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March 29, 2005

Why Professors Tilt Left

Over at the Agora, they're running through another round of "why-oh-why are all universities so lefty", this time with an assist from Howard Kurtz:

"[c]ollege faculties, long assumed to be a liberal bastion, lean further to the left than even the most conspiratorial conservatives might have imagined." 72 percent of college faculty describe themselves as "liberal," with only 15 percent labeling themself "conservative." 50 percent identified themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans. Disparity at so-called "elite" schools, it seems, is even more pronounced. The report offers percentage views on specific issues as well. The study was conducted by professors at the University of Toronto based on a survey of 1,643 full-time faculty at 183 four-year schools. It was funded by the Randolph Foundation, a right-leaning group.

So in places where intelligent, informed people work, many of them turn out to be liberal. At the places the most intelligent and informed people work, even more of them turn out to be liberal. And so we scratch our heads and wonder about bias? Why?

Political ideology, unlike gender or race, isn't encoded in your genes. You're not born with a certain leaning, ejected from the womb with a partisan affiliation. And while the opinions of your parents are often bequeathed unto the kids, they're not inviolable, as evidence by Kerry's far-greater vote share among the young (if it was just about the parents, each generation should mirror the one before it).

Moreover, glance around the blogosphere, particularly the rightmost end of it. Where, on the left, most everyone is a proud Democrat, the right is fairly littered with libertarians. Indeed, many of the right-leaning academics, when the election forced them to choose, ended up with Kerry rather than Bush. That's not because Dan Drezner or David Adesnik are raging progressives, but because they found the president a bit bankrupt in the thought department.

So really, why fight it? We keep finding that academia swings left, those with post-graduate work overwhelmingly backed Kerry...it's time to stop the head-scratching. Being a libertarian is perfectly fine, as is being an economic conservative and a neocon. But the weird merging of the Christian Right, the Neocons, and Karl Rove's theories that's currently directing the Republican party makes no sense at all. It's an administration where the President believe the "jury's still out" on how the earth was formed and the Senate Majority Leader -- a trained doctor! -- thinks AIDS can be transmitted through tears (to say nothing of the House Majority Leader who couldn't go to Vietnam because those damn minorities had gobbled up all the spots).

And so people who care about their party making sense shy away from Bush. Sometimes they find more elements of their beliefs in him than in the Democrats, and so they pull the lever for the "R", but the more that intellectual coherence matters, the less they make that bargain. And so as you climb up the rungs of academia, where internal coherency and intellectual rigor become values to live and die by, you find fewer Republicans. Simple as that.

Update: In response to Michael and some of the comments, I should clarify that I don't believe liberals are necessarily smarter than conservatives -- I've met some morons and geniuses among both breeds. What I do believe, or am at least considering, is that the heavy consumption of information tilts consumers towards the liberal end of things. To rephrase, you could be brilliant but not particularly informed and carry on with your biases intact. But if you're reading the papers and thinking critically about the massive deficit, the lack of WMD's, the nomination of John Bolton, the insane prioritization of Social Security over Medicare, our president's distaste for reading the news, the fiscal absurdity of his tax cuts, the pro-torture bent of his underlings, and so forth, I think it'd swing you hard left. That's not true for everyone and, crucially, it's not true of all Republican administrations, but it is accurate when restricted to Bush 43.

March 29, 2005 | Permalink

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» there is no bias from Here's What's Left
Howard Kurtz has a truly hacktackular piece in the WaPo that's doomed to reopen a debate that conservatives would love to have:College faculties, long assumed to be a liberal bastion, lean further to the left than even the most conspiratorial [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 29, 2005 9:03:18 PM

» Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Howard Kurtz Edition) from Brad DeLong's Website
Wonkette notes a typical Kurtzianism: Wonkette - College Faculties Infested with Liberals: Howard Kurtz reports: 'College faculties, long assumed to be a liberal bastion, lean further to the left than even the most conspiratorial conservatives might ha... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 29, 2005 11:25:22 PM

