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Higher Education Watch
No End in Sight for Academia’s Leftward Drift

It’s not exactly news that the American professoriate leans left—very far left, in fact, with well under a fifth of professors in social science and humanities departments identifying as conservative. This pattern, which is more pronounced at elite colleges, has grown even more pronounced in the last generation. And according to the results of a new survey published in Econ Journal Watch, it will likely grow even more pronounced still in the generation ahead.

The authors of the survey tallied the party registrations of professors of law, economics, history, journalism, and psychology at the top 40 U.S. News and World Report National Universities. They found that the overall ratio of registered Democrats to registered Republicans was 11:5 to 1, with some fields, like economics (4.5 to 1) exhibiting less of a tilt than history (33.5 to 1). But the most striking finding is that the few conservative professors are disproportionately nearing retirement. The younger crop of professors is even more Democrat-heavy than the cohort it is replacing, as the chart below shows. (While older people are more conservative than younger people overall, the population age gradient cannot account for the size of the difference demonstrated).

Screen Shot 2016-10-12 at 4.30.55 PMMany academics see findings like this and ask what the big deal is. So what if conservatives are disinclined from pursuing academic careers, and are growing more disinclined over time?

There are a number of answers. Populist right-wing outlets often cite this extreme disparity as suggestive of discrimination, or worry that a politicized faculty will not give students an objective education. There is some merit to both concerns, but in our view they are tangential to a third, more important problem: Namely, that a professoriate that shares many of the same moral and political assumptions will be less likely to scrutinize agreeable findings, less likely to pursue potentially disconfirming lines of inquiry, and ultimately produce a body of scholarship that is both less accurate and less relevant to the public it serves.

The University of Virginia professor Gerard Alexander expressed this idea clearly in an essay for the latest issue of National Affairs:

Scholars, like everyone else, are susceptible to confirmation bias, which is the tendency to prefer and even seek out information or interpretations that conform to one’s pre-existing beliefs. Simply put, people find more plausible — and work harder to confirm — the conclusions they already favor, and greet less congenial conclusions with greater skepticism and scrutiny. Scholarly training tries to help academics combat confirmation bias, which is why professors can admire scholars who change their minds in the face of new evidence. But the bias is not abolished. Here as elsewhere, the best way of addressing the problem is to work with rather than against the grain of it. Confirmation bias has an upside: It motivates skepticism when one’s values and views are challenged. As a result, we should expect more rigor when scholars have differing views. This is what frequently happens on campus between, say, moderate liberals and progressives, and between scholars who emphasize economic factors versus cultural ones, as each side examines the other’s assumptions and findings with fine-toothed combs.

For the same reason we logically expect much less scrutiny of assumptions, views, and findings that are shared by left-of-center scholars, assumptions that distinguish them from conservatives. The scholars most likely to scrutinize those assumptions — conservatives of various types — are either missing or too few in number to offer a meaningful counterbalance. Because of this, a field of academic study can be characterized simultaneously by vigorous debate over some issues (the ones that left-of-center researchers disagree about) and a lack of debate over others (the assumptions shared by those scholars). The more that a given field of study is populated by scholars who share important underlying assumptions, the more likely will be the emergence of orthodoxies that go unexamined or at least under-examined. This allows error to arise, endure, and thrive.

In other words, as our friends at Heterodox Academy have argued tirelessly, there are strong theoretical and empirical reasons to believe that the political disparity in the humanities and social sciences is leading to poorer quality scholarship. And if nothing changes—if liberal and conservative intellectuals continue to balkanize into different universes—this decay is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

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  • http://cafe.themarker.com/user/235356/ Shahar Luft

    Maybe it’s beginning to be time to drop ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. When an entire elite professes a certain ideology, that ideology is the ideology of the elite. It is in itself a marker of social status (and ipso facto conservative), and it is configured to legitimate and normalize that status; its terminologies are geared to provide those who hold the ideology as better people, to justify their privilege, to bolster their claims re the rest of society. Hence, the clergy of the middle ages cast those who did not follow it as heretics and described their practices as witchcraft. But that was before they invented ‘racist’ and ‘microaggression’.

