Chart of the Day: Universities Are Pretty Liberal Places

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The chart on the right comes from Heterodox Academy, a group founded a few months ago to promote more ideological diversity on university campuses. What it shows is unsurprising: over the past few decades, university faculties have become almost entirely liberal. And this is for all university faculty. According to HA, humanities and social science faculty are closer to 95 percent liberal.

Why? Paul Krugman thinks it’s because conservatives went nuts starting in the 80s, so nobody with any intelligence and genuine curiosity wants to associate with them anymore. Michael Strain suggests that it might be because faculties actively discriminate against conservative job candidates. This argument has been going on forever, and there are a few basic points of view:

  • Undergrads, especially in the humanities, are mostly liberal, which means that PhD program fill up with liberals. Conservatives just aren’t interested in the liberal arts these days, so there are very few to choose from when it comes time to hire new faculty.
  • Being exposed to graduate work in the humanities converts a lot of people to liberalism.
  • Liberal arts departments consider conservative views inherently racist/sexist/etc. and are loath to hire anyone who promotes conservative views.

Needless to say, all of these interact with each other, and more than one may be right. But here’s what I don’t get: why the endless argument? These all seem like eminently testable hypotheses:

  • Are undergraduate liberal arts departments predominantly filled with liberal students?
  • Are conservatives not much interested in the liberal arts these days? Why?
  • How many conservatives apply to grad programs in the liberal arts? How many are accepted?
  • How much do views change while in grad school?
  • How many conservatives end up getting PhDs in the liberal arts?
  • Of those, how many get tenure-track jobs?

If, say, 95 percent of job candidates are liberal, then there’s probably no discrimination. Conservatives are being hired in proportion to their numbers. If conservatives generally don’t major in the liberal arts as undergrads, then probably PhD programs aren’t discriminating either. Etc. These all seem like fairly answerable questions.

Most likely, there’s a vicious circle involved. As the American right became more conservative while the liberals arts became (say) modestly more liberal, it would make sense if conservatives just didn’t feel like joining up. This naturally produced a more left-leaning liberal arts faculty, rinse and repeat. Eventually you end up at 95 percent.

But why guess? Can’t these questions at least be suggestively answered?

For what it’s worth, I agree that it’s a problem regardless of how it happened. It’s easy for liberals to see the conservative bubble when we talk about Fox News or talk radio, and we immediately understand why it’s bad: it makes people lazy and unwilling to question their basic beliefs. We don’t see this so clearly when it’s our own bubble, but we should. Bubbles are bubbles, and ours are no better than theirs.

And now to end on a griping note: I would be a lot more sympathetic to conservative complaints about the academy if they showed an equal concern about fields that lean heavily conservative (big business, the military, etc.). For some reason, though, that never seems to strike them as a problem. Why?

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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