- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In academia, the herd of independent minds drives on. Forty-four percent of the professoriate calls itself “liberal.” Another 46 percent are “moderate,” while 9 percent say they are conservative. These numbers, collected by sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons in “The Social and Political Views of American Professors,” which is perhaps the most extensive survey of the professoriate’s political views in decades, show the alternate universe that is the American campus today. The academy’s self-image features a moderate-conservative majority, and the faculty lounge is a place of real political diversity.

The supposed diversity of thought among college professors does not even hold up in the self-reported numbers. Nearly four-fifths report that they voted for John Kerry in 2004, including nearly nine of 10 social scientists. Did the “moderates” and conservatives simply object to President Bush’s first-term policies and opt against him that year with protest votes? Not if they take their party affiliations seriously, because 70.8 percent call themselves Democrats, 8.5 are independents and 20.7 are Republican (more on this surprisingly large Republican number below). Now, we’re getting somewhere.

It is not as if the pre-Bush administration voting numbers from 2000 match the self-description, either. Two-thirds voted for Al Gore, while another 10 percent chose Ralph Nader or another third-party candidate. Twenty-four percent opted for Mr. Bush. Some moderate-conservative majority this is. By the professors’ lights, that must be how a moderate-conservative majority votes.

The practical sciences show more diversity of political opinion. In 2004, just under two-thirds of business-school, engineering and computer-science professors voted for Mr. Kerry while about one-third chose Mr. Bush. The health sciences were the lone Bush-majority outpost: 51.9 percent went for the Republican choice in 2004 compared to 48.1 percent for Mr. Kerry.

The contrast with previous generations is intriguing. The best similar studies in the early 1970s found that just under half of professors called themselves liberal, while the remainder was evenly divided between moderates and conservatives. Surely the campus fervor seems less intense these days. But are political outlooks so different? After five decades of conservatives decrying campus left-liberalism, a lefty professor may simply find life easier when he calls himself “moderate.”

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