Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Harvard Study: Politics of Professors

I'm sick of being told I'm not a liberal because I'm somehow from an inferior background. Even if that's not how it is intended, that is precisely the sense one gets reading "The Social and Political Views of American Professors," a draft paper by Neil Gross (Harvard) and Solon Simmons (George Mason). The paper is an example of why a libertarian, who does not fit neatly into a stupid five-point scale, is left feeling like a rebel.

On page 26 of this paper, we have the following table:

Political orientation (percentages)
Extremely Liberal9.4
Slightly Liberal18.1
Middle of the Road18.0
Slightly Conservative10.5
Very Conservative1.2

This scale alone tells me nothing. And the authors' assertions that there are more "moderates" in academia than radicals doesn't go the point that I know several professors who imagine themselves "centrists" but are in fact liberal by my standards. Self-identification is, to be blunt, generally useless unless you are only concerned with self-perceptions and not actual societal implications.
Only 19.7 percent of respondents identify themselves as any shade of conservative, as compared to 62.2 percent who identify themselves as any shade of liberal. By contrast, the last time this question was asked on the ANES survey, 31.9 percent of respondents in the general population identified themselves as any shade of conservative, while 23.3 percent identified themselves as any shade of liberal. 
Then again, the authors argue that professors are somehow better at self-identity. Sure enough, on page 34 of the report we read a quote from a 1976 study, "[P]rofessors' opinions should be more highly structured and interrelated than those of most groups outside the university" (Ladd and Lipset).

Give me a break! Professors are not all that great at self-observation and self-awareness. You can find studies revealing just how poor everyone is at self-evaluation, regardless of social class, education, and other factors. I recall a great article I read in Scientific American on the "Egocentric Myths" we create about ourselves. We image everyone is just like us and views the world through our eyes. It's human nature, and I don't think professors are above human nature -- they just think they are.

Where do I fit in the above scale? Nowhere? And I already know that I'm a minority in education, even if I never complete my doctorate.

My anger become more pronounced when I reached page 38 of the study. Using the 2004 elections to measure political views isn't smart: look at the choices. Already, I think using 2004 as a metric is flawed. I know I voted against someone, not for anybody in the last two presidential elections. Here, I quote, with full credit going to these researchers:
What are the social characteristics of those professor who voted for Bush in 2004? Evidencing the fact that the "what's the matter with Kansas" phenomenon (Frank 2005) may be at work inside the university as well as outside of it, the most distinguishing characteristic of academic Bush voters is that they come from lower social class backgrounds on average than do non-Bush voters. [...] But leaving race and ethnicity aside, we find that 39.5 percent of academic Bush voters described their families as having below average incomes when they were 16 years old.... What's more, only 35.9 percent of professors who voted for Bush had fathers who completed a BA degree or higher, as compared to 51.1 percent of professors who did not vote for Bush.
You want my own reading of this, professors who didn't have to overcome as many barriers are liberal, while those of us who struggled from poverty are more likely to think people should learn to work hard and not depend on the government. Sure, my parents couldn't afford to buy me an Ivy League prep education, with test-preps and tutors. I ended up attending a great private university (USC is amazing) on my own, working hard to do well. I think other people can and should work just as hard.

As for the fact few professors are conservative at "Elite, PhD Granting" universities (9.8 percent of faculty), maybe this reflects the biases of these institutions? Maybe people like me don't feel comfortable on the campus of an elite school where we would have few like-minded colleagues. Our views are certainly not going to be popular, so we'd have to prove ourselves several times over to gain acceptance.

On page 40 of this report we read:
The table indicates that self-identified Marxists are rare in academe today. The highest proportion of Marxist academics can be found in the social sciences, and there they represent less than 18 percent of all professors (among the social science fields for which we can issue discipline-specific estimates, sociology contains the most Marxists, at 25.5 percent). In the humanities and social sciences, about one quarter of professors consider themselves radicals or activists. 
Wait, let me emphasize this: "Marxists are rare… less than 18 percent" in one discipline. I'm sorry, but when nearly 1 out of 5 are Marxists, they aren't rare. You won't find a libertarian teaching "Marxist-feminist critical theories of media." Not going to happen.

But then why are there more conservatives at community colleges and non-elite schools? Because we can survive in those places where the basics still reign supreme, where Marxism (25 percent of sociologists) isn't dominant in the humanities. Places where we can teach and not try to deal with political atmospheres that are, by their nature, fighting our very core beliefs.