Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Search for the Liberal Professors

A new study by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons looks at the views of professors.

To me, the most interesting finding of this study is the dramatic decline in younger faculty identifying themselves as “left activists”: from 17.2% among those 50-64 to 11.5% among those 36-49 and only 1.3% among those 26-35. This may be the best evidence yet of the success of the conservative crusade in recent years against leftist faculty. It’s difficult to believe that there’s actually been a tenfold drop in “left activists” among the values of young professors. This isn’t necessarily evidence of a political purge, although that’s quite possible in many cases. For the first time, it’s very easy to Google job applicants and find out their political values than in the past. And the crusade against left-wing professors by Horowitz and others may lead faculty and administrators alike to seek more moderate professors. It could also reflect increasing academic standards for professors in hiring and tenure, which mean that younger professors must spend much more time doing research and have less time for activism (note that the decline for self-identified “left radicals” from 14.3% to 9.9% to 3.8%, a term which reflects value systems more than actions, is much less dramatic). However, these are still substantial declines in leftist faculty on campuses. We do need to worry about the lack of conservatives going into academia, particularly in the low-paying fields of the humanities and social sciences. However, we should also worry if left-wing professors are disappearing rapidly or feeling constrained in their political activism. The best way to protect all groups and encourage this complete diversity is to assure full academic freedom for everyone on campus, and to promote more equity in faculty salaries.

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