Ivy-covered bias

Posted: Jan 23, 2002 12:00 AM
Quick: What proportion of Ivy League professors are conservative?

Zero percent.

That's right. Not a single, solitary one of the nation's elite professors in a recent poll by Luntz Research Associates (commissioned by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and available at www.frontpagemagazine.com) took the right-wing label. Six percent said they were somewhat conservative, 23 percent were moderates, 30 percent somewhat liberal and 34 percent liberal, with a margin of error of 8 percent.

While the country split virtually even between Gore and Bush in the 2000 vote, 84 percent of Ivy profs voted for Gore. Almost as many (6 percent) voted for Ralph Nader as George Bush (9 percent).

Perhaps equally troubling, from an educational and intellectual standpoint, is the relative uniformity of religious preference, or lack thereof. Just one out of five professors attended religious services at least once a week. Forty-eight percent said they rarely or never attended a religious service.

Only 13 percent of Ivy profs support tax cuts. One percent want a legal ban on abortion. Sixty-one percent think the federal government should do more to solve problems, rather than individuals, communities and private enterprise. Seventy-four percent oppose spending money on a missile defense system.

On the other hand, 78 percent support merit pay for teachers (Why do I suspect they were talking about themselves and not high school teachers?). And reflecting perhaps the new patriotism, 71 percent of Ivy League faculty support programs allowing the military to recruit officers on campus, and 68 percent want spy agencies such as the CIA to be allowed to recruit on campus.

Does ivy-covered bias matter? Who cares what happens on a handful of self-important ivy-covered campuses? I do, and so should you.

In the first place, academia has as rigid a hierarchy of status as the military, and a handful of top schools not only set the tone for the nation's academics, but they also train and influence the next generation of American leaders. What educated elites think has always had, in the long run, a disproportionate influence over cultural progress -- or regress.

The problem is deeper than a pedagogical or political one, however. Ideological uniformity is dangerous to the primary intellectual mission of any university: the pursuit of knowledge. How much will professors of (look at the list) -- government, political science, law, philosophy, social sciences, economics, sociology -- overlook and fail to explore if their work takes place in a relatively insular, parochial intellectual community, free from radically competing points of view?

Mary A. Burgan, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, was concerned enough to at least question the poll's methodology.

"I really worry about a poll like this. That's got to be a very small sample," Burgan, formerly an English professor at Indiana University, told the Washington Times. Twelve percent of the survey's respondents were economics or business professors. "The humanities, from my own experience, tend to be more left than right of center, but I think that most of them are somewhere near the center," she said.

The whole theory of the university is that truth is best pursued in community and dialogue, where views can be challenged and critiqued and ultimately verified. If true, the absence of alternative views on campus is a grave concern not just for the political right, whose ax is being gored, but for anyone concerned about the quality of American education.

So yes, in the name of diversity, Harvard is right to be concerned when, say, a group of prominent Afro-American public intellectuals threaten to defect en masse (to Princeton!). Government racial quotas threaten the principle of equality before the law, but Harvard is not the government (not yet), and has a legitimate concern for protecting multiple points of view. Why is that concern to date so one-sided?