- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2006

Imagine, if you can, that slightly more than half of the public voted Democratic in the last presidential election, yet some 80 percent of higher education’s social scientists voted Republican. In that universe, you would expect the left to demand changes in university hiring practices so academia would nurture greater diversity so as to better represent the American community.

Then step back into the real world, where academia has become a solid bastion of the left, as demonstrated by two articles in the latest issue of the scholarly journal Current Review. One article presents a survey of academic social scientists showing 79.6 percent of 1,208 respondents said they voted mostly Democratic over the last 10 years, with 9.3 percent voting Republican. Call that a near monopoly marketplace of ideas.

A second article studied the voter registration of California college professors and found the ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans (among professors located in voting registers) is 5-1. Let it be noted the researchers tried to include schools reputed to be right-leaning. Some disciplines demonstrated more orthodoxy than others — with sociology departments showing a ratio of 44 Democrats to 1 Republican, but economics departments employing 2.8 Democrats for each member of the GOP. Is it bias or self-selection?

The two libertarian-leaning economics professors who conducted the California survey, San Jose State University’s Christopher R. Cardiff and George Mason University’s Daniel B. Klein, don’t believe there is one quick, easy answer, though they definitely see what Mr. Cardiff described as “subconscious bias.”

“I think, partly, it is self-selection,” said Mr. Klein over the phone Wednesday. He sees “something about intellectuals and hubris and conceit” in academia — with political scientists pumping themselves up as savvy saviors of a public sorely in need of their enlightened views. While liberal professors often think they are open-minded, Mr. Klein believes they also often think “we’re smarter” than those outside academia and have a right to “discriminate against people who get it wrong.”

As a result, Mr. Klein asserts, an economics major might present a paper that argues the New Deal deepened and prolonged the Great Depression, with supporting data, but “no matter how solid the research was, there’s no way that would impress them.” In their group-think, many social scientists marginalize heterodox thinkers.

Mr. Cardiff knows conservative professors “who are afraid to share their point of view,” lest their colleagues turn on them. “You’ve got this situation where universities are professing to support intellectual freedom, academic freedom, when in reality there’s a chilling effect on actual political discussion.” Many professors see their universe as expansive and novel. Yet, Mr. Cardiff says, “If you’re only getting one point of view, you’re living in an echo chamber.” The worst of it is, the most ideologically pure professors have so isolated themselves that, Mr. Cardiff says, “a lot of these folks don’t realize there are other opinions out there.”

I run into this all the time when I hear from readers who think I am biased — I am; I am supposed to be, I write for the opinion page — while they are neutral. (They’re not; they’re biased, too.)

I’ve also run into my share of journalists who believe journalists tend to be liberal because liberals are smarter. It simply doesn’t occur to them that editors tend to not hire reporters who don’t fit into the well-worn liberal mold.

The Critical Review articles bared two disturbing trends: First, left-leaning academics are more orthodox than right-leaning academics. Mr. Klein and Charlotta Stern of the Institute for Social Research in Stockholm, who conducted the social-scientist survey, polled academics about their views on where government intervention works best. They found “almost no diversity of opinion among the Democratic professors.” Republicans — no surprise — demonstrated more ideological diversity. Republican scholars also are likelier to work outside the university. And that’s no accident.

Second, as Mr. Klein succinctly put it, “It’s going to become more lopsided in the future.” Mr. Cardiff and Mr. Klein looked at the younger ranks in academia — tenure-track and associate profs — and found an even greater ratio of D’s to R’s.

So the future could see state universities morph into today’s University of California-Berkeley, where Mr. Cardiff and Mr. Klein found 445 Democrats to 45 Repubblicans. Group-think will further marginalize any free thinkers.

If you think outside the box, you work outside the institution. That’s where academia is heading.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide