A quick overview of the liberal world of academia from a sociological study

As a writer looks at the political leanings of academia, much of the factual basis of the story is derived from a sociological study:

That faculties are liberal is beyond dispute. In a rigorous survey, University of British Columbia sociology Prof. Neil Gross concluded, “professors currently compose the most liberal major occupational group in American society.”

Gross got interested in this issue in 2005, when he was at Harvard, where president Lawrence Summers suggested that the underrepresentation of women at the highest levels of math and science might be due to “different availability of aptitude at the high end.”…

So Gross and Solon Simmons of George Mason University surveyed more than 1,400 full-time professors at more than 900 American institutions. Only 19.7 percent of professors identified themselves as “any shade of conservative” (compared with 31.9 percent of the general population), while 62.2 percent identified themselves as some flavor of liberal (compared with 23.3 percent of Americans overall).

Gross found variation between disciplines. Social sciences and humanities contained the highest concentration of liberals. Conservatives were as numerous as liberals in business, health sciences, computer science and engineering.

I’ve noted before where sociological studies plus social psychologist Stephen Haidt, who is cited in this article, have discussed this topic. I still think it is a bit odd that Newt Gingrich has so much popularity with Republicans even though he is a former academic (see previous posts here and here).

Of course, the question regarding the politics of academia is “so what?” – how does it matter in the long run? The author of the piece cited above offers this conclusion:

Unfortunately, the estrangement will serve only to reinforce the lopsidedness of university politics, undermine the confidence of a large share of the public in expert opinion, and jeopardize the role of the university in public life whenever conservatives are in power.

These are not small matters, particularly as college costs continue to rise and students are told they must go to college in order to succeed in a changed world. In a world where we are told that everything is or could be considered political, this affects how researchers go about finding about and reporting on the truths they are discovering about the social and natural world. And this also must have an effect on how students view the learning process and the purposes of a college education. Does it simply reduce everything, from the perspective of all sides, to a naked struggle for power?

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