    Which goes a little way towards explaining a certain turn of events. Until the middle of the twentieth century, ‘left’ was about redistributing resources: higher wages, shorter hours. But then, gradually, ‘left’ began to be less about resources and action and more about virtue and identity. You were not leftist by demanding action or carrying it out, but by being someone: designated victim, black, gay, trans, or ‘ally’. Achievement gave way to ascription, contract to status, the enlightened philosophies of socialism and liberalism to a kind of archaic theology. But when you realize that the mainstay of ‘left’ today actually is a clergy, an elite selected for a life of being measured for its words rather than its deeds, you begin to understand why the emphasis has shifted. As that heterosexual white dude Karl Marx would have said: existence determines consciousness.

    • LarryD

      In the 1970s, the Old Left were replaced by the New Left, who were scions of the upper middle and upper classes. They replaced concern with the working class with concern for the environment and selected minorities, and they new policy prescriptions just “happened” to undermine the working class and poor (especially black poor) families.

      Coincidence? Or Marxian pursuit of class interests. I’d say the Left has been subverted by its class enemies.

      • Boritz

        “scions of the upper middle and upper classes.”

        Idleness is the parent of psychology –Nietzsche
        We would have been spared much if they had needed to earn an honest living.

  • Observe&Report

    I wish everyone would stop describing these people as “liberals”, there is nothing liberal about shouting down and stamping out dissenting views. Regulating what people are allowed to say and how they’re allowed to say it – through “speech codes”, organised intimidation and shaming, or a combination thereof – is fascistic, NOT liberal.

    • LarryD

      Back in Woodrow Wilson’s time they called themselves “Progressives”. President Wilson ruined the brand, so they stole the Liberals good name. Trouble is, their behavior didn’t change, so people have caught on, and “Liberal” became a dirty word. Now they’ve tried to go back to “Progressive” and the re-re-branding isn’t working. Especially since their behavior has been getting worse.

    • L.B.

      I agree and whats more is we need to make a concerted effort to stand up to their bullying, take back the language and bravely stand up for our rights. They’ve gone too far and we are at fault for letting them. Each day, in my daily conversations I am very aware of the subtle PC language, pressures, shaming, etc. and have committed myself to push back. At first it wasn’t easy, but now it has become quite normal and am trying to implement persuasion techniques (thanks to Scott Adams blog for making me aware of this skill). Ranting on blog posts has been a relief, but it’s time to move ahead. I encourage every conservative of every stripe to take one small stand each day and let it grow into a movement.

  • Angel Martin

    If you look at elite driven institutions in America, the only prestige group showing more decay and degeneracy than academics is “journalists”.

    • u.r.tripping

      Those institutions spawned those very journali…, er, “change agents”.

  • Andrew Allison

    Given that the new entrants to the academocracy (and the media) were taught by a predominately left-wing academic establishment, the distribution is hardly surprising. One can only hope that when they grow up, they’ll wake up.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Don’t count upon it. Academics who ‘wake up’ are quickly disciplined, and those that refuse to return to the fold are drive out. Modern academe is run as an almost cultish environment, where growth is seen as betrayal…

  • FriendlyGoat

    The way to get more academics to lean to the conservative side is to re-define conservatism so that a human rights advocate can actually defend it on the whole. As the collection of conservative “principles” now are aggregated and articulated in public for political purposes, that just isn’t the case.

    • Tom

      It’s a lot easier to defend American conservatism rather than liberalism on human rights grounds, if you understand human rights as an individual rather than collective sort of thing.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Then you’d think there would be more professor types wanting to do it. One problem may be that people in social sciences and humanities have studied the history of human rights enough to know that single individuals could not and did not accomplish and enshrine the major milestones. Groups did.

        • Jim__L

          Again with the shilling…

          No independent thought to be seen here… move on, folks….

          • FriendlyGoat

            Thin gruel, Jimmie.

          • Jim__L

            I could give you a dissertation on Wilberforce and Nelson, but what would be the point?

          • FriendlyGoat

            There would be no point. You know why conservatism sells well at places like Oral Roberts, Liberty and Bob Jones but does not sell well at places like whole state university systems. I do too.

