Howard Kurtz has a truly hacktackular piece in the WaPo that's doomed to reopen a debate that conservatives would love to have:
College faculties, long assumed to be a liberal bastion, lean further to the left than even the most conspiratorial conservatives might have imagined, a new study says.
Kurtz's piece is terrible, and while I could spend some time taking it apart, I'd rather address something else about the issue, since inevitably this study is going to be all over the right-wing talk shows and columns.
Ezra, commenting on it says:
So in places where intelligent, informed people work, many of them turn out to be liberal. At the places the most intelligent and informed people work, even more of them turn out to be liberal. And so we scratch our heads and wonder about bias? Why?
Political ideology, unlike gender or race, isn't encoded in your genes. You're not born with a certain leaning, ejected from the womb with a partisan affiliation. And while the opinions of your parents are often bequeathed unto the kids, they're not inviolable, as evidence by Kerry's far-greater vote share among the young (if it was just about the parents, each generation should mirror the one before it).
Which is an absolutely true sentiment that I profoundly share. And one which I think we shouldn't say very often. If there is one thing that will not help our cause in a debate about bias in academia it's a "we're smarter than you because we know more" attitude.
There are several things that I think we should say, though. In a departure from my usual verbosity, I'll try to be succint about them. Please feel free to steal them:
1) Who cares? If you did a survey of businessmen, you'd probably find that a majority of them are republicans. If you did a survey of climate scientists, most of them would Democrats. Union members are probably a majority Democratic. African-American women are overwhelming Democratic. White guys from the South are overwhelming republican. republican political strategists are probably mostly republicans, too.
Party affiliation/political views cut across many different social, ethnic, cultural, and career backgrounds. Merely saying that professors are liberal is no more interesting than saying the military is conservative.
1b.) Has anyone ever considered the possibility that certain groups vote republican or Democrat because their job is better served by one party or the other? Professors rely on a system where the government uses tax dollars to fund (at least public) universities and give out grants. Democrats are more likely to support that sort of system, just as republicans are more likely to support policies that let businessmen increase profits. Ya vote for the guy that helps you out, right? Maybe the party that wants to cut your funding and that questions the value of things like...ya know...science, just isn't for you.
2) That professors have certain political views doesn't mean that it effects how they teach. Let me say that again. That professors have certain political views doesn't mean that it effects how they teach. This is an important point that Kurtz, because he's a hack, practically ignores. He spends 20 words out of 906 on it (2 fucking percent); here are all 20:
The study did not attempt to examine whether the political views of faculty members affect the content of their courses.
That's the real point, folks, and is the part where right-wing groups that monitor this stuff really falter; their evidence of bias falls apart. See here and here for two juicy ones involving David Horowitz's joke of a group.
3) If there were a political bias, in the vast majority of cases it wouldn't make any difference. I never knew the political affiliation of my 19th century French literature professor. I could never tell whether the guy who taught my "Music at the Turn of the 20th Century" course was liberal or conservative. My astronomy professor? Couldn't tell you if he was a republican or a Democrat.
4) If there are more liberals than conservatives in the academy, it's not because of a "blacklist" or any bias against hiring conservatives. There is no evidence for this.
More than anything else, this issue is nothing more and nothing less than a strategic ploy by the right to discredit universities, higher learning in general, and science by extension. So while I agree with Ezra that there are certain things about this issue we shouldn't fight, there are other things we have to. Otherwise, your kids will be learning that the world was created in week, that pollution is nothing to worry about, and that Ronald Reagan single-handedly won the cold war with his substantial brain tied behind his back.
-- Michael (with an assist from Heather)