Liberalism in academia

Much talked about story in the Times earlier this week about the extreme liberalization in academia.  Some tidbits:

A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. Inhis speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

There’s a number of examples of close-minded liberalism that I don’t find the least bit convincing.  E.g.,

“I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work,” one student wrote. “Given what I’ve read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not.”

I publish in political psychology.  This is just bullshit.  Somebody just needs to do better research.  Are there plenty of liberals in academia who go way overboard?  Sure.  But that’s not the explanation for the lack of conservatives.

I really don’t think it’s that complicated.  Largely a case of selection bias.  People with conservative values are less interested in jobs that allow autonomy, and intellectual freedom in exchange for less compensation.  Furthermore, even if they were, they know are less likely to want to enter an environment where they know they will be a distinct minority.  Certainly, within Political Science, I’ve never even seen a hint that one’s political ideology should affect hiring and promotion decisions.  Might we assume all other PS profs are liberals, and perhaps even make not the kindest comments about those who are not?  Sure?  But any type of actual discrimination?  None that I’ve ever seen.  Not that I wouldn’t put it past English departments :-).  But seriously, what kind of a conservative would want to be part of a college English faculty?

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Liberalism in academia

  1. David says:

    It seems to me that it’s social conservatives who are underrepresented, which is unsurprising for exactly the reasons you cite. Though liberals are the clear majority, libertarians are a small but not insignificant minority. That said, my university’s political science faculty. (Southeast Missouri State) is pretty balanced: Two Republicans, two libertarians, and four who range from moderate Democrat to pretty progressive (and probably socialist). Like most universities, there’s a lot of libertarians at the business school. Have encountered a handful of social conservatives; it is, of course, still Southeast Missouri (and Rush’s hometown.)

    • John says:

      Haidt had the deck stacked by delivering that speech to a room of social psychologists. Skitka and Tetlock conducted research suggesting that liberals tend to attribute events (particularly negative) to external forces (e.g., SES) while conservatives attribute them to internal forces (e.g., morality- Haight’s speciality). Social psychologists are concerned with context, and have classically referred to a tendency to attribute behavior to internal rather than external explanations the fundamental attribution error… So social psychologists consider conservative attribution style an error. Conservative social psychologists would either have to refute attribution theory or do some wicked mental gymnastics to get around that level of cognitive dissonance.

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