          • JR

            Then whole state university system should not realistically expect those they openly despise to support them with their taxes. Yet it does. Taxpayers have rights too….

          • Jim__L

            Sure, it’s because Conservatism actually expects people to be responsible with sex, drugs, and booze.

            It’s really sick, how Leftists prey upon the hormones of young people on the cusp of adulthood.

          • CosmotKat

            It’s not thin gruel, it’s called intellectual honesty.

          • Jim__L

            Intellectual honesty does not nourish ideologically pure Democrats.

        • JR

          That’s what I like about you. I can show you endless failures of central all-powerful State and still your dream of achieving it will not ever end.
          Also, that right-winger Al Sharpton owns hundreds of thousands to the IRS. You were referring to him, weren’t you?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Oh, golly gee, JR, you’re complimenting me for never giving up. I think I might be blushing.

          • JR

            I kind of like your idea of confiscatory levels of taxation above a randomly determined level, but with exceptions to people we like and who could be of use to us. Because that’s what you are advocating. I wonder if you realize how corrupt a system you are advocating for. But then again, you always assume you’ll be the elite distributing the goodies, not the hungry masses receiving them.

        • Tom

          Oh come now. You and I both know that it’s far easier for academicians to deal with amorphous masses of men rather than individual men. After all, if they had to deal with them as individuals they might have to acknowledge that their knowledge was not all that was worth knowing.

          Never mind the fact that the Left is demanding the rights to never be exposed to dissenting thought and to benefit from the fruits of others’ labor, and while never facing the natural consequences of their actions. A caricature, you say? Probably. But one with as much of a basis in reality as the picture you paint.

          • FriendlyGoat

            What I know is that if academicians could defend American political conservatism better than the more-prevalent liberal worldview inside their environments, they would be doing it—–and doing it so effectively that they would be winning all the arguments in their settings. Religion would be king of thought. Taxes would be agreed as theft. The lower and lower-middle classes would be blamed for all of their circumstances. Environmental protection would be proclaimed unimportant and unnecessary. Corporate business practices would be convincingly seen as needing little or no oversight. Colleges would be leading the way on all these kinds of issues.

            But they’re not——because—–they can’t defend these kinds of arguments and they know they can’t.

          • Tom

            And in a world where those were the entirety of conservative thought, that would be a valid argument.
            Since we don’t live in an Aaron Sorkin TV show, however, much to your disappointment, there might be other reasons. Like, you know, the reasons why the hierarchy of the Catholic Church decided to go after Martin Luther with fire and sword rather than admit that he had a point.

          • FriendlyGoat

            You would need to argue the history of Luther and the Catholic Church with someone who wishes to defend the Catholic Church’s reaction to Luther. That wouldn’t be me.

            My point is about the collection of issue positions which, taken together, define today’s political conservatism. Disregarding the antics of Donald Trump, and defining conservatism as an amalgam of public policy preferences or pronouncements from Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell Jr., Ann Coulter, Tony Perkins, Sarah Palin, Mike Pence, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Roger Ailes, James Dobson, Ben Carson, Michelle Bachmann, and any of the other well-known “strong” conservative voices you want to add in,——

            I think many professors realize they cannot rationally make the arguments in a college environment to side with these people and their collection of positions—-so—–they don’t.

          • Tom

            So, it’s not that they can’t, it’s that they don’t want to. Because if I defined liberalism as Michael Bloomberg, Jim Wallis, Al Franken, Michael Moore, Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emanuel, Rachel Maddow, Chris Mathews, Harry Reid, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz–well, frankly, I couldn’t rationally make those arguments at a college level, not while keeping a straight face, anyway.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Funny that all those university people can argue the same side as Maddow, Mathews, Franken, Reid, Pelosi and the gang and do so all the time (reportedly). They could choose to be on the other side, and, you’re right—-they don’t want to. It makes more intellectual sense to them to choose Maddow over Hannity. Me too, and I’m not even nearly so obligated to “make sense” in public as they are.

          • Tom

            And my point went right past you. But I’m used to that happening.

