Phi Beta Cons

Re: Politically Imbalanced Faculty

Mack Mariani writes:

I co-authored the study on indoctrination mentioned in a previous post. I couldn’t agree more with the statement that “the dominance of left-wing faculty has consequences.” Be that as it may, we are not looking at what professors do in the classroom; we are looking at the impact of faculty ideology on student ideology. We find no statistical association between the two, but from that we do not conclude that you can dismiss concerns about what professors do in the classroom. That’s just not something we are doing in this paper.
I don’t disagree with Klein at all on his points about opportunity cost. In my opinion, he’s right. I think there are many negative consequences that result from ideological imbalance — in terms of the questions we ask, the topics we study, the readings we assign, and the climate we provide for discussion and debate. (I can’t speak for my co-author on any of this, of course.) In the study, our goal was to assess the impact of an ideologically imbalanced faculty on student ideology.
We use the HERI dataset as a means of looking at changes in student ideology over the course of a four-year college career (we are tracking a single cohort here). We then tie that in with HERI data on faculty ideology.
On our findings:
First, the study confirms what everyone knows. The faculty is way to the left of the general population. In addition, more students move to the left than the right. The majority of the students don’t move at all, though, and another 40 percent move only one degree. The critical thing — and the focus of our paper — is that this movement does not appear to be related to faculty ideology. The factors that are statistically associated with changes in ideology include female gender (which is associated with a move to the left) and high family income (which is associated with a move to the right). Both of these relationships make sense to me.
We are very aware of the limitations of the study. We spend a lot of time talking about those limitations. This isn’t going to stop folks on the Left from embracing it as a shield to defend the imbalance of the academy. Likewise, it isn’t going to stop many on the Right from instantly dismissing it.
We did our best to ask an interesting question (albeit a narrow one) and try to answer it in as fair a way as possible. Other scholars will continue down this road with other, and we would hope, even better ways to approach it.

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