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Articles / Preparing for College / Why So Many Liberal Professors?

Why So Many Liberal Professors?

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | May 24, 2016

Way back in December 2008, I wrote a blog post entitled, Seven Things I Didn't Like About College. The #1 item on that list was Elitist, leftist professors, where I explained:

Anti-war sentiment was strong in the late '60s and early '70s, stronger than it is today, in my opinion. The tinge of anti-Americanism was there, too, but perhaps not as strong as it is now. This affected me directly due to my military service. When I would try to advocate a pro-America, pro-military point of view, some of my professors (and even TAs) would brand me as a redneck, jingoist killer of innocent women and children or some variation thereof. Although I can't prove it, I honestly believe that their attitudes negatively affected my grades in some courses. The situation is far worse today, unfortunately.

Don't worry; I followed those seven disliked things with Seven Things I Loved About College, which led off with The thrill of independence. But, my focus today is on leftist professors.

I came across two interesting Los Angeles Times opinion pieces about this very topic. The first, Professors are overwhelmingly liberal. Do universities need to change hiring practices?, asks, “How can students be well educated when they only hear one side of the argument?" A fair question.

The second, Do universities need affirmative action for conservative professors?, notes that “A survey conducted by U. of Colorado found that Rep[ublican] students were more than three times as likely as their Dem. peers to feel intimidated sharing their political ideas in class." That finding should be a bit disturbing, especially for conservatives.

If you would like to see a professorial contrast, check out Mike Adams. He's the conservative's conservative on campus and has made an interesting career speaking his mind opposing liberal issues. For example, in The Constitution Is My Speech Permit, he says:

… After years of reporting on campus free speech cases I have come to realize that most college administrators need to be sent back to high school to take basic civics. Those who still don't get it need to be schooled in a court of law.

But, back to liberal professors …

I posted links to those two LA Times opinion pieces in a thread on College Confidential's discussion forum, appropriately entitled Professors are overwhelmingly liberal. Do universities need to change hiring practices? It generated some surprisingly thoughtful comments. I say “thoughtful" because an apparent majority of CC forum posters display a strong liberal orientation.

Here's a sampling of those comments:

– If a professor is competent enough, they won't have to reveal their political ideologies to their students, even, or maybe especially, in a Political Science course. I've had a number of professors who were quite liberal (or conservative) in their private lives, but once in the realm of the classroom seminar, they functioned as the objective moderator.

– … I think it would pretty darn hypocritical for conservatives to demand affirmative action when they've been working to dismantle it for decades. After all, we live in a strict meritocracy where the most qualified person is always hired. If a conservative is the most qualified then s/he will clearly be hired 🙂 [An ironic smiley face?]

– And to chime in further, why the assumption that if someone's liberal they can't present themselves as neutral? This is particularly disturbing given that some (not all, though!) of the op-eds one reads calling for more conservative faculty state, usually implicitly but sometimes explicitly, that conservatives would be better able to position themselves as politically neutral in their teaching …

– Part of the issue is that the more educated a person is, studies have shown, correctly or not, the more liberal that person is. According to this line of thought, professors are highly educated and therefore more are liberal. The hiring pool is more liberal … Does education cause liberal ideas? Or maybe liberal people are naturally smarter on average and pursue higher education? Or maybe smart conservatives pursue nonacademic fields such as business, military studies (which are really creative and difficult), and other fields that are traditionally thought of as leaning conservative.

– … I wouldn't have a problem with 'affirmative action' for conservative scholars, though. It would certainly make graduate school and academia a more interesting place to be. I think I've mentioned before that one of my favorite high school teachers was a very conservative American government and economics teacher. He challenged a lot of the assumptions and frankly faulty or holey knowledge I'd picked up along the way – for example, no teacher had ever turned on the light bulb that money for free and reduced lunches have to come from somewhere (aka your paycheck!).

The Times' “conservative affirmative action" opinion piece poses this thought:

… Diversity is now the new religion of the university — and it's one they could practice much better. We don't endorse preferences in graduate admissions and hiring. At a bare minimum, however, universities should stop barring conservative speakers from their campuses. In just the past year, for example, Williams College disinvited two conservative speakers from its “uncomfortable learning" series …

The Times' “hiring practices" piece notes:

… But why aren't more conservatives going to graduate school? Could it be because political correctness has gotten out of hand on campuses, dampening their interest? That hypothesis is undercut by studies showing that the graduate student pool has been liberal for at least half a century, long before political correctness was a thing …

I've written a number of posts over the years about some highly contentious issues on campus that couch liberal against conservative students. From what I've seen, the conservatives are on the losing side of a majority of these conflicts.

Perhaps one of the most challenging and ongoing campus clashes involves freedom of speech, as addressed by Mike Adams in his “Speech Permit" article to which I have linked above. One popular conservative mantra that addresses the liberal perspective on campus freedom of speech is:

“Free speech for me [the liberals] … but not for thee [the conservatives]."

There's an excellent book on this topic by Nat Hentoff: Free Speech for Me–But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other.

As you can see from his title, Hentoff points his finger at both liberals and conservatives. Yes, there's plenty of tyranny to go around these days. One particularly positive Amazon review proclaims:

Hentoff's dogged persistence to the First Amendment comes through again and again in this work. He does not care about the topic, he does not care about who wants a word censored, he only cares that the Constitution protects Free Speech and he will, too. I came upon this title, and searched for it. Upon finding it, I swallowed the book whole. I became alternately enraged and amused at the attempts of some to limit the expression of others, and their reasons for doing so. Hentoff's work should be required reading for all students, and naturalized citizens; he brings the First Amendment to life through powerful stories and facts.

I could cite a number of other issues where you'll find legions of liberal faculty signing their names to a cause. Perhaps one of the most (in)famous examples is the Duke University lacrosse scandal, when the so-called “Group of 88" Duke professors condemned Duke's lacrosse team in the national media for their alleged involvement in a rape accusation that was later declared a hoax.

If you're looking for a college that has a conservative leaning, you might want to check out The 20 Best Conservative Colleges in America. An important step for those of you heading to college this fall would be to take an honest personal inventory of your ideological leanings and decide how well you can deal with a liberal-majority faculty. Your answer could become an important part of your college search strategy.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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