» Brand Equity from Oliver Willis

In a larger post about liberals in academia (shocking! must be the work of "the syndicate"), Ezra throws this in

< [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 30, 2005 12:01:28 AM

» Why Tilt? from In the Agora
Ezra Klein responds to my post linking to a study on college faculty and their alleged liberal bias. Klein argues that "as you climb up the rungs of academia, where internal coherency and intellectual rigor become values to live and... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 30, 2005 2:28:11 AM

» Why Tilt? from In the Agora
Ezra Klein responds to my post linking to a study on college faculty and their alleged liberal bias. Klein argues that "as you climb up the rungs of academia, where internal coherency and intellectual rigor become values to live and... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 30, 2005 2:29:51 AM

» Why Intellectuals Prize the Intellect from In the Agora
Ezra Klein takes a swipe at this site for a recent post that pondered, again, why university professors are so uniformly leftist or liberal. Writes Klein:So in places where intelligent, informed people work, many of them turn out to be... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 30, 2005 2:49:54 AM

» More on the Liberal Academy from CommonSenseDesk
I recently linked to the Kurtz column that discussed the surprising (not terribly ) finding that the academy was perhaps more liberal than previously thought. [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 30, 2005 3:53:32 PM

» More on the Liberal Academy from CommonSenseDesk
I recently linked to the Kurtz column that discussed the surprising (not terribly ) finding that the academy was perhaps more liberal than previously thought. [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 30, 2005 4:31:48 PM

» I have a new salary benchmark! from Pharyngula
Ezra Klein speculates about why professors lean left, and I think he's got it right—it's not that we're necessarily the smartest of the smart, but that that darned habit of thinking critically tends to lead one to more, ummm, nuanc... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 30, 2005 7:17:16 PM

» Politics & Professional Adv'mt Among College Facul from The Sanity Prompt
A new study released this week claims to have found evidence of political discrimination in hiring . I have to read the study more closely before I provide any coherent commentary but I was sorry to see Roger Bowen of the AAUP complain that the surve... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 31, 2005 2:56:50 PM

» Why Tilt? II from In the Agora
Studies about the leftward tilt in academia, such as the recent one Josh noted below, are nothing new. Conservatives often try to make this case (the Hoosier Review made modest efforts twice at Indiana University, here and here), but it... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 31, 2005 3:12:38 PM

» Why Tilt? II from In the Agora
Studies about the leftward tilt in academia, such as the recent one Josh noted below, are nothing new. Conservatives often try to make this case (the Hoosier Review made modest efforts twice at Indiana University, here and here), but it... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 31, 2005 3:18:56 PM

» Whatsamatta U. from Lance Mannion
From the Department of Gross Generalizations: The quality that distinguishes college professors from the rest of Americans is not their intelligence or their liberal politics or their bad taste in clothes---or the way they often overcompensate for thei... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 1, 2005 9:04:00 AM

» Whatsamatta U. from Lance Mannion
From the Department of Gross Generalizations: The quality that distinguishes college professors from the rest of Americans is not their intelligence or their liberal politics or their bad taste in clothes---or the way they often overcompensate for thei... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 1, 2005 9:08:21 AM

» Brand Equity from Oliver Willis

In a larger post about liberals in academia (shocking! must be the work of "the syndicate"), Ezra throws this in

< [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 2, 2005 10:38:59 PM

» Brand Equity from Oliver Willis

In a larger post about liberals in academia (shocking! must be the work of "the syndicate"), Ezra throws this in

[Read More]

Tracked on Apr 6, 2005 11:52:55 AM

Comments

But... but... that's so elitist!!! You have to respect dumb people's opinions, don't you? If they think the earth is flat, who are you to say they're wrong?

