people hold the view that professors and other academic figures form a liberal or left-wing cabal that practices evil professor values and subverts the minds of the young.
Often, a "professors are indoctrinating the youth!" gambit is tied to an Evil Liberal Science Conspiracy gambit.
In reality, US professors truly are more socialist or liberal than the general population; there are five generally accepted causes:
- The more educated a person becomes, the more the person has to think. As a result, the person is better equipped to notice the hypocrisy of authoritarian or fundamentalist ideology (and so-called "traditional values" when it consists of these things). In the USA, socialists and social-liberals are the most educated ideological demographics.
- Neoliberals and Neoconservatives are attracted in greater numbers by the larger salaries (bribery) on offer in the financial sector, in ideologically-aligned thinktanks like the Heritage Foundation or in institutions like Hillsdale College (a sponsor on shows like The Mark Levin Show) or Liberty University. The economics departments of some public institutions - such as Auburn University and George Mason University - also have a reputation for their Neoliberal advocacy, but in general people with these beliefs are more likely to prefer the higher salaries offered outside the public sector.
- The very few professors who are not tolerant of other viewpoints and/or populations (Mary Daly, for example) are usually Tankies, Libertarians, or Nazis, as noted below, and in the long-term a campus can sustain only one intolerant point-of-view.
- Many teachers are part of a union and many more are government employees - both of these categories tend to support workers' rights and to advocate democracy rather than rule by inherited wealth.
- Highest-quintile intelligence is strongly associated with altruistic motivation, so Neoliberal and Neoconservative idealogues are very rare among this group across all subjects - and indeed, internationally. This tends to invalidate claims that self-selection or hiring bias effect the prevelance of left-leaning individuals in academia, as highest-quintile intelligence scores are
probably requiredvery common in faculty positions. 
Effect on students
As with most 'brainwashing' claims, the supposed effects of teacher bias are highly dubious and at most amount to an indirect influence over the students' terms of reference and quick-recall heuristics. The likelihood of it influencing fundamental beliefs and deep thoughts is, as always, pretty minimal given the other external and internal influences affecting them (background, social group, media consumption, personal taste). According to a Washington Post op-ed by ideological Conservative (and hence skeptical anti-ideologue) Howard Kurtz:
“”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.
Or in other words, despite the personal beliefs of professors academia lacks a "systemic bias" in favor of Socialism. This view is not universally held, however, as professors such as the Democratic-Party Neoliberal KC Johnson have pointed out curricula in several humanities departments which are slanted towards a Socialist point of view and hiring patterns that clearly discriminate against Neoliberal and Neoconservative professors. His chief concern, however, is with students specifically training to become public school teachers; although he does mention the possibility of similar mindsets outside this area, he does not cite instances of this actually happening.
Some radical professors are, of course, very open about the fact that they are in academia to grind a political and/or ideological axe and train their ideological successors, but this does not translate to a giant secret conspiracy involving all Socialist and Nationalist professors. If there actually are secret conspiracies in academia to mint students into good little foot-soldiers for their causes, they're simultaneously doing an amazingly good job at remaining secret and failing epically at their stated purpose.
One of the popular claims is that these professors are cogs in a Democratic political machine. However, only half of college students identify as Democrats, and only 52% of college-educated professionals (including professors) vote Democratic, which isn't quite the oft-painted image of a 'liberal hivemind'.
Not all academic departments have discernable political leanings. Among professors, less than 20% of whom identify as 'conservative' (a mixture of Neoliberals and genuine Conservatives), so-called 'liberals' (Socialists and Social-Liberals) are most prominent in the social sciences and humanities. Professors in engineering and business departments are evenly split.
University of Toronto survey
This survey asked 1,634 full-time employed faculty members at four year institutions across the U.S. However, the sample was largely limited to full-time social-science and humanities professors, which skewed it:
|All professors||Ivy League professors|
|'Moderate' (whatever that means)||13%||0%|
According to Christopher Shea of the Boston Globe, a 2001 survey carried out by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute "identified a distinct leftward tilt in academia, but a smaller one than you might expect." It further indicated that extremists on either side of the spectrum make up less than 6% of all professors, although the vast majority of these were Marxist or Anarchist.
Carnegie University survey
This 1989 survey is somewhat dated. Libertarian Peter G. Klein used this article for his rant on socialist economists, which of course placed liberals and communists in the same camp since democracy is a slippery slope to communism. It indicated that over 70% of tenure-tracked professors were 'liberal' (everything 'left' of Social Liberalism), while less than 20% were 'conservative'.
The study also indicated that:
- 71% believe income inequality is too high
- 81% want the government to do something about it
- Democrats outnumber Republicans 2.8:1
- Professors' Liberalism Contagious? Maybe Not, New York Times
- Reality Bites, Chris Mooney
- The Social and Political Views of American Professors, Neil Gross and Solon Simmons
- Pew Research Center. (2005). Beyond Red vs. Blue. 7 September.
- See the Wikipedia article on Hillsdale College.
- Which comes first: the chicken, or the egg?
- Scholarly elites orient left, irrespective of academic affiliation. Idan S. Solon. Intelligence. Volume 51, July–August 2015, Pages 119–130.
- Kurtz, H. (29 March 2005). College Faculties a Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds. The Washington Post. 7 September, 2007.
- Judis, J. B. (19 June, 2007). Back to the Future: The re-emergence of the emerging Democratic majority. The American Prospect. 7 September, 2007.
- Shea, C. (12 October, 2003). What liberal academia?, Boston Globe. 7 September, 2007.
- Oh, the Mises Institute.