Tuition plus tilt
by Bruce Bartlett
September 15, 2003
The Washington Times
This is the time of year when millions of parents send their children off to universities. Unfortunately, one price of getting one's children into a top school these days is that they may be subjected to four years of liberal propaganda.
Those in academia like to call the liberal orientation of most college faculty a red herring. But objective research continually shows it is not. The latest data appear in the Aug. 29 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. A solid majority of those teaching at both public and private universities described themselves as being either liberal or far left. Less than a third considered themselves middle of the road and just 15 percent said they were conservative. Not surprisingly, 50 percent of the general public considers college professors to be more liberal than they are.
Interestingly, this puts most faculty members well to the left of their students. According to the same source, less than 28 percent of them would be classified as liberal or far left. More than half consider themselves to be middle of the road and 21 percent say they are conservative. A new Gallup poll suggests that this may even understate the case. It found that 29 percent of those age 18 to 24 consider themselves conservatives, with just 30 percent saying they are liberals.
The Chronicle is not the first to document the leftist orientation of most university faculty. A survey by pollster Frank Luntz last year found just 3 percent of Ivy League professors called themselves Republicans, with 57 percent belonging to the Democratic Party. Among those voting in the 2000 election, Al Gore captured 84 percent of their votes. Just 9 percent voted for George W. Bush, barely more than the 6 percent who voted for Ralph Nader. Among the population as a whole, the presidential vote was almost evenly split between Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore.
The irony here is that unlike almost all other workers in society, university professors are granted tenure - a lifetime job from which it is almost impossible to be fired - precisely in order to guarantee freedom of expression. But in practice, the tenure process has become the means by which the left rigorously weeds out conservatives. In many university departments, opposition from a single faculty member is all that is necessary to deny tenure. These days, such a blackball is most likely to be used against a conservative, especially in disciplines such as sociology, history, English and government.
Professor Robert Maranto of Villanova discussed this insidious practice in the Baltimore Sun on July 31. "While colleges strive for ethnic diversity," he wrote, "they actively oppose ideological diversity." The result is a lack of meaningful debate on campuses that makes corporate boardrooms a model of give-and-take. The reason is that in business, those who keep out new ideas lose market share to competitors. "But within the ivory tower, professors can hold dumb ideas for decades with no accountability," Mr. Maranto notes.
Recently, there has been an effort in Colorado to bring some accountability to the state's public universities and break the left-wing stranglehold over them. Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, has publicly complained about the lack of political diversity on state campuses: "I think that if you're in a political science department, we ought to strive to make sure that there are people who understand and who can explain political philosophy from the left as well as from the right."
According to the Denver Post, of the 78 political science professors at state colleges in Colorado, 45 are registered Democrats and just nine are Republicans. This means it is very unlikely a political science student will ever hear the subject taught by a Republican. In math, science and many other subjects, this doesn't matter. But in political science it does. Students are simply not getting a complete education in the field if they only hear one side to every political issue.
Predictably, the universities scream bloody murder at any suggestion of adding conservatives to their faculties to improve diversity of opinion. They are all for quotas when it means admitting unqualified minority students, but allowing students to be taught by a conservative would somehow be a violation of everything the university stands for, it seems.
Of course, universities are right when they say quotas are no answer to the problem of liberal bias on campus - just as they are not the answer to improving minority enrollment. On the other hand, the taxpayers of Colorado are within their rights to demand accountability for the $817 million they will generously give the state's public universities this year. It is reasonable for them to ask that they be more than subsidiaries of the Democratic National Committee.