Debate over the causes and consequences of the liberal majority in American academia has been re-ignited by a recent study that shows a leftward shift in academia over the last 20 years.

The study ­­shows that in 1999, about three-fourths of people teaching at American universities and colleges were self-described liberals. This is in striking contrast to surveys from 1984, which showed a figure closer to 40 percent.

Released on March 29, the study was conducted by several professors at George Mason University, Smith College and University of Toronto, and was sponsored by the Randolph Foundation — a conservative philanthropic organization.

Engineering junior John Kelly said the political makeup of the University’s faculty is consistent with the study. He added that the University’s support of diversity is inconsistent with the lack of political diversity among the faculty.

“Based on my experience, the University makes few efforts to hire faculty members with different political ideologies,” Kelly said. “The diversity of the University would benefit from individuals with differing political ideologies.”

University Provost Paul Courant said the University does not discriminate, nor does it make an effort to hire faculty based on their ideology.

“Political ideology is not an element of scholarship or teaching or service,” Courant said. “It would be a terrible mistake for the University to use political ideology as a factor for (selecting) faculty.”

Political science Prof. John Campbell said that, in most academic fields, political affiliation does not play an important role in the research of faculty members. He said it is usually impossible to determine whether the author of an academic work is a Democrat or a Republican.

Sociology Prof. Howard Kimeldorf said he disagrees with the notion that a lack of political variation detracts from students’ education.

“Even if there is an overrepresentation of registered Democrats among faculty in some fields, as recent survey data indicates, it does not follow that teachers are therefore functioning as liberal propagandists or that they are somehow incapable of providing critical thinking skills to their students,” Kimeldorf said.

Few studies have been conducted on the origins of the political imbalance in academia. Some have speculated that the conservative void is a result of the tenure process and unfair hiring.

Sara Dogan, national campus director for the David Horowitz-backed conservative group Students for Academic Freedom, said conservatives are often discriminated against in academia.

“Some studies show that in the humanities, there is a seven-to-one ratio of liberals to conservatives, and in some schools it’s as high as 30-to-one. These are the kind of ratios you get when totalitarian regimes hold elections, in the sense that the disparity is so huge,” Dogan said.

“The goals of academia haven’t changed, but the faculty makeup is much more left-winged then it was a couple of decades ago, which points to discrimination,” she added.

However, Campbell said he disagrees with the discrimination claims.

“Tenure reviews are the most intense, thought-through processes in the University,” he said. “Faculty members take their roles very seriously. It would go against their values to be anything but fair in the tenure review.”

Others argue that a number of factors have led to a selection process that has caused more liberals to choose to go into academia. What these factors are has been widely speculated.

Exit polls from the 2004 election have indicated that people with post-graduate degrees were more likely to vote for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

“It is a very interesting question,” Courant said. “My speculation for the phenomena is that in order to be a successful academic, one has to be an inquiring thinker and not accept any answers as a given, which is usually associated with liberals — though I’ve met a lot of unquestioning liberals.”

He added that he believes it is a question that should be studied by social scientists.

 

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