Posted by: SP | Mar 29, 2005 4:50:12 PM

As a graduate of the University of Chicago I can testify that there ARE conservative academics there, including a lot of social issues conservatives (paleoconservatives as they like to be called for some reason). So they do exist, they're just ecomonists and lawyers and such that don't really appear much at liberal arts colleges. I'm sure most of them have issues with the Repulican party, but I've got plenty of issues with the Dems and I would NEVER vote republican, so i wouldn't assume it's too different for them.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Matt | Mar 29, 2005 4:50:56 PM

Bush and his ilk are not only cognitively challenged. They are on top of it actively anti-intellectual.

Posted by: Raenelle | Mar 29, 2005 5:06:15 PM

I went to Yale as political correctness was peaking, and remembered Dean Donald Kagan (now peleo-neocon extraordinaire) blasting away at ideas for multicultural curricula with the Western Canon. He was particularly fond of Alan Bloom ("Closing of the American Mind"), whose book Kagan pushed onto unsuspecting underclassmen. The conservative argument generally equated political correctness and tolerance of global multilateralism with Sophism, against which one could look to Plato as antidote.

Since then I think self-described conservatives have lost their already tenous grasp on prevailing Western philosophy. Today progressives skin Republican policy with the Socratic knife. And the Supreme Court is no longer that same bevy of Platonic Guardians. Tempted by political expedience, the conservative regime does not endear itself to rational defenders.

Posted by: Mimir | Mar 29, 2005 5:26:27 PM

Go ahead, Man. Finish the point.

There is a REASON that education leads to "liberalism." (We'll set aside for now the messy matter of the meaning of the word.)

Educational institutions are dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge with a commitment to evidence and critical reasoning.

Openness to evidence and critical reasoning are the hallmarks of liberalism.

Conservatives, or, defenders of status quos, invariably find themselves having to deny evidence and shut off critical reasoning` or face the prospect of the heavy flaws of their pet ideology being revealed.

Thus, institutions devoted to evidence and crtitical reasoning tend to be liberal and to be critical of conservative stances.

And conservatives cannot STAND the fact that these institutions point out the flaws in their delusions. So they endlessly whine about bias.

Meanwhile, the truth is that conservatives want to shove everyone's thinking into a 1.8 degree spread, while liberals open out to a far broader set of possibilities.

And none of this is unmade by the fact that educational institutions often include conservative enclaves and subterranean agendas. Insofar as an instiutution turns conservative, then it ain't liberal and it ain't open to evidence and critical reasoning.

Face it:

The pursuit of truth through evidence and critical reasoning is inherently liberal AND AN INHERENTLY SUPERIOR VIEW OF REALITY!

Time we went ahead and said it.

Posted by: Thresholder | Mar 29, 2005 5:27:12 PM

the Senate Majority Leader -- a trained doctor! -- thinks AIDS can be transmitted through tears

Ann Landers was famous for saying that we should all remember "50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class."

I think our current Congress - led by its Republican leadership - is evidence that this applies to more than physicians.

Posted by: flory | Mar 29, 2005 6:02:41 PM

"We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture," said pastor Ray Mummert about his creationist allies.

Posted by: j | Mar 29, 2005 8:10:36 PM

Why beat around the bush? Conservatives are under-represented in colleges because they're stupider than liberals. I think that's simple enough for them to understand.

Posted by: Renee Leask | Mar 29, 2005 8:10:59 PM

Is there any evidence that conservative people are stupider than liberal?
What about scores on mathematics, for instance---I'm genuinely curious.

Posted by: marky | Mar 29, 2005 9:24:39 PM

one of the points that seems to be lost in all of this is the prevalence of liberal identification among academics in the physical sciences. it really begs the question, "why would physicists care."

the disparity in academia can come from one of the following mechanisms.
1. discrimination
2. succeeding in higher education makes you liberal
3. being liberal makes you want to becom a professor

1. requires: people find out your beliefs (being a democrat isn't isn't easy to spot unless you wear a beret) then they do not hire you or promote you because of them. with political science etc. it is obvious how they find out your idealogy (it's in your C.V.).
but in the physical sciences it rarely comes up. unless you write papers like, "The Marxist model for electron phonon interactions in the transition metal oxides." I have yet to sit through a physics talk where the politics of the professor came up.

