A "Liberal" Education?
The Effects of Ideology in the Classroom
About This Event

Diversity has been a touchstone of American higher education for three decades. Universities have labored to pursue racial, ethnic, and gender diversity—in the conviction that this will foster open-minded exchanges and free inquiry. However, two recent studies have raised questions about whether this pursuit of diversity has somehow resulted in ideologically uniform, overwhelmingly liberal faculties. At this conference, Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), and professor Daniel Klein of Santa Clara University will present new research on the partisanship of university faculty and on the effect of their ideologies on learning in the classroom or on campus.

Panelists Roger Bowen, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) will join the discussion. Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at AEI, will moderate.

Agenda
1:45 p.m.

Registration

2:00 Discussants: Daniel Klein, Santa Clara University
Anne Neal, American Council of Trustees and Alumni
Roger Bowen, American Association of University Professors
David French, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
Moderator: Frederick M. Hess, AEI
3:30

Adjournment

Event Summary

February 2005

A "Liberal" Education? The Effects of Ideology in the Classroom

Diversity has been a touchstone of American higher education for three decades. Universities have labored to pursue racial, ethnic, and gender diversity--in the conviction that this will foster open-minded exchanges and free inquiry. However, two recent studies have raised questions about whether this pursuit of diversity has somehow resulted in ideologically uniform, overwhelmingly liberal faculties. At a February 14 conference, Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), and professor Daniel Klein of Santa Clara University presented new research on the partisanship of university faculty and on the effect of their ideologies on learning in the classroom.  Panelists Roger Bowen, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), joined the discussion.

Daniel Klein
Santa Clara University

Two studies released in late 2004 and soon to be published in the journal Academic Questions serve as empirical evidence of the partisan bias among the America professoriate.  The first, coauthored by Klein and Andrew Western, surveys the voter registrations of nearly 1,500 professors in twenty-three academic departments on two California campuses, the University of California-Berkeley and Stanford.  While registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in all departments, among the social sciences and humanities the ratio is sixteen to one.  The greatest disparity exists in the anthropology and history departments, while disciplines like engineering and mathematics are less lopsided.

A second study by Klein, coauthored with Charlotta Stern of the Swedish Institute for Social Research, surveyed the voting preferences of over 1,500 members of six academic associations.  The results were similar.  Anthropologists and sociologists voted for Democrats by ratios of thirty to one and twenty-eight to one, respectively.  Economists and political scientists voted for Democrats by ratios of three to one and seven to one, respectively.

Even generously considering biases and statistical errors, it is logical to assume that partisan bias exists among the faculty of colleges and universities.  And because academia remains an influential part of our culture, simply becoming aware of this situation may help the higher education establishment respond to it. 

Anne Neal
American Council of Trustees and Alumni

While much anecdotal evidence of liberal bias on college campuses exists, academics have long avoided the issue; when statistical data was released, first by AEI and then by Professor Klein, the academic community dodged the question and impugned the data.  Even when organizations affiliated with the professoriate admitted the existence of this evidence, they dismissed such bias as inconsequential to a student’s education.  So ACTA commissioned its own survey, conducted by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut, and it asked current students to determine the impact ideological bias has in the classroom.  Responding to over a dozen questions, a majority of students said professors injected politics in the classroom, and almost one-third felt they had to agree with professors to get a good grade. 

Because faculty themselves are not self-governing to ensure an active exchange of ideas in the classroom, the trustees must involve themselves in remedying this problem.  Intellectual diversity is the very heart of the academic pursuit.  On principle, AAUP agrees with this philosophy--it is even stated in their 1915 organizational declaration.  Unfortunately, the organization is not upholding those principles today. 

Roger Bowen
American Association of University Professors

When recruiting candidates for new positions, universities do not ask for political affiliations; they ask for qualifications.  Professors are examined on credentials, not political ideologies.  Despite that truth, the evidence presented does not tell the academic community anything it did not already know.  Studies published in the 1970s revealed the same fact that social scientists and academics in the humanities tend to be Democrats.  Why is that?  The disciplines themselves rely on questioning past events and critically evaluating progress.  In some instances, students coming out of high school have not been exposed to criticism of established institutions, like the government, and are surprised that a professor might question them.

Some of the proposals that have been made to address a perceived ideological bias in higher education, however, may be more destructive than constructive.  For example, David Horowitz is supporting a legislative remedy in Massachusetts that would be a violation of academic freedom.  AAUP adheres to its book of principles, which includes a firm commitment to academic freedom, to the freedom to teach, and to the freedom to learn.  It does not abide by an “equal time” rule in the presentation of material in the classroom. 

David French
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

FIRE answers the question “so what” everyday.  To suggest that liberal bias in the classroom has no effect other than cognitive dissonance among conservative students trivializes the seriousness of this issue.  Ideological uniformity has led to the deprivation of civil liberties--particularly the freedom of speech--of students and professors across the country.  FIRE received over 500 credible complaints of this in 2004 alone.  Further, a majority of institutions in the country abide by speech codes that restrict acceptable speech on campus, and mandatory diversity or sensitivity training is now common for college freshmen. 

The higher education establishment will have to acknowledge this issue on campuses soon, for there are simply too many recorded instances of constitutionally protected speech being suppressed by university officials.  We are approaching a cultural tipping point, and unless the professoriate begins to govern itself, higher education will be plagued with not only a lack of credibility but class action lawsuits.  In one way or another, the higher education establishment will have to address this ideological uniformity.

AEI staff assistant Morgan Goatley prepared this summary.

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