Politics & Policy

Hotbeds of Groupthink: The Shrinking Viewpoint Diversity on Our Campuses

(Dreamstime image: Chrisharvey)
Democrats outnumber Republicans by as much as 33.5 to 1, and it’s likely to grow even more unbalanced as older faculty retire.

A new academic study reveals left-wing dominance of top university faculties around the country — that’s not news. However, the study, published in Econ Journal Watch, also suggests that the dominance is likely to grow even stronger.

For professors younger than 36, the ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans was an astonishing 22.7 to 1 at 40 top universities. The study sampled professors across the fields of economics, history, communications, law, and psychology, using information from Voter Lists Online’s Aristotle database.

“We found that younger faculty have higher [Democrat to Republican] ratios than do older faculty,” said Mitchell Langbert and Daniel Klein, two of the study’s three authors (Anthony Quain in the third). “The trend will continue.”

Moreover, the political registration of assistant professors is the most imbalanced of all categories, with a Democrat to Republican ratio of 19.3 to 1. Emeritus professors’ registrations are the least skewed at 8.6 to 1. These statistics suggest that top universities will only become less politically diverse as older professors retire and younger professors take over the commanding heights of their institutions.

Among all professors, the study found a Democrat to Republican to ratio of 11.5 to 1. Broken down by field, the results are even more depressing. Top history departments have a ratio of 33.5 to 1. Journalism and psychology are also extremely lacking in intellectual diversity, with ratios of 20 to 1 and 17.4 to 1, respectively. Law schools have a ratio of 8.6 to 1, while economics departments are the least skewed, at 4.5 to 1.

Hearing both sides of an argument is essential to learning and forming opinions. “One-sided ideological orientation leads to one-sided teaching, which leads to intolerance of alternative views,” write Langbert and Klein in an e-mail to me.“The ability to disagree requires practice, but neither students nor their professors practice balanced disagreement in universities, because faculty meetings are increasingly held in halls of mirrors.”

Jason Willick, a staff writer for The American Interest magazine, tells me of his similar concerns, “I worry that [the academic process] won’t work as well when it comes to politically charged research areas if all of the people involved belong to the same [political] tribe. Both liberals and conservatives are tribal and less likely to question the assumptions of others in their tribe.”

This study confirms the findings of a number of recent studies. One found there to be approximately three times the number of Marxists as Republicans in the social sciences. Another found that professors of sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy, and literature were “less likely to hire” a person whom they knew to be an NRA member than a Communist. Two in five sociologists said they were less likely to hire a person they knew to be an Evangelical Christian.

It was not always this way. In the 1960s, Langbert, Quain, and Klein write in their paper, academic historians had a Democrat to Republican ratio of about 2.7 to 1. Now the ratio is 33.5 to 1. Perhaps it is unsurprising then, that a recent paper for the American Historical Association’s news magazine found that areas of specialization within the field of history have been changing; among the specializations that are growing rapidly are women’s and gender studies, cultural studies, environmental studies, and race and ethnic studies.

“Things began changing in the 1990s as the Greatest Generation (which had a fair number of Republicans) retired and were replaced by the Baby Boom generation (which did not),” wrote social psychologist and NYU professor Jonathan Haidt at Heterodox Academy, the website and brainchild of a group of scholars who advocate for a more intellectually diverse academy.

Other factors may also have contributed to the Left’s dominance in academia. Willick wrote in The American Interest that the “canon wars” of the 1980s and 1990s, which led universities to prioritize multiculturalism over the teaching of Western-civilization courses, may have also made schools unattractive to conservatives. For example, Jesse Jackson once joined 500 Stanford students chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Culture’s got to go!” as they celebrated the replacement of Stanford’s humanities core. This is the front that universities often present, unintentionally or not, to conservative students.

The political disparity in the academy is apt to damage academic work. As Haidt writes at Heterodox Academy, a lack of ideological diversity may allow “entrenched orthodoxies” to remain unquestioned. “The academic world must have viewpoint diversity if it is to function properly and produce reliable research,” he warns.

The authors of the Econ Journal Watch study agree in their report:

One-sidedness, at a minimum, creates an appearance of partisanship, reducing — or more likely eliminating — the ability of universities to make balanced, nonpartisan contributions to public policy debates.

Top universities such as Stanford pride themselves on taking racial and gender diversity seriously. These schools do not deny their own biases but make organizational efforts to counter them. They seek to understand how their decisions might unintentionally exclude minority groups. Universities would benefit from giving viewpoint diversity similar attention and care.

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