So if the disparity exists in the physical sciences also (which i think it does, but haven't seen any numbers on it, help?) this argues strongly against mechanism 1.

2. requires either being educated makes you liberal, or indoctrination. the latter is unlikely again in the physical sciences. i mean maybe i have had my memory scrubbed, but i don't remember any fnords snuck in between lines of derivation of Landau Fermi liquid theory.

3. this one still stands. i think it tends to argue that liberals like to educate and help mankind. but heck that's because i am a liberal in academia. but other reasons could be posited: liberals are weak and hide behind tenure, conservatives are driven to succeed in more competitive fields (cause academia isn't one of the more competitive fields around.)

so basically either being educated makes you a liberal or being a liberal makes you able to or want to be an academic. but the conspiracy reasons are just jackassed.

Posted by: kyle | Mar 29, 2005 9:38:36 PM

It's not that conservative people are stupid, it's that stupid people are actively courted by the Republicans.

The clear agenda of the Republicans -- as demonstrated by years of behavior, including the legislative initiatives they actively pursue (rather than merely giving lip-service to) under this administration -- is to transfer wealth upward. This is not compatible with the self-interest of the large majority from whom this wealth is being taken. Ergo, they must bamboozle enough of said majority so that, combined with the wealthy minority who actually benefit, they combine to form a voting plurality. The stupid are more easily bamboozled than the non-stupid. ("Look! Shiny thing! Ooo! Look! Terri Schiavo! Ooo!") Ergo, Republicans market to the stupid. And marketing works.

It ain't rocket science...

Posted by: bleh | Mar 29, 2005 10:49:59 PM

In response to Ezra's post: It's not the syncretism, it is the Talibanism.

The problem with today's right is not that it is intellectually incoherent. Hey, so is much of the left. How exactly do we square our strong-ish social libertarianism with our mild economic authoritanism? I dunno--maybe some kind of pragmatism. But certainly not consistency.

The right is not pragmatic. Bush's right is Talebanic: anti-enlightenment to the core. The corporate wing denies universalism in favor of oinkish interest-group favoritism. The Jeebus wing is quite universalistic--in a pre-Enlightenment sense. They are both united in denying the Enlightenment.

So there we are. The university, if it believes in anything, believes in the Enlightenment. The Rs don't. It has nothing to do with a need for intellectual consistency--as I said, modern liberalism does not do well on that score. It is empiricism, not consistency, that is at stake.

Posted by: Joe S. | Mar 29, 2005 11:28:47 PM

Frankly, I think a larger portion of conservatives who could be academics choose to go out in the business world or politics where they fuck people over rather than commit themselves to teaching and less monetary rewards. It is the Right's own damn fault.

Posted by: j swift | Mar 29, 2005 11:36:43 PM

So...liberal arts, the humanities...will these terms be stood on their heads too, to become the opposite of what they have meant? We look to colleges to lead us to new ways of looking at things as part of the learning process--you wouldn't go to school to learn things you already know, right? So one must be liberal/tolerant/accepting in order to truly learn, and in order to properly teach--otherwise there is no point to the whole process, which might as well be called 'training', 'brainwashing', or 'obeying'. Novelty, innovation, creativity are all part of a liberal mindset that is marked by expansiveness and a curiosity about the world and openness to new evidence--unlike the conservative's 'intolerance of ambiguity' which closes him off from new experiences.

Keeping in mind that these are generalizations and that probably most people are a combination of many traits ...but it's convenient (for the BFEE)and distracting to have us all at each others' throats, isn't it?

Posted by: jovanda | Mar 30, 2005 12:42:31 AM

It would also be wise to remember that, despite the US penchant for two-party either-or black-and-white polarization, the "middle" is an arbitrary marker. Pretty much 80% of those who pass for lefties in the US would be firmly center-to-center-right in most of Europe.

This entire academic crusade is just another exercise in pulling the middle of US discourse - percieved and actual - to the right.

