The Corner

Education

New York Times Op-Ed Reveals Ideological Bias among University Administrators

My one-time Stanford colleague Samuel J. Abrams, now a professor at Sarah Lawrence College, published a very good op-ed in the New York Times earlier this week. He noted that, while there has been plenty of coverage of the ideological imbalance of university faculty members, almost no attention has been paid to the political views of university administrators.

Abrams conducted a nationally representative survey of 900 college administrators, asking them about their political leanings, and found that on university campuses, liberal staff members outnumber conservative staff members by a 12-to-1 ratio.

He also found a strong ideological imbalance among university administrators across a range of geographic regions and types of universities, as well as some evidence that the imbalance is somewhat worse at private schools and more-selective schools. Interestingly, Abrams’s previous research has found that self-identified liberal faculty members outnumber conservatives by roughly a 6-to-1 margin.  This means that there is actually less ideological diversity among university administrators than there is among faculty. As Abrams concludes, “A fairly liberal student body is being taught by a very liberal professoriate — and socialized by an incredibly liberal group of administrators.”

Abrams’s work raises a very important issue. An ideologically imbalanced university administration may actually be a worse problem than an ideologically imbalanced faculty, because conservative students can more easily avoid hostile professors than they can avoid hostile administrators.

A right-leaning student can usually avoid taking classes with faculty he believes to be biased in the other direction, but if that same student wants to start a chapter of College Republicans or launch a conservative campus newspaper, he has no choice but to deal with his college’s student-activities office. There, a hostile administrator may make it difficult for a conservative student group to obtain campus recognition, receive funding, or plan events. Similarly, students are often assigned to dorms, and it may be logistically difficult to avoid residential programming that they feel is biased or unfair.

Conservatives and libertarians have invested a great deal of effort to improve the ideological diversity of university faculty. Groups such as the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) and the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) provide mentoring, training, and resources to aspiring college professors. In a relatively short period of time, Heterodox Academy has done a fine job organizing a diverse group of faculty who seek greater viewpoint diversity on college campuses. The ideological imbalance of university administrators, meanwhile, remains an overlooked problem — one certainly worthy of more attention from conservative writers and academics.

Michael J. New — Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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