Phi Beta Cons

The Liberal Faculty: Self-Selection or Discrimination?

Both the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed give considerable space today to two new studies that purport to show that the (by now inarguable) leftist domination of college faculties is the result more of self selection than bias. The first of the studies featured a rather comically simple e-mail deception, where fake inquiries were sent to graduate-program directors — with some of the e-mails indicating that the prospective grad student worked for the Obama campaign and the others indicating that the student worked for that notorious conservative firebrand, John McCain. Why no mention of, say, George Bush?  

The authors acknowledge that working on the Obama and McCain campaigns might not be perfect proxies for liberal and conservative. “We worried that a stronger conservative prompt, such as being a George W. Bush supporter, might — if claims about the extent of hostility to conservatism in academe are true — lead some respondents to question the legitimacy of the e-mail,” they write.

Are conservatives really that rare? So rare that mentioning work for the most recent two-term president of the United States would be so outside the bounds of normality that it would “lead some respondents to question the legitimacy of the e-mail”? I’m afraid they’re right. But what happened when fake grad students mentioned John McCain? Surprise, surprise, they got polite responses. No more. No less. I suppose that proves that grad student directors won’t immediately delete e-mails from someone they believed worked for a politician who was a leading Republican climate-change alarmist, passed comprehensive campaign-finance reform, took a position to the left of his party on immigration, and called members of the Religious Right “agents of intolerance.”

The second, more interesting study, was based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which asked respondents to identify themselves on a five-point spectrum ranging from very conservative to very liberal. The study found that liberals were more likely to pursue advanced degrees:

 After statistically accounting for other traits that might make some people likelier than others to enroll in graduate programs and seek doctorates, the researchers found that people who identify as liberals are more likely to pursue such a course in life. Moreover, they said, the tendency cannot be explained away by students’ exposure to liberal ideas in college or graduate school, or by factors such as liberals’ relative lack of materialism or interest in marriage at an early age.

I don’t know any serious conservative who disbelieves that self-selection plays a significant role in creating our current, left-dominated faculty. After all, we’re now dealing with several generations of leftist dominance, including — dating back from at least the Sixties — the perception that the universities represent the national headquarters of leftist, counter-cultural dissent. The university faculty, from students’ first substantial exposure to it, looks and acts like a closed shop. The topics they study don’t interest conservatives, and the culture they’ve created is often repellent to conservatives. And because the university culture doesn’t value conservative voices — and only wishes to cleanse itself of the stain of overt bias — it will trumpet studies like these as evidence that disparities are entirely the fault of conservatives. After all, if only we wanted to write more about, say, these  topics, then we’d find the doors wide open!

As for overt bias, it’s out there also — just ask Ken Howell, June Sheldon, Mike Adams, Julea Ward, and Martin Gaskell.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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