Don't think outside the college box

Posted: Aug 05, 2006 12:01 AM

Imagine, if you can, that slightly more than half of the public voted Democratic in the last presidential election, yet some 80 percent of higher education's social scientists voted Republican. In that universe, you would expect the left to demand changes in university hiring practices so that academia would nurture greater diversity so as to better represent the American community.

Then step back into the real world, where academia has become a solid bastion of the Left, as demonstrated by two articles in the latest issue of the scholarly journal Current Review. One article presents a survey of academic social scientists that reports that 79.6 percent of 1,208 respondents said they voted mostly Democratic over the last 10 years, with 9.3 percent voting Republican.

Call that a near monopoly marketplace of ideas.

A second article studied the voter registration of California college professors and found that the ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans (among professors located in voting registers) is 5 to 1. Let it be noted that the researchers made an effort to include schools reputed to be right-leaning. Some disciplines demonstrated more orthodoxy than others -- with sociology departments showing a ratio of 44 Democrats to 1 Republican, but economics departments employing 2.8 Democrats for each member of the GOP.

Is it bias or self-selection?

The two libertarian-leaning economics professors who conducted the California survey, San Jose State University's Christopher R. Cardiff and George Mason University's Daniel B. Klein, don't believe there is one quick, easy answer to that question, although they definitely see what Cardiff described as "subconscious bias."

"I think, partly, it is self-selection," said Klein over the phone Wednesday. He sees "something about intellectuals and hubris and conceit" in academia -- with political scientists pumping themselves up as savvy saviors of a public sorely in need of their enlightened views. While liberal professors often think that they are open-minded, Klein believes that they also often think that "we're smarter" than those outside of academia, which gives them a right to "discriminate against people who get it wrong."

As a result, Klein asserts, an economics major might present a paper that argues that the New Deal deepened and prolonged the Great Depression, with supporting data, but "no matter how solid the research was, there's no way that would impress them." In their group-think, many social scientists marginalize heterodox thinkers.

Cardiff knows conservative professors "who are afraid to share their point of view," lest their colleagues turn on them. "You've got this situation where universities are professing to support intellectual freedom, academic freedom, when in reality there's a chilling effect on actual political discussion."

Many professors see their universe as expansive and novel. Yet, Cardiff noted, "If you're only getting one point of view, you're living in an echo chamber." The worst of it is, the most ideologically pure professors have so isolated themselves that, according to Cardiff, "a lot of these folks don't realize there are other opinions out there."

I run into this all the time when I hear from readers who think that I am biased -- I am, I am supposed to be, I write for the opinion page -- while they are neutral. (They're not, they're biased, too.)

I've also run into my share of journalists who believe that journalists tend to be liberal because liberals are smarter. It simply doesn't occur to them that editors tend to not hire reporters who don't fit into the well-worn liberal mold.

The Critical Review articles bared two disturbing trends: First, left-leaning academics are more orthodox than right-leaning academics. Klein, and Charlotta Stern of the Institute for Social Research in Stockholm, who conducted the social-scientist survey, polled academics about their views on where government intervention works best. They found "almost no diversity of opinion among the Democratic professors." Republicans -- no surprise -- demonstrated more ideological diversity. GOP scholars also are more likely to work outside the university -- and that's no accident.

Second, as Klein succinctly put it, "It's going to become more lopsided in the future." Cardiff and Klein looked at the younger ranks in academia -- tenure-track and associate profs -- and found the ratio of Ds to Rs to be even greater.

So the future could see state universities morph into today's UC Berkeley, where Cardiff and Klein found 445 Dems to 45 Repubs. Group-think will further marginalize any free thinkers.

If you think outside the box, you work outside the institution. That's where academia is heading.