mead berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
campus culture wars
American Academics Have Moved to the Left
Features Icon
show comments
  • Beauceron

    Personally, I find the current number of 60% on the “Left” to be absurdly low, which leads me to question the methodology of the survey.
    I have family that are professors, and they are very far to the Left, at least when you compare them to the country as a whole. They will insist up and down that they’re moderates, but when you talk to them about it, they only consider themselves to be moderates based on their views compared to all their friends, who are also all professors. I suspect, when compared only to other Left wing professors, they are in fact pretty moderate, but that says more about the sad state of the academy rather than where they actually fall on the national political spectrum.

    • TheCynical1

      There was a report that 96% of political contributions by Ivy League faculty and staff, in the 2012 election, went to Obama.

      • Beauceron

        Based on my (admittedly limited) experience, I would have put the number in the 90s. I believe that about 10% of professors (STEM departments and professional schools) are conservative, I just don’t think that 30% are actually political moderates.

    • CapitalHawk

      I would bet the survey allows you to self-identify. Most people, unless pretty extreme to one side or the other, will say they are “moderate”. So, I would say the people in this survey that identify as “far left” are truly that (i.e. what most people would identify as socialist/communists or extreme social justice warriors) and the “moderates” are left-wing Democrats. Add the “moderates” to your far left group and you get your 90% figure.

  • qet

    In 1965 there were around 6MM college students in the US, and in 2013 there were around 21MM. This expansion required a corresponding increase in faculty, and faculty competent in the humanities cannot simply be manufactured to order. In addition to the canon war, and possibly even a theater of that war, there was a shift across the entire US college and university world to a research-based model. Even before colonial studies and post-gender studies began to predominate, institutions began to overvalue the publishing-friendly nature of American social sciences and to prefer “research” even in the humanities. “Productivity” being the American byword, publish-or-perish became the Darwinian imperative. A post-gender studies professor that was constantly publishing his “research” in specialty journals with a readership in the dozens was preferred over a master of medieval European literature every time. The Western canon does not need to be researched and published as tables of survey data, so it was progressively devalued as an institutional priority.

  • Anthony

    Perhaps the following quote (sans post disclaimer) will provide added context to a signal interest of organization:

    “We at Heterodox Academy intend to offer more systematic assessments of viewpoint diversity at America’s most prestigious colleges and universities. For example, we plan to examine public records to determine the percentage of faculty who gave money to Democratic political candidates, compared to Republican candidates. In the meantime…the Heterodox Academy Guide to Colleges may offer some guidance for those looking to escape the political monoculture that dominates so many American campuses.”

    The above information may be a good thing to know as one objectively considers referenced Survey (a method designed and administered to obtain answers) Research cited in post.

  • jeburke

    The “self-selection” excuse is BS. My son, a moderate conservative, affirmatively decided not to pursue a docturate in international relations in the early 2000s precisely because the leading graduate programs in that field are now overwhelmingly dominated by the Left. God only knows why any conservative would pursue graduate studies in sociology!

    • Jim__L

      Same here — I decided not to pursue a career path based on my History diploma, and instead pursue one based on my Engineering diploma.

      I simply couldn’t find a program at a named university that interested me. They were all Leftist claptrap.

  • Nevis07

    It would be interesting to see how geographically spaced these views are placed in institutions. Are there more liberals just on the coasts? Or are they mostly in larger urban cities? I doubt there is much of a differentiation, but still it would interesting to see. Perhaps most important, if sociologists were actually as objective as they would claim to be, would be what their socioeconomic upbringings showed us on this topic. That could actually be an interesting exploratory study worth reading. If it showed only liberal elite students and minorities, would that indicate a reverse form of affirmative action would be needed to create more equal opportunity for all viewpoints to be taught in higher education?

  • ljgude

    Clearly 30% conservatives is intolerably high for any brick and mortar university. Conservatives need to begin to withdraw from these institutions and form their own online universities and set up accreditation bodies with real standards even though they will not be recognized by government. At first. Just deliver real quality and charge what a degree is worth and watch the fun. Get the standards right and the employers will compete for the graduates. Imagine graduates with real skills. The left has won the Gramscian war and now own the academy. Leave them holding the bag. WRM has already done this to the New York Times in a not so small way and is now my ‘paper of record.’

