Ideology and Disparity in College

Ashley Thorne

This week the Chronicle of Higher Education released its 2009 Almanac of Higher Education (subscription required). The annually published Almanac is regarded as an official authority for figures on colleges and universities, students, faculty, and staff. It contains pages of data on topics such as “Largest Endowments per Student,” “Tenure Status of Full-Time Faculty Members,” and “Attitudes and Characteristics of Freshmen.” 

Mark Bauerlein takes the occasion to check out statistics in the section on “Opinions and Attitudes of Full-Time Faculty Members,” which surveyed 22,562 faculty members at 372 institutions during the 2007-8 academic year. The section surveys faculty members’ teaching practices, satisfaction with their institutions, educational priorities—and political orientations. This year, Bauerlein notes, “The percentage of faculty who declare themselves ‘Far left’ or ‘Liberal’ outnumber that of ‘Far right’ or ‘Conservative’ by more than three to one: 55.8 percent to 15.9 percent. The other category, ‘Middle-of-the-road’ stands at 28.4 percent.” Since last year’s Almanac, the percentages are up for the left, down for the right, and about the same for the middle.

Bauerlein also observes that:

·          71 percent of faculty members believe that “Colleges should be actively involved in solving social problems”

·          93.6 percent believe that “a racially-ethnically diverse student body enhances the educational experience of all students”

·          and 54.5 percent believe that “To develop an appreciation of multiculturalism” is of high or highest priority at their own institutions.

He points out that while these statistics are not surprising or new, they show how fully faculty members have bought into the concept that ideology counts as teaching and that higher education should produce activists.

Comments on Bauerlein’s brief observations were divided between “ksledge,” a liberal professor committed to academic freedom, and a tennis match between Bauerlein and “goxewu,” who takes issue with him on seven points. I’ll leave it to readers to follow the tennis match, which may not be over yet. But “Ksledge’s” comment could be straight out of the 1915 AAUP Declaration:

So to reiterate -- I DO believe it is a problem that colleges and their faculties have become lazy about politics and spewing (liberal) opinions to students. Students should be given the facts and be left to make up their own minds. They should be given the skills to seek information, criticize, and form logical arguments. We should not steer them one way or another.

And Bauerlein attaches:

For me, the bias problem isn't a matter of a few professors bringing political opinions in the room. I think you're right to limit that aspect. The real problem is in bias in the curriculum—that is, the values, materials, and goals that swing toward progressivist visions and downplay traditionalist visions.

We agree. Disparity between liberal and conservative professors is not so troubling as disparity between liberal and conservative teaching. Curricular “values, materials, and goals” are exactly what NAS will soon examine in a new project. We will be studying how politics are conveyed in college curricula; to that end we are compiling lists of the key books in the conservative, libertarian, liberal, and radical traditions that are taught in university classrooms. Many of our readers have made suggestions (you can too), and you can help us focus the results.

Through this project we want to remind higher education of its place as a forum for a variety of different ideas and viewpoints. Could next year’s Almanac include an item on the importance of intellectual diversity?

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