Conservatives Less Likely to Advance?
Some research, summarized in the Chronicle (premium ATSRTWT)
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Conservative Professors Are Less Likely to Advance in Academe, Study Finds
By PIPER FOGG
A report released this week offers evidence that American academe is dominated by political liberals, and that conservatives are less likely to attain jobs at top colleges. The report, based on a study that relied on data from a fairly large sample of institutions, is the first to attempt to answer the question of whether conservatives in academe face discrimination in hiring.
Published in The Forum, a journal of applied research in contemporary politics, the report is based on a 1999 survey of 1,643 faculty members at 183 colleges and universities in the United States. The study was conducted by Stanley Rothman, a professor emeritus of government at Smith College; S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a research group affiliated with George Mason University and supported by conservative foundations; and Neil Nevitte, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto.
Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, an advocacy group that supports tradition-minded education, hailed the report as groundbreaking. "It's the first time that a rigorous social-science study has brought forth strong evidence" for discrimination against conservatives in academic hiring, he said.
The report also says that over the past several decades academe has become increasingly liberal, and that liberals outnumber conservatives even in disciplines like economics, which are often perceived as more-conservative fields.
The study examined the correlation between the quality of professors' academic
affiliations (measured using U.S. News & World Report rankings and Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classifications) and three measures
of ideological orientation: self-identification on a "right-left" scale, political-party designation, and self-reported attitudes concerning abortion, the environment, and several other political and ideological topics.
Ideology Ranks Second
According to the study, academic achievement -- measured by such variables as how many articles, chapters, and books a scholar has published and the amount of time spent on research -- mattered most in determining the level of institution at which a professor teaches. But ideology was the second-most-important factor.
"The ideological orientations of professors are about one-fifth as important as their professional achievements in determining the quality of the school that hires and retains or promotes them," says the report. After taking professional achievement into account, the study showed that being a Republican or conservative significantly reduces the predicted quality of the college where a scholar teaches. Women and Christians, it also concluded, are similarly disadvantaged.
"We did validate the notion that conservatives are discriminated against," Mr.
Rothman said in an interview. "No one has ever done that before."
But Roger W. Bowen, president of the American Association of University Professors, said the study's methodology is "suspect" because the sample size of the survey was too small. "It's difficult to determine its value," he said.
Mr. Bowen also said the study does not take into account other theories about why there may be fewer conservatives in academe: that conservatives may self-select themselves out of academe, or that "the intellectual cream rises to the top." Even if there are many more liberals than conservatives in academe, he added, "So what? What difference does it make to students?"
In the report's conclusion, the authors acknowledge that the results are "preliminary," but say that conservatives' complaints of the practical effects
of what they see as liberal bias in academe deserve to be taken seriously.
I'm not so sure I believe this, at least not as baldly as it's stated. So often, I find that people who consider themselves conservatives do not consider this to have much to do with their work as scholars. But it is clearly true that those who consider conservative evangelizing to be the essence of their work DO get punished in academe. I would like to think that the same is true for people on the left; it may not be. But the point is that by comparing only those who consider their work and their politics to be inseparable, you are picking the bottomfeeders of academics in the first place.