Posted by: John E Thelin | Mar 30, 2005 3:01:52 AM

Marky,
After the election, a web site showed the IQ ranking of all states, and colored them red or blue according to their presidential vote tallies. Needless to say, all the smartest were blue, all the dumbest were red, with only a couple of each mixed up in the middle. Applies a generalization rather than individual scores and votes, but interesting nonetheless.

Posted by: cyninbend | Mar 30, 2005 4:20:32 AM

Good lord, Ezra, I didn't expect this sort of tripe from you.

Posted by: RW | Mar 30, 2005 5:08:52 AM

The more you become educated, the less you are likely to stay (not to mention become) conservative, period. Unless you're disturbed or retarded. It's like, you know, enlightment. No matter how much republican made bill are signed by Bush, it will have the same fate as the Schiavo one.

Posted by: DA | Mar 30, 2005 6:05:58 AM

RW's comment made me smile. I await his reasoned and compelling rebuttal to your comments.

Posted by: Always Confused | Mar 30, 2005 6:50:05 AM

"Political ideology, unlike gender or race, isn't encoded in your genes. "

Um, actually, there's growing evidence that political and social ideology IS encoded in out genes,that we are attracked to like-encoded people and produce like-encoded kids.

It's not carved in psychic stone, it can be overcome with environment, but it does nudge us in certain directions. Biggest problem is that conservatives out-breed liberals like crazy...thekeez

Posted by: Jeff Keezel | Mar 30, 2005 7:37:17 AM

The problem is that in areas like engineering and mathematics, you do get a good number of Republican professors. And it's certainly not the case that intellectual rigor is not needed in these (particularly in mathematics, rigor's all we have).

I think it has to do in the end with issues of think tanks. There are more opportunities for conservative phds in economics and the social sciences to make more money in the various conservative outlets than there are for engineers or mathematics, so you don't get a sort of a skew caused by that draw.

Posted by: Vivek | Mar 30, 2005 8:34:28 AM

Yeah. Not at all clear that conservatives like academia- even minus the liberal infestation. Just not a s much fun as doing something practical (for most peeps).

Posted by: TJ | Mar 30, 2005 10:31:43 AM

As somewhat of an intellectual, as well as one of the much-maligned "conservative" class, I think most of you are missing the major hole in data such as this. Conservatives, on the whole, tend to want to enter the job market with as strong a hand as possible as soon as is possible. Liberals, on the other hand, focus less on this in general and have more of a drive to take courses for self-improvement or to "give back" by becoming a professor, a social worker, etc. In most fields, post-graduate work is fairly useless in the business world. An engineer with a Masters will start out at an income a few thousand dollars a year higher than one with a BS. Yet, with the 3-4 years of experience, the BS engineer will have already caught up in terms of pay. In other fields, the post-grad work is entirely useless in the business setting. I'm thinking along the lines of a Masters or Doctorate in, say, English. A great major, no doubt, but not necessarily one where further education will aid in employment outside of an institution of higher learning.

This is not to say that you should make any kind of value judgements among people for their choices. To many (who often tend liberal), the higher education is completely worth their time and toil, and to many others (who often tend conservative) it is not worth the extra time versus the reward for their careers. What I think we should all be able to do, though, is to look beyond these simple pissing matches over who is more intelligent than someone else and actually look at the issues and have an open and honest debate, without the hatred and vitriol, so that we may move our country in a direction that we can all accept and that will further our progress as a people and a society.

Posted by: Vive | Mar 30, 2005 1:20:54 PM

economic authoritanism

Have you seriously bought into that libertarian garbage? The idea that leftish economic views is equivalent to "economic authoritarianism" is the purest two-axis libertarian propaganda garbage.

Posted by: John | Mar 30, 2005 1:38:53 PM

Judging my how many comments there are here I can imagine what is the average age of this blogs readers!

Let me put this suggestion to you:

Public sector workers = Dems
Private sector workers = Reps

Ezra - thread idea:

Why felons tilt left

Posted by: Boethius | Mar 30, 2005 5:56:13 PM

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