The Academic Destiny of Educated, Irreligious, Jewish, Tolerant Non-Capitalists

A sure-to-be-blogged article from the NYT hypes the purported findings from the paper “Why Are Professors Liberal.”  According to the Times, the paper (by Fosse/Gross), the paper uses

“data from the General Social Survey of opinions and social behaviors and compare professors with the rest of Americans . . . to [link] … to the broader question of why some occupations — just like ethnic groups or religions — have a clear political hue. Using an econometric technique, they were then able to test which of the theories frequently bandied about were supported by evidence and which were not . . . The academic profession ‘has acquired such a strong reputation for liberalism and secularism that over the last 35 years few politically or religiously conservative students, but many liberal and secular ones, have formed the aspiration to become professors’.”

The theory is plausible — indeed, it is often advanced by those who deny that intentional discrimination has caused the political inbalance in the faculty lounge.  But as the paper admits, and the Times neglects to mention, the data collected – “provide[s] no direct evidence that [the] theory of professorial liberalism is correct.” (p. 50).  Rather, it draws on other studies, which used surveys to argue that conservatives students did not want to emulate their professors (while liberals did).  That, combined with the clustered cultural characteristics strongly associated with being an academic, lends some support to the selection hypothesis.  But it’s not a true test of the hypothesis.  Indeed, I don’t know how you could test such a selection hypothesis cleanly with observational data.

Moreover, I think the paper understates the role that intentional selection plays: the more time I’ve spent in as an academic, the less sure I am that high education’s anti-conservative tilt  is benign or situational.  (That said, I continue to think that conservative scholarship by pre-hiring candidates places over its weight.)

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1 Response

  1. Christa says:

    Thanks! I really enjoyed the article linked at the bottom, too.