          • FriendlyGoat

            You don’t have a point. If you did, you would be out doing something worthwhile with it instead of harassing an old goat for your jollies.

          • Tom

            Wishful thinking becomes you.

          • JR

            Of course it went past him. I call this phenomenon a closed information loop. You are only able to process things that feed your confirmation bias. When shown evidence to the contrary, you simply don’t believe it. To this day, there are people on the Left who argue that Obamacare is a success. I bet FG is one of them

        • Tom Scharf

          For the record, do you pay the legal minimum in taxes? Perhaps you prove how intelligent you are by sending in extra money to the IRS every year?

          Of all the lines of attack on Trump, this is by far the “dumbest” way to do it.

          • FriendlyGoat

            No, actually not. The attack on Trump that he has most probably used a loophole not available to most people—–claiming a loss from unsuccessful S-Corps when the actual loss may have been born by creditors rather than him——– is not the dumbest thing for people to be doing. Donald is a prime counter-example to “the rich are being robbed and need a tax cut”. A guy living in a gold-plated world paying little or no tax for decades is kinda significant. A guy lying about his inability to release information while having an IRS audit is even more significant. The same guy now asking to eliminate his own future estate taxes is a real hum-dinger—-up there in the high class with p*ssy.

          • Jim__L

            Losses borne by creditors…. so he’s effectively a bank robber, then?

            No wonder he’s popular. I’m surprised you don’t like him more.

            Oh wait, only the IRS is allowed to rob banks.

          • FriendlyGoat
          • Boritz

            Novel to see you defend capitalists in the form of creditors. They have the hearts of beautiful children — in jars of formaldehyde.

          • lhfry

            Can I point out here that Trump is not a conservative?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Can I point out here that no one but America’s main conservative party nominated Mr. Trump and that no one but conservatives are going to vote for him in a general election?

    • Proud Skeptic

      Please clarify your definition of human rights and why you believe Conservatives do not support them.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Okay, here is one original definition of human rights from me—-not copied from elsewhere:

        “Freedom to walk through life being kind TO other people and freedom to expect and receive a return of kindness FROM most other people in most circumstances”.

        This puts an aspiration to kindness up front and implies that we need to learn it, teach it, speak it, be able to modestly afford (in economic terms) practicing it ourselves, and work toward that being the aspiration and condition in all others’ lives as well as our own.

        We will have these kinds of rights to the extent we (we, collectively) insist upon them and not any other way. We could write books about how this does not exist in dictatorships, wars, false religious fog (think Islamic fundamentalism), prisons, ghettos, or even in the vastly-under-regulated capitalism of centuries past. Most of us don’t want to be in any of those places. Wherever we and most others cannot afford to be kind, or are attacked if we are kind, or are intentionally out-traded if we are kind, or are told we are chumps for trying to be kind—–well, it’s hellish one way or another. For me, the march of history toward increasing human rights is conditioned on how much we think about kindness and how well we put others in circumstances where it can practiced by each person anywhere.

        • Jim__L

          Little Sisters of the Poor aren’t allowed to be kind to others.

          The Left wanted to shut down Mother Teresa, too.

          You’re on the wrong team, FG.

          Or maybe not; your emphasis on collective thought — which is nothing but coerced kindness, far from actual kindness between actual people — makes you a good fit for the dictatorship of the proletariat (or the dictatorship of the SJWs, these days.)

          • FriendlyGoat

            Best you have today?

          • Jim__L

            I thought that an attempt at independent thought on your part deserved a few honest critiques, in the midst of the other things I have to do and to think about.

            You still haven’t provided any evidence you’re not a shill.

          • FriendlyGoat

            If you’re too busy with other things to say anything as “honest critique” more useful than your usual petty needling, how about just doing those other things and leaving me alone? The gruel is thin, as I told you before.

          • Jim__L

            What I offer is perspective.

            You say that you believe X, I point out that your unswerving fealty to everything the Democrats stand for is diametrically opposed to X.

            You are claiming to serve two masters. You love the Democrats. I would like nothing better than for you to see that.

          • FriendlyGoat

            What you offer me personally is derision. You have gone nose-blind to what you are saying, how you are saying it and how it is received by those to whom you say it. Likewise too many of the church people in this election fervor.

