So ARE Colleges Liberal?

H/T: Andrew Hartman

Among some conservatives, it is a simple truism that American colleges have swerved dangerously to the left.  But have they?

We’ve reported lately on news from the National Association of Scholars, who reported that universities had been taken over by liberal bias.  And news from Colorado, where conservative politicians pushed a program to bring a real live conservative scholar to the Boulder campus.

Conservatives insist on it.  But do college campuses really lean left?

In a recent review for The American Prospect, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen offers concrete answers from Neil Gross’s Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care? 

Turns out there are more registered Democrats among the professoriate than among the general public, 51% versus 35%.  But “liberal” doesn’t necessarily track evenly with “Democrat.”  A more interesting 8% of professors identify as “radical.”  Gross concludes that some 50-60% of professors can fairly be identified as “liberal,” compared to 17% of the general public.

Gross concludes, however, that this liberal lean does not turn American universities into doctrinaire re-education centers.  Professors tend to sort out their political from their professorial interests.  As Ratner-Rosenhagen puts it,

Why Are Professors Liberal provides evidence that college does not make students more liberal. Rather, time at the university gives students analytical and rhetorical resources to strengthen the political leanings they had when they entered. While it is true that college graduates tend to be more liberal than those their age who didn’t attend college, college-goers tend to be more liberal than their non-college-going peers. So it’s a wash.

As Ratner-Rosenhagen writes, the book offers a careful and moderate set of conclusions sure to anger both liberals and conservatives. Sounds like it is worth a read.

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9 Comments

  1. Agreed, Adam. This looks totally worthwhile. – TL

    Reply
  2. Why is it that 35% of people are democrats while only 17% are considered liberal?

    Reply
    • I think it simply means that not everyone who votes Democrat identifies as a liberal, just as not every Republican is a conservative. Just because I’m more liberal than conservative doesn’t mean I think of myself as a “liberal.”

      Reply
      • willbell123

         /  April 6, 2013

        But aren’t all democratic professors counted as “Liberal” as well?

      • I don’t think so. We could think of socially conservative Democrats, for instance, who support gun rights, repealing Roe v. Wade, and traditional marriage, yet who register as Democrats. A generation ago, they called em “Reagan Democrats.”

      • willbell123

         /  April 7, 2013

        It is just that:

        “Turns out there are more registered Democrats among the professoriate than among the general public, 51% versus 35%. But “liberal” doesn’t necessarily track evenly with “Democrat.” A more interesting 8% of professors identify as “radical.” Gross concludes that some 50-60% of professors can fairly be identified as “liberal,” compared to 17% of the general public.”

        This seems to be stating that while the liberal not non-liberal democrats are separated in the general public part while in the professor part all democrats are automatically lumped as liberal (plus all the “radicals”). Perhaps I am misunderstanding but that seems a little inconsistent IMHO.

        About half of democrats are labelled ‘liberal’ for the general public part, so let’s apply that to the professors, 51 becomes 25 and the number of liberals becomes somewhere between 20% and 33%. A big difference from 50-60%. Do they give a reason for the percentage of Democrat professors classified as Liberal?

      • Sorry, but I still don’t see the problem. In some populations of self-identified “Democrats”–say, the membership of MoveOn.org–the number of self-identified “liberals” will be much higher than the general public. Among the professoriate, it seems, most self-identified “Democrats” are also self-identified “liberals.” Not so among the general populace.

      • willbell123

         /  April 8, 2013

        What are they using (what study, what statistic, etc) are they using to find those numbers, that seem to show that almost all if not all of democrat professors are liberal (as would be believed based on those numbers)?

      • Not sure. Looks like we’ll have to buy the book and dig into its numbers in more depth.

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