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.