Why is the professoriate predominantly liberal? A. Because “There is an intrinsic link between liberalism and intelligence such that the more liberal views of those with advanced degrees reflect liberals’ greater academic potential.” [The liberals-are-smarter theory] B. “Because cognitive development occurs with additional years of schooling, leading the intelligentsia to find fault with what they see as simplistic conservative ideologies.” [The more-learning-makes-profs-liberal theory] C. Because the professoriate seeks a way to differentiate itself “from both the middle class and business elites.” [The profs-turn-liberal-because-they-resent-the-middle-classtheory] D. Because the entrenched liberals who dominate “knowledge work fields…refuse to hire colleagues with dissenting opinions.” [The liberals-are-biased-against-conservativestheory] E. Because “The professoriate acquired a reputation as a liberal occupation” and liberals today “acting on the basis of this reputation and seeking careers that accord with their political identities, are more likely than conservatives to aspire to become academics.” [The self-selection theory] F. Because conservatives are dogmatic and turn away from disciplines that require open-mindedness. [The liberals-are-more-open-minded theory] G. Because professors tend more than most Americans to reside in cities and have fewer children, which favors their embracing liberal political views. [The lifestyle-liberalismtheory] H. Because professors are, on average, less religious than other Americans, which corresponds with their being more liberal. [The grad-school-appeals-to-seculariststheory] I. Because conservatives are more materialistic and are drawn to private-sector jobs; while liberals, concerned more with their “sense of meaning,” are more likely to be drawn to academic work. [The conservatives-prefer-money-to-learning theory] This catalog of explanations is to be found in the first 11 pages of a new working paper by Ethan Fosse, Jeremy Freese, and Neil Gross, released yesterday. Their answer is an emphatic E. “Self-selection” in their view is the only answer for which they can find robust empirical support. If they are right, this should change one of the longest-running and often most bitter debates in contemporary higher education.

Peter concludes that self-selection by no means rules out the possibility of bias: "The most effective way to keep out a whole class of people who are unwelcome isn’t to bar entry, but to make sure that very few in that class will want to enter."

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Why Are Most College Professors Liberal? New Studies Investigate

Mar 23, 2011 |  Ashley Thorne

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Why Are Most College Professors Liberal? New Studies Investigate

Mar 23, 2011 | 

Ashley Thorne

This week Neil Gross and his colleagues released two new studies analyzing clues as to why the majority of professors are politically liberal. They focus on graduate school. What sort of person goes to graduate school? Does a certain political orientation boost a person's chances of getting in? Of wanting to go in the first place? Peter Wood discusses both reports in articles at the Chronicle of Higher Education's Innovations blog. In one study, which Peter called "well-intentioned" but "essentially worthless," the authors sent fake letters to graduate admissions officers expressing interest in attending the programs. Some letters mentioned working in either the Obama or the McCain campaign. Gross and his co-authors wanted to see whether these letters would get responses that indicated encouragement or discouragement according to which candidate was mentioned. The other study sought to analyze the reasons people have for seeking Ph.D.s. Peter wrote:

Why is the professoriate predominantly liberal? A. Because “There is an intrinsic link between liberalism and intelligence such that the more liberal views of those with advanced degrees reflect liberals’ greater academic potential.” [The liberals-are-smarter theory] B. “Because cognitive development occurs with additional years of schooling, leading the intelligentsia to find fault with what they see as simplistic conservative ideologies.” [The more-learning-makes-profs-liberal theory] C. Because the professoriate seeks a way to differentiate itself “from both the middle class and business elites.” [The profs-turn-liberal-because-they-resent-the-middle-classtheory] D. Because the entrenched liberals who dominate “knowledge work fields…refuse to hire colleagues with dissenting opinions.” [The liberals-are-biased-against-conservativestheory] E. Because “The professoriate acquired a reputation as a liberal occupation” and liberals today “acting on the basis of this reputation and seeking careers that accord with their political identities, are more likely than conservatives to aspire to become academics.” [The self-selection theory] F. Because conservatives are dogmatic and turn away from disciplines that require open-mindedness. [The liberals-are-more-open-minded theory] G. Because professors tend more than most Americans to reside in cities and have fewer children, which favors their embracing liberal political views. [The lifestyle-liberalismtheory] H. Because professors are, on average, less religious than other Americans, which corresponds with their being more liberal. [The grad-school-appeals-to-seculariststheory] I. Because conservatives are more materialistic and are drawn to private-sector jobs; while liberals, concerned more with their “sense of meaning,” are more likely to be drawn to academic work. [The conservatives-prefer-money-to-learning theory] This catalog of explanations is to be found in the first 11 pages of a new working paper by Ethan Fosse, Jeremy Freese, and Neil Gross, released yesterday. Their answer is an emphatic E. “Self-selection” in their view is the only answer for which they can find robust empirical support. If they are right, this should change one of the longest-running and often most bitter debates in contemporary higher education.

Peter concludes that self-selection by no means rules out the possibility of bias: "The most effective way to keep out a whole class of people who are unwelcome isn’t to bar entry, but to make sure that very few in that class will want to enter."


Image: Public Domain

Milwaukee

| March 23, 2011 - 6:35 PM


I recently came across this quote :“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

So liberals make academia a place conservatives don’t want to be. Was it always so, or is this more fall out from the Vietnam War when thousands hid in universities. I once heard that the University of Minnesota once had 5000 graduate students in their Masters of History program. How sad.

