Rethinking liberalism in academia

In my last post I wrote about how people read a film like "Avatar," seeing what they want to see (or what they most fear). Now, a new research paper seeks to prove that the same thing happens in other areas of life. The paper, which focuses on something it calls "typecasting," is entitled, "Why Are Professors Liberal?" And The New York Times' article about the paper, "Professor Is a Label That Leans to the Left," by Patricia Cohen, successfully probes beneath the turbulent surface of our arguments about liberalism and conservatism.

The overwhelmingly liberal tilt of university professors has been explained by everything from outright bias to higher I.Q. scores. Now new research suggests that critics may have been asking the wrong question. Instead of looking at why most professors are liberal, they should ask why so many liberals--and so few conservatives--want to be professors.

Here's the point of the paper, which is based on data from the General Social Survey of opinions and social behaviors. We know that less than six percent of American nurses are men. Why is that? It's largely because of gender typecasting. We have pretty much decided that nursing is a job for women.

In short, the same thing happens in academia, but it involves political typecasting. When Johnny and Janie are deciding what careers to pursue, chances are they will rule out academia if they are conservative.

Nursing is what sociologists call "gender typed." [Paper co-author Neil] Gross said that "professors and a number of other fields are politically typed." Journalism, art, fashion, social work and therapy are dominated by liberals; while law enforcement, farming, dentistry, medicine and the military attract more conservatives.

"These types of occupational reputations affect people's career aspirations," he added...

I wish Cohen had devoted more space to discussing the religious elements of academia's liberal tilt. Unfortunately, she only briefly mentions "secularism" and academia's preference for professors who embrace "a non-conservative religious theology."

Still, her article explains the "Why Are Professors Liberal?" paper's thesis and its implications in a balanced manner, quoting contributors to the conservative American Enterprise Institute's collection on college life, "The Politically Correct University." Cohen also adds helpful transition sentences, such as: "Typecasting, of course, is not the only cause for the liberal tilt" [in higher education].

Cohen provides a solid conclusion with another quote from Gross:

"The irony is that the more conservatives complain about academia's liberalism," he said, "the more likely it's going to remain a bastion of liberalism."

As an aside: I am regularly in contact with conservative Christians who both condemn secular culture and express a desire to redeem it, sometimes in the same sentence. I am also regularly in contact with these people's children, many of whom conclude that it is safer to live and work within the expansive Christian subculture than it would be to pursue a career in an area mom and dad and Pastor Bob consider enemy territory. I pray that some residents of the subculture would somehow stumble upon this article, read it article and share it with young people who are asking God what they should do with their lives.

[I also ask that Get Religion's wonderful readers would share their comments on Cohen's article (focusing on coverage of religion is our purpose here at GR), not their theories about liberalism in academia or elsewhere!]

Please respect our Commenting Policy