Although conservatives complain loudly and often about liberal bias in the mass media, the truth is that one is far more likely to read a conservative perspective in The New York Times than hear it from a college professor. At least the Times publishes an occasional conservative on its op-ed page. At many universities, just finding a Republican anywhere on the faculty is problematic.
Two recent studies by Santa Clara University economist Daniel B. Klein prove my point. In one study, he looked at party registration of the faculty at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. He found 7.7 registered Democrats for each Republican at the former and 9.9 Democrats per Republican at the latter.
In certain departments, Republicans are literally nonexistent. There are no Republicans in either the anthropology or sociology departments at Stanford or UC-Berkeley. At Berkeley, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 11 to one in the economics department and 14 to one in the political science department. Stanford is a model of intellectual diversity by contrast, with a Democrat/Republican ratio of seven to three in economics and nine to one in political science.
In a larger study, Klein looked at voting patterns from a survey of academics throughout the country. He found that in anthropology, there are more than 30 votes cast for Democratic candidates for each one cast for a Republican. In sociology, the ratio is 28 to one. Republicans do best among economists, who only vote Democratic by a three to one margin. In political science, the ratio is 6.7 to one. On average, across all departments, Democrats get 15 votes for every one going to Republicans.
Not surprisingly, the ideological orientation of college faculty skews heavily toward the left. According to a survey in the Chronicle of Higher Education, 47.9 percent of all professors at public universities consider themselves to be liberal, with another 6.2 percent classifying themselves as far left. Only 31.8 percent say that they are middle of the road, and just 13.8 percent are conservative.
Obviously, this puts the vast majority of professors far to the left of the population as a whole. But interestingly, they are even well to the left of their students. A survey of last year's incoming freshmen found only 24.2 percent calling themselves liberals and 2.8 percent classified as far left. More than half said they were middle of the road, and 21.1 percent were conservative.
Liberals pooh-pooh these data, sometimes implying that they result because conservatives aren't bright enough or sufficiently intellectual to make it as university professors. The truth is that it is very, very hard to get a tenured faculty position at a university. And the hiring process is unlike anything in a private business. In most cases, one needs a unanimous vote of professors in one's department to get tenure. This puts a high priority on intangibles like collegiality, which often translates into sharing the same politics and ideology.
Bias works in other ways, as well. It is extraordinarily difficult to get an article in a top academic journal or get a book published by a university press unless it slavishly parrots the liberal line. That is because such things must be peer-reviewed by experts in the field before they can be published. This makes it very easy for anonymous reviewers to blackball those with a conservative point of view, effectively killing the careers of those who must publish or perish.
Finally, it is essential these days to be taken under the wing of an established professor in your field and be mentored if you have any hope of getting a teaching position at a good school. With so few conservatives on the faculty -- and many of those hiding their politics to avoid retribution -- the deck is very heavily stacked against any conservative hoping for an academic career, no matter how qualified they may be.
Students pay a heavy price for this state of affairs. In certain fields like political science, it is simply impossible to receive a good education unless exposed to conservative thought. Nor are students likely to receive an adequate appreciation or understanding of the conservative perspective if it is only taught by those hostile to it. According to a new survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, almost half of students reported hearing only one side of political issues in their classrooms and that professors often use their positions to promote personal political views.
Unfortunately, fixing this problem will take a long time. It is certainly not amenable to a legislative fix, such as a quota for conservatives. The only thing that will help is to shame universities into treating intellectual diversity the way they now treat race and gender. But first they have to admit they have a problem. That hasn't happened yet.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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