            I have understood that even Boehner, Ryan and McConnell represented nothing I could ever support in their disingenuousness—-now you and the like-minded brain trust you run in would have us all be Trumpies. No.

          • Tom

            Actually, no, but you can think that if you want.

            “Freedom to walk through life being kind TO other people and freedom to expect and receive a return of kindness FROM most other people in most circumstances”.

            You are aware that part of the freedom to be kind is the freedom to be a jerk, right? Because by those rules, all someone has to do to shut you down is claim victim status.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I am going to guess you did not go to middle school and announce to all your classmates or the attending adults that “I have freedom to be a jerk——because—–it is part of the freedom to be kind”. Part of “this” is part of “that”—–so part of “that” is part of “this”. How a person can, as an adult, argue this kind of utter nonsense is beyond me.

          • Tom

            I didn’t. But I also happen to know that some people’s definition of “jerk” happens to include “people who call me out when I’m wrong.”
            When those people are in charge, as they often are, not being able to get away with shutting people up because you think they’re a jerk suddenly becomes very valuable.
            Remember that power has the potential to be used on you, unless you’re a lickspittle to it.

          • Jim__L

            The question is, what are you compromising, and why are you compromising it.

            I could understand if you figured that you have to hold your nose to vote for any political party, because neither one is entirely aligned with the values one might expect a Christian to hold. I’ve no overwhelming objection to compromising about “letting the rich off too easy” (particularly because confiscatory taxes seem to me to be another form of covetousness) to support a party that at least pays lip service to morality.

            I’m still baffled (and feel more than a little bit betrayed) by your position — that the Democrats can do no wrong because they think that rich peoples’ money should be the government’s money. Yes, that leads to frustration and even some (too much) anger — especially the betrayal part. But how in the world you can look at what is actually in the Bible and conclude the Democrats are *correct* — not just misguided or tolerably differing, but *correct* — on social issues? That they are *correct* in, say, eliminating religious speech from public discourse? (That’s where the betrayal comes in, by the way.)

            Yes, I’ve probably got your back up at this point, attacking you on some core portion of your personality. (Maybe you’ve had these arguments with your son already, and I’m hitting very raw nerves. I just don’t know.) If I could figure out how not to do that, I would be a better person and a better debater. That, however, is on me.

            What is on YOU — and you owe this to yourself — is to look at the political ideology you hew to with absolute loyalty, and ask yourself “this was made by man… is this actually right? What am I giving up by supporting something man-made like this?” The answer to the first question is, of course, *no*, but finding that is (again) on you. The second question I’ll leave up to you entirely, but would suggest Mark 8: 36 as a starting point.

        • Proud Skeptic

          Thanks

        • Proud Skeptic

          I sent your definition to a very liberal friend of mine…a true liberal…the kind that believes in things like an absolute right to freedom of speech (stuff like that). This is a man whom I love and respect very much even though we disagree on many issues. Here is his comment:

          “I believe that is a beautiful statement about the importance of kindness but not so sure is the definition of human rights.”

          He makes an important distinction that a lot of people miss. Even us Neanderthal conservatives believe in kindness, civility and respect. Generally (and I hesitate to speak for all conservatives…just for myself and the ones I call “friend”) we see rights in a different way. They are generally well defined in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They never give you the right to someone else’s property or work product. They are things that can be enjoyed in a state of complete isolation from any other person.

          Kindness is expected of us by God. We have no “right” to expect it of others. We can elicit kindness through our behavior towards others. We can receive kindness as grace. We cannot demand it. And most of all, we cannot legislate it.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m glad you have a friend who is what you would call a true liberal and I hope he is a true friend to you. I have an old friend I worked with for 20+ years in the 1970s-early-1990s who is a true conservative, and we are still buddies and still in touch from time to time. He is my favorite conservative, a really (really) good guy and though we talk about things and we know we are of opposite political views, we do not fight and snipe over philosophy. We agree on Jesus and on values we shared together in a private-sector workplace where we cooperated no-stop for two decades.