Jonathan

| March 25, 2011 - 4:23 PM


It’s not hard to see how conservatives make themselves unwelcome in academia.  So many of them have quit academia for the conservative “think tanks.”  The NAS might even come to mind, in a minor way; I’m really thinking of Heritage, AEI, etc. 

Plus, they positively drip with contempt for academia:  for tenure, for research, for the worth of higher education for students and society alike.  For publicly subsidized education.  They positively lust for the supposed higher-ed “bubble” to burst. 

Why wouldn’t these people be suspect?  Kind of like if you hate cars, and you want the car company to go bust, and you think the product is a rip-off—and you apply for a management position at Ford.  You might have tough going.

Jonathan

| March 25, 2011 - 5:02 PM


By the way—how’s your investigation of the Art Robinson case at Oregon State going?

Demosophist

| April 06, 2011 - 8:04 PM


No, it’s not that complicated.  Ironically Marx (the one without brothers) had a term for it: crosspressure.

The Yakima Kid

| August 25, 2016 - 12:51 AM


Professors do not like to recommend conservative students for graduate school; the smart student soon learns to ape the faculty’s political views to obtain that recommendation - and the smarter student decides that a career in engineering makes far more sense and involves far less nonsense than pursuing a PhD in the social sciences or humanities. Conservative faculty tend to concentrate in the technical and scientific fields.

Chris Lennon

| November 03, 2016 - 7:22 PM


When I was yoing, I was pro-war, pro-milotary, and even wanted to go to west point.  Then I started getting very interested in history, and now I am completing my doctorate in history.  I don’t agree there is a liberal bias, in fact one of the best professors I had, David Fogglesong, a Cold War scholar would have us read sources from both sides of the spectrum without fail, and never offered his own opinion but let us form our own.  I cannot speak for any other discipline, but at least for history, the past tends to demomstrate the brutality and criminality of “conservatives”.  Aside from the Nazis, you learn about the crimes of Franco in Spain for example, and in terms of the cold war, the history speaks fpr itself, America callously supported horrible regimes throughout the world, and there’s no bias in that truth.  The fact is that America committed these crimes, and conservatives don’t deny them, they justify them, and the only way you can justify them is if you think the group of people you are more deserving of life than another group.  This is the basis of the conservative-liberal divide, and that when confronted with the truth of history, conservatives believe it’s ok to commit atrocities and war crimes so Americans can have their consumer society, and liberals conversely believe that everyone has as much of a right to life as we do.  Conservatives tend to agree with any amount of violence against another country or group as long as it’s good for the economy and I just can’t agree.  I’d like to specify though that I’m not a liberal, I hate republicans and democrats and believe that our form of representative democracy is horrible and only benefits those with money.

Barbara Stanhope

| February 09, 2017 - 1:38 PM


I think the liberalism in colleges and their views are wrong and harmful for us and society’s to come. I know many people with doctoral level degrees that are conservatives and i find them the more desirable person and they have common sense and intelligence. Someone has to serve in the military and protect our country.You need all types of people to survive and it cant happen if all people think it is above them to join the military. If people dont know how this works, then being a liberal is a disaster to society

Melody

| February 14, 2017 - 12:24 AM


“Conservative faculty tend to concentrate in the technical and scientific fields.”

I find that comment hard to believe when many Republicans don’t believe in evolution or climate change…

Ed Krall (a spat upon Vietnam Veteran and Patriot)

| February 17, 2017 - 11:47 PM


The anti-war hippies used college deferments to avoid the draft. Many of them became professional students achieving higher and higher degrees. They became professors and administrators of our universities. They controlled the hiring of professors who, as no surprise, were all of the same mindset. Having never been in the military or held a real job in the real working world, they have no clue what is means to make a living in the business world.  They are parasites living off the working people. They live in the make believe world of academia where they make the rules and financially profit from them. Over the past 50 years they have extorted money from working Americans who just want their children to get degrees, without which they cannot get the high paying jobs in the business world. The ultra-liberal socialistic professors and administrators are brain-washing our children. The now liberally programed students become lawyers, educators, politicians, and journalists who corrupt our democracy. The socialists of the world have done a very good job of destroying America from within.  Now the true Americans have awakened and elected a financially independent American to take back our democracy. Now the left is crying “foul”. The American people have spoken.  Get over it.

The Yakima Kid

| February 18, 2017 - 1:20 AM


Chris, you’ve just made my point. Your faculty focused on Franco and Hitler and ignored Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot. There was once a sardonic joke among historians, to the effect that WWII was a contest between Hitler and Stalin to see who could kill the most Russians, and Stalin won.

Melody, your ridiculous comment on conservatives not believing in science ignores the fact that liberals tend to not believe in immunizations, biochemistry, physiology, or modern agriculture. Time and time again I have had conversations with liberals who seem oblivious not only to the fact that the *20th* century occurred, but seem unaware of the *19th* century. The level of belief in such discarded theories as vitalism is pervasive amongst those on the left, and has left me awe stricken over the years.

I had several offers from universities to pursue a PhD in history; I decided not to as a conservative woman in a field dominated by men who at the time seemed to feel that any female historian was “taking a job from a Black man” and when they were unable to find Black male candidates, were always happy to hire a White male.