Phi Beta Cons

The Worried Campus Left

The campus Left is worried about the growing consensus in the American public that higher education has become a playground for Leftist professors, who bring their politics to class and who do all they can to keep conservatives, moderates, and even old-fashioned liberals out of the faculty. Last month, the AAUP issued its wondrous report Freedom in the Classroom to promote the idea that all that stuff about “indoctrination” on campus is just a right-wing fantasy. This month, we have a report that says all that stuff about the faculty being overwhelmingly on the Left is-yes, a right-wing fantasy.
John Miller drew attention in this space on Monday to the report, The Social and Political Views of American Professors, by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons, the two sociologists who claim to have found statistical evidence that the American professoriate is, contrary to several previous studies, more moderate than “liberal.” Both The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education reported the “major study” at face value, including the authors’ claim that they are de-politicizing the study of faculty members’ political orientation. In the report, however, Gross and Simmons quickly announce their own political slant. They view rival studies in the light of “the conservative strategy” to manipulate public opinion and “question the legitimacy of intellectuals on the other side of the political aisle.”
Among those they accuse of participating in the “targeting of liberal professors” are the economist Daniel Klein, whose studies of party affiliation in six academic disciplines and political voter registration of Berkeley and Stanford faculty members were published in the National Association of Scholars’ journal, Academic Questions, in 2004. Gross and Simmons treat Klein (and his co-authors) with derision: “The sampling and analytic problems here are painfully obvious.” But it is an odd sort of derision that takes aim at Klein’s methods, not his results: “not that those findings are necessarily wrong.”
As it goes with Klein, so it goes with other researchers who have documented the overwhelming predominance of the Left in college faculties. They huff that that the well-known 2005 article by Stanley Rothman, Neil Nevitte, and A. Robert Lichter that analyzed data on political identity among American and Canadian academics begins and ends on “the same political note.”
This kind of bare-fisted opening from academics who tout their own objectivity sets up a serious expectation. Are they going to show the amateurs what the real experts can do? John Leo, at Minding the Campus, quickly noted one of the oddities. After Gross and Simmons deployed their entire bag of statistical techniques, they ended up not only confirming but dramatically extending the picture of the American professoriate veering far to the Left of the American people and excluding conservatives. Along the way, Gross and Simmons show that 25 percent of sociology professors consider themselves Marxists.
Steve Balch, in Imaginary Moderates: An academic Report Boomerangs, at the NAS website, moves beyond the self-refuting data in Gross and Simmons’ report to take note of their distinctly odd ways of corralling the data. Because Gross and Simmons are determined to show that a preponderance of professors are moderates (46.1 percent) rather than “liberal” (44.1 percent), they employ some rather outlandish definitions and statistical sleights-of-hand. So much for their vaunted objectivity and desire to put the study of professorial political orientations on a firmer social scientific footing. Balch’s article is important because it calls into question the intellectual authority of Gross and Simmons’ results. We can more or less count on Gross and Simmons’ study being cited in the mainstream media ad nauseam as “proof” that the Left’s stranglehold on the university is an illusion. Most people will follow their common sense, but read Balch to see how this latest bit of ideological camouflage was manufactured. Then read Balch and my dissection of the AAUP’s report. Then think about why the Left is so worried.


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