Ideology and the Academy--An Empirical Dispute:

In the most recent issue of Public Opinion Quarterly, an article "Is the Academy a Liberal Hegemony?" by John Zipp and Rudy Fenwick purports to refute "right wing" claims about the ideological profile of professors, in particular work by George Mason economist Daniel Klein and coauthors. In an online interview, they accuse Klein and others of “cherry picking” the data. Klein and Charlotta Stern have written a full reply, which they have submitted to Public Opinion Quarterly.

Klein and Stern write:

[Zipp and Fenwick] attempt to allay concerns about the faculty ideological profile and trends with ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ statistics, without owning up to the nature and limitations of such data. They misrepresent our work in a number of ways. They also misrepresent other ‘right-wing’ research, notably Horowitz and Lehrer (2002). They construct a strawman to shift from Democrat:Republican in the humanities and social sciences to self-characterized Liberal:Conservative in the entire faculty, and then use empirics to attack the strawman. After refocusing the contention on all schools (even two-year colleges) and all departments, they never acknowledge the special importance of high-rank schools and of the humanities and social sciences. They omit mention of Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte (2005) and Klein and Stern (2005b), which shed light on their questions and which run counter to much of their analysis. In the end, the data that Zipp and Fenwick bring to the table in fact support our claims.

It will be interesting to see if the journal accepts Klein & Stern’s reply, but meanwhile readers judge for themselves.

Also of interest, if one takes Zipp and Fenwick's claims at face value, it means that elite universities are hiring conservatives at far lower rates than community colleges. This is inconsistent with claims by some that whatever the ratio of liberals to conservative in academia, that is merely a reflection of liberals being more interested in the field than conservatives. It could mean that conservative applicants for academic jobs are less well-qualified than liberal applicants, that conservative applicants face discrimination and thus their career prospects are limited, or that community colleges have a different mix of faculty than universities, and that such mixes are correlated with ideological differences. Note that none of the explanations are mutually inconsistent.

One interesting issue is whether "Democrat/Republican" is more informative regarding the ideological composition of faculty than "liberal/conservative." On the one hand, some overall "conservative" faculty, especially in the sciences, may register as Democrats because of their discomfort with the Republican's social and (perceived?) anti-scientific agenda. On the other hand, describing oneself as "moderate" or "conservative" is subjective and very much context-dependent; I've met many self-described "moderate" law professors whose views are moderate only compared to their colleagues, whose views are, in general American political terms, on the extreme left.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. The (Politically) Divided Academy.--
  2. Ideology and the Academy--An Empirical Dispute:
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The (Politically) Divided Academy.--

David Bernstein notes a response by Daniel Stein and Charlotta Stern to a recent article in Public Opinion Quarterly: "Is the Academy a Liberal Hegemony? The Political Orientations and Educational Values of Professors," by John F. Zipp and Rudy Fenwick. I have not yet looked at the Stein/Stern response, but I have looked at the Zipp/Fenwick article and I found its rhetoric somewhat odd.

Zipp and Fenwick’s first critique of existing studies showing wide disparities in party affiliation among faculty is that one should look at self-reported ideology rather than party, an argument for which they present no persuasive argument.

Zipp and Fenwick’s second critique of the existing studies is in part:

Second, these contentions have ignored much better data and research. The most comprehensive study of the political leanings of professors is Ladd and Lipset's (1975) The Divided Academy, which uses data from the 1969 Carnegie survey as well as a smaller follow-up survey done in 1972. . . . Ladd and Lipset note that liberalism varied appreciably by discipline--the social sciences were the most liberal, while engineering and business were dominated by conservatives . . . .

I just consulted Ladd and Lipset’s 1975 Divided Academy. Ladd and Lipset do not show that conservatives dominate engineering and business (p. 369).

In 1969:
Electrical engineering is 40% left/liberal, 31% middle, and 31% conservative.
Mechanical engineering is 25% left/liberal, 25% middle, and 50% conservative.
Civil engineering is 22% left/liberal, 40% middle, and 38% conservative.
Business is 31% left/liberal, 29% middle, and 40% conservative.

Having about 60% self-described liberals and middle of the road, and about 40% conservatives in engineering and business in 1969 is not what I would call "conservative dominance," especially given the relatively liberal views on particular issues that the 1969 study found that faculty have. One must also remember that these totals include junior colleges, which (at least in later studies) differ considerably from the 4-year colleges and universities that have been the focus of the debate.

Further, it is odd that Zipp and Fenwick would point to Ladd & Lipset’s 1970s writing as evidence against the thesis that “a disproportionate percentage of the faculty is liberal.” When Michael Faia (foreshadowing Zipp and Fenwick) wrote an article on the “Myth of the Liberal Professor,” Ladd and Lipset sliced and diced Faia in “The Myth of the "Conservative" Professor: A Reply to Michael Faia,” Sociology of Education, Vol. 47, No. 2. (Spring, 1974), pp. 203-213. Ladd and lipset point out that the 1969 and 1972 Carnegie data show that professors are much more liberal than the general public, even more on their views on public issues than on their self-described politics.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. The (Politically) Divided Academy.--
  2. Ideology and the Academy--An Empirical Dispute:
Comments