  • Pait

    If indeed the shift in political preferences of academics had been caused by the internal intellectual dynamics of the humanities, we would not expect that hard scientists would have followed the same path. However, scientists and engineers lean liberal in the same manner as humanities professores, if not more – I don’t have such a neat graph readily available but some data is readily available:

    Therefore the argument in the post doesn’t seem to be correct. The most likely conclusion is that conservatives in general, and Republicans in particular, have moved away from academic rationality.

    • Steve Quist

      Your last comment betrays your bias. It assumes, without proof and contrary to external evidence, that the academic world is rational. It may well be true that it is rational for libertarians and conservatives to distance themselves from academic irrationality.

      • Pait

        Yes, how could I have forgotten that? Scientists and engineers are biased and irrational. Only conservative ideologues and middle managers are unbiased and rational. They know all the truth in the world. Scientists, with all their questions and doubts and facts and experiments to check their theories, are untrustworthy. Of course.

        • Steve Quist

          So now all of academia is defined by scientists and engineers. That will come as quite a surprise to the faculties in Languages, Sociology, History, XYZ Studies, Philosophy, Art, Music, Poli Sci, and so on. I don’t think it is the science faculties that are demanding we respect the self-identification of vampires!

          • Pait

            The argument in the post is not about “demanding we respect the self-identification of vampires”, rather about why academia has moved left. The fact that scientists, engineers, doctors, and nurses in academia have “moved left” weakens the argument that it is all a battle within the humanities, and suggests an explanation that better fits the data: that it is conservatives, and Republicans in particular, that have moved right.

          • Steve Quist

            The data, such as it is, does indicate that conservatives have moved to the right. How much can be discussed. The data also indicate that the Democrats and liberals have moved hard to the left. And I don’t dispute that many faculty members in the technical disciplines have moved left. I use “technical disciplines” as meaning the STEM and business faculty. Nevertheless finding conservative members of the humanities faculty is significantly harder than finding conservative members of the technical disciplines. I doubt anyone would seriously dispute that. I also maintain the intellectual tone of academia is set by the left. In the last year or so there have been widely publicized accounts of harassment and public shaming of anyone who disagrees, even mildly, with the hard left. The case of Laura Kipnis is one example. There are many more as well as testimonials from conservative academics that they are reluctant to express their opinions for fear of professional and social consequences.
            RedWell does well to indicate the shift to “harder” fields at the expense of the humanities. I think that two of the factors leading to that are interrelated. First, the unconscionable increase in tuition has made the technical disciplines a better bet for post-college employment. Second, the humanities have beclowned themselves generally and taken a distinctly hostile view of the wider culture they live in. Of course there are exceptions but the prominent conservatives in the humanities are, as best I can tell, toward the end of their careers.
            It is true that some on the right demonize intellectuals, by which they mean those academics and commentators that attack them and their values. It’s a two-way street. You worry about the demonization of the academy by the right but somehow fail to notice the demonization of the working class and the right by the “intellectuals”.

          • Pait

            Your argument, as in the case of other arguments on this post, also sounds better with a lower density of personal invective, but it is still not convincing.

          • RedWell

            According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2013, there were approximately 480,000 health sciences, natural sciences, engineering and business faculty. There were 290,000 in humanities and social sciences (though this is generous for our discussion, here, because social sciences also includes, for example, economics, which is not exactly a stereotypical lefty field). (

            The majority of academia, in other words, is indeed defined by science, engineering and professional faculty.

            These numbers are, in fact, not news to actual professors, who have been well aware that the balance for some time has shifted toward “harder” fields. In some places, disciplines like languages and sociology have been reduced or dumped.

            It’s true that risk averse campuses now err on the side of over-respecting victim groups, but that is a function of our litigious culture and Federal oversight as much as some marginal intellectual movement.

            This article and most of the comments here fall prey to the inflated image of XYZ studies doing vampire studies and talking about relativism and, these days, microaggressions. It’s mostly a canard with some truth.

            Pait seems to be correct: the right has wandered away from, even actively demonized, intellectuals.

    • RedWell

      Thank you. Most faculty at any given university have nothing to do with multiculturalism or postmodern though. They teach business, nursing STEM and other areas. Your average liberal professor is a chemist, not an angry lit professor.
      We might just as logically argue that the right moved further away from intellectuals.

      • Pait

        I believe you are correct.

    • bannedforselfcensorship

      Black people don’t have good night vision.

      Black people don’t like to swim.

      Arguments used for why black people were under-represented in certain military units. I guess they really liked to cook though!

      These are very similar to your argument that Republicans have moved away from “academic rationality.”

    • richard40

      Actually most of the technical disciplines, the ones that need objective rationality most, tend to have far more libertarians and conservatives than the non technical ones. But if you want an explanation on why there are now less conservatives in the technical disciplines as well, perhaps it is because they still have to deal with cnstant assaults and hostility from the extreme leftists who totally dominate the non technical disciplines, and are getting tired of it. Another likely explanation is the good technical types can also get good jobs in the private sector, while the incompetent lefties who enter the fields can only get jobs in academia. And if you look at the leftie SJW academics today, they are anything BUT rational, many of them are complete nutcases, so enough of your academic rationality bit.

      • Pait

        I had forgotten to consider that engineering and physics professors are incompetent lefties that cannot get other jobs.

        The Democrat-to-Republican ration among biology professors is around 10:1, and in Math 6:1. I suppose you can call that a balanced view. Or you can continue to argue that the only smart people are the ones who believe that personal invective is a persuasive form of discourse.

        • richard40

          I think you sort of missed the point. Of course many of the technical professors who stay are competent, and work for lower pay because they love teaching. My point though was the incompetant ones, probably lefties, have no choice but to stay, plus conservatives may be more interested in making big money than leftists, and thus want to leave. And I did not say ratios were even, just that they were much better than ratios in the humanities. I suspect biology is one of the worse (partly because any religious conservatives will be driven out if they don’t tow the full atheist line on evolution, and no that does not mean I doubt evolution, you can support evolution in general terms without being an atheist, but the atheists often wont accept that), while chemistry and physics majors are more even, and engineers are the most even.

          • Pait

            Without the personal invective your argument sounds better, but it’s still not convincing.

            The point is not that conservatives don’t go to academia because they are stupid. The fact is that the conservative movement, and the Republican party in particular, have lately taken rather irrational and anti-science positions, which drive scientists away, not only humanists.

          • richard40

            Oh yeah, the old you are anti science if you are a global warming denier.

          • Pait

            I guess if you are a priori denier you cannot be a good scientist. I didn’t mention global warming, but that is one example among many.


  • lhfry

    When violent revolution failed to establish communist dictatorships in the West, a group of communists led by one Antonio Gramsci, decided that the way to prevail was to enter western universities and undermine the “cultural hegemony” of the West by replacing the western canon with anti-western material and new methods of study. Wikipedia has a nice summary:
    Conspiracy theories are notoriously difficult to prove, yet Gramsci’s (and other similarly minded revolutionaries) moved first into European universities and then on to the US. The recent book The Devil’s Pleasure Palace details how this was accomplished, although it is a relatively shallow treatment that is unsatisfying. Signs of the Times by David Lehman better covers some of the same ground showing how American academics became enamored of fraudulent European theories, substituting them for traditional methods of studying history and literature in particular.
    I don’t know how we get out of this now as these ideas are thoroughly entrenched in our universities and even in high schools. I graduated from college in 1966 and got a much better education at a third rate college than my children have gotten at top tier Virginia schools. It’s sad.

  • George Pepper

    My admittedly anecdotal experience is that openly libertarian/conservative students in graduate programs – especially Christian white males – are not even going to be awarded doctoral degrees anymore. My doctoral studies were in music – I write conservative traditional music – and it was made clear to me that if I didn’t write the ugly beeps and squawks garbage that the comp faculty wanted me to write, I wouldn’t be awarded the DMA (This was early-mid nineties). Fine, I thought, I have other – more lucrative – options. But before I left the program – after taking all of the coursework save one class – I played a trick on them: I wrote a subjective bit of nonsense… and they loved it. Fools. Which brings up the question, why would a talented libertarian-conservative composer – especially a Christian – even want to spend a career surrounded by talentless lefty hack poseurs who hate you (and your talent)? I figured it would be a thoroughly miserable life.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service