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March 27, 2008

OLD LINE: Left-leaning faculty are a right-wing myth. New line: Faculty Are Liberal — Who Cares?

UPDATE: Reader Mack Mariani emails:

The faculty are liberal, who cares? I do, and I co-wrote the study! I co-authored the study mentioned in the Inside Higher Ed piece