            So thanks for sending my thoughts to your friend. As you know, I wrote something original for you—–because you asked. I wanted it to be aspirational (dreaming of things that never were and asking why not, as one of the Kennedys once said). I do know that human nature is not just “nice to each other all the time” and that all of our current human rights have been born of various struggles from ancient philosophers to Jesus to Luther to the American and French revolutions to women’s movements to labor movements to the UN Declaration of 1948 to modern environmental awareness and many more effects and products of their times.

            Just to sum this up, I can’t and don’t believe that we got the printed Bible, then Jefferson’s “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (that third item being something he made up from nowhere for the occasion), then the American Constitution—–and then—–that nothing else mattered or was helpful. I also believe, as one example of a right of kindness we can, do and should “expect” from others is courtesy on roads. We absolutely can and do insist on being free of “road rage” and although conservatives understand that “stuff happens” and we must try to be defensive drivers, none of them are in favor of not arresting “road rage” behavior whenever it can be caught on camera and by police. So, I’m gonna stick with believing we can talk to each other about expectations of kindness and not have to abandon any idea that the more we talk about it, the more we each will “do” it—–and the more we each will “get” it.

          • Proud Skeptic

            I guess it just boils down to the individual’s definition of rights.
            I don’t feel that I have the right to be treated with kindness. I treat others that way…or try to. In return, it has been my experience that most others respond in kind. I feel that others have the right to say whatever they want to me. I, on the other hand, have the right to not associate with people whom I don’t find pleasant.
            The only times I even come close to demanding that I be treated one way or another is in business/customer situations…where I have been known to remind others that this is not a good way to turn a profit…and in situations involving public employees…where I do feel like in return for me forking over a portion of their wages, I deserve decent treatment in return. In the first case, I have the right to go elsewhere and they lose a sale. In the second, the laws of the market have been twisted and sometimes a different approach is required.
            Anyway. It is all very interesting.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes. You raise an interesting point that we do, in fact, demand certain expectations from each other in all manner of contractual affairs. Also, phrases which used to exist in law are an “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” (with respect to intent) and “an implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose” (with respect to an item advertised and sold.) And then there is the reasonable expectation from one who hires that he will receive actual effort and “workmanlike” quality in the performance of the work. So “doing a good job” should be a form of kindness we extend when we are the worker, and expecting the same is not unreasonable if we are the buyer or employer, no?

            Thanks for interest and discussion.

  • Fat_Man

    Cut off their funding.

  • CosmotKat

    Time to revamp education and substantially reduce money for schools of higher learning until they become more ideologically diversified. The American tax payer should not be subsidizing subversion in the false name of education.

  • JR

    Modern university, outside of hard sciences, have devolved into a Leftwing sideshow. What its doing is seriously devaluing the value of a lot of degrees out there. This devaluation is occurring simultaneously to costs of college increasing much faster than the rate of inflation. I think this debate between Left and Right on higher education will be resolved by our old friend arithmetics. Since these two trends are not sustainable in conjunction they won’t be. I personally don’t see the snowflakes with safe spaces doing particularly well out here in the real world.

  • f1b0nacc1

    There is no leftward ‘drift’, but rather a forced march to the left.
    This, in and of itself is tragic, but perhaps inevitable given the nature of the institution, but it would be simple enough to correct the problem at a societal level. Eliminate the necessity of university-level credentials for employment (my hobbyhorse of Duke v. Griggs), and then terminate the funding of state-sponsored institutions, and eliminate federally-supported student loans. Return to a more sensible era when a university degree was the result of a deep dedication to learning, and those that simply wanted an entry ticket to the middle class could find that in the primary and secondary school system.

  • gabrielsyme

    Most people, in the abstract would agree that public money shouldn’t go to advocate or support one partisan or political faction against another. Higher education – both public and private – is supported by vast amounts of tax dollars and it nearly all goes into a system that indoctrinates leftism and discriminates against political dissenters and traditional religious believers.

    Our current leftist higher education establishment must be destroyed and rebuilt for the good of the nation and western civilization as a whole.

  • Bryan Townsend

    Well, it seems to me that the biggest problem is that progressive, leftward, socialist scholarship is simply wrong. That’s the problem.

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