- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Conservatives complain loudly and often about liberal bias in the mass media. But one is far likelier to read a conservative perspective in the New York Times than hear it from a college professor.

At least the Times publishes an occasional conservative on its Op-Ed page. At many universities, just finding a Republican faculty member is problematic.

Two recent studies by Santa Clara University economist Daniel B. Klein prove my point. In one study, he looked at party registration of the faculty at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. He found 7.7 registered Democrats for each Republican at the first and 9.9 Democrats per Republican at the second.

In certain departments, Republicans are literally nonexistent. There are no Republicans in either the anthropology or sociology departments at Stanford or UC-Berkeley. At Berkeley, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 11-to-1 in the economics department and 14-to-1 in political science. Stanford is a model of intellectual diversity by contrast, with a Democrat/Republican ratio of 7-to-3 in economics and 9-to-1 in political science.

In a larger study, Mr. Klein looked at voting patterns from a survey of academics throughout the country. He found in anthropology more than 30 votes are cast for Democratic candidates for each vote cast for a Republican. In sociology, the ratio is 28-to-1. Republicans do best among economists, who only vote Democratic by 3-to-1. In political science, the ratio is 6.7-to-1. On average, across all departments, Democrats get 15 votes for every vote for Republicans.

Not surprisingly, the ideological orientation of college faculty skews heavily toward the left. A survey in the Chronicle of Higher Education found 47.9 percent of all professors at public universities consider themselves liberal, with another 6.2 percent self-identified as far left. Only 31.8 percent say they are middle-of-the-road and just 13.8 percent are conservative.

Obviously, this puts the vast majority of professors far to the left of the population as a whole. But, interestingly, they are even well to the left of their students. A survey of last year’s incoming freshmen found only 24.2 percent calling themselves liberals and 2.8 percent classified as far left. More than half were middle-of-the-road and 21.1 percent conservative.

Liberals pooh-pooh these data, sometimes implying they result from conservatives not being bright intellectual enough to make it as university professors. The truth is it is very, very hard to get a tenured faculty position at a university. And the hiring process is unlike anything in a private business.

In most cases, one needs a unanimous vote of professors in one’s department to get tenure. This puts a high priority on intangibles like collegiality, which often translates into sharing the same politics and ideology.

Bias works in other ways too. It is extraordinarily difficult to get an article in a top academic journal or a book published by a university press unless it slavishly parrots the liberal line. That is because the writing must be peer-reviewed by experts in the field before it can be published. This makes it very easy for anonymous reviewers to blackball conservative views, effectively killing careers in a publish-or-perish discipline.

Finally, it is essential to be taken under the wing of an established professor in your field and be mentored to have any hope of getting a teaching position at a good school. With so few conservatives on the faculty — and many of those hiding their politics to avoid retribution — the deck is very heavily stacked against any conservative, no matter how qualified, who hopes for an academic career.

Students pay a heavy price for this. In certain fields like political science, it is simply impossible to receive a good education unless exposed to conservative thought. Nor are students likely to receive an adequate appreciation or understanding of the conservative perspective if it is only taught by those hostile to it. According to a new survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, almost half of students reported hearing only one side of political issues in their classrooms and that professors often promote their personal political views.

Unfortunately, it will take a long time to fix this. It is certainly not amenable to a legislative fix, such as a conservative quota. Universities must be shamed into treating intellectual diversity as they now treat race and sex. But first they must admit they have a problem. That hasn’t happened yet.

Bruce Bartlett is senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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