Politics in Academia: Questions for LCK Readers
If you are a current or former college student, try to think about all of the professors that you have taken over the years. On which side of the political spectrum do you believe most of them fall? If your experience was, or is, like that of most American students, you’ll find that the majority of them were either explicitly liberal, or at least gave you that general impression. Traditional logic says that the Ivory Towers are, in most cases, a Leftist stronghold, and empirical data is beginning to show that this may be the case, particularly within certain disciplines.
In the February 22, 2008 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, there is an article spotlighting the work of a married couple, Dr. Matthew Woessner and Dr. April Kelly-Woessner, both of whom are professors, looking into why there is a gap between the number of liberals and conservatives in academia. What is particularly interesting is that Matthew, an assistant professor of public policy at Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg, is a conservative, while April, associate professor of political science at Elizbethtown College, is a liberal. Later this year, they will be publishing a piece titled “Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don’t Get Doctorates” in an American Enterprise Institute book. Seeing two people from opposite ends of the political spectrum come together professionally (not to mention the fact that they are married) is very refreshing in the increasingly polarized political environment in which we have found ourselves. Their work is integral to the discussion of politics within the academic world. Everyone should check out their forthcoming paper, “Left Pipeline,” which can be found here (pdf) (great thanks to the Woessners for linking permission). It may be of particular interest to those of you who consider yourself “far left” or “far right.”
As the Woessners’ paper explains, there is a wide array of possible explanations for why this phenomenon occurs. It could be personality differences between liberals and conservatives that lead them into different fields of study. Maybe conservatives are more achievement-oriented, and therefore predisposed to the professional majors, like accounting and computer science. Or, its possible that the liberal environment on many American campuses dissuades conservatives from pursuing a doctorate and the life of a professor. Conservatives may have a stronger desire to make more money and raise a family, desires that may not be compatible with a career in academics. The answer isn’t entirely clear, yet. What is clear, however, is that the reason there are more liberal professors does not relate to intelligence or performance in school. It’s not, as I am sure many of you are eager to conclude, because conservatives are stupid.
My intention in publishing this post is to ask some questions of our readers, and hopefully start a discussion on the role of politics in academia. I would like to see what your personal opinions on the issue are, and how, if at all, the political ideology of your professors influenced your experiences. Again, if your not entirely familiar with the issue, I would highly recommend the Woessner paper linked above. If you want a more fiery and partisan take on the topic, check out David Horowitz’s Students For Academic Freedom website (caveat: there are some pretty extreme ideas being promulgated on the SFAF site (i.e. “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week”), and personally, Horowitz turns my stomach, although his Academic Bill of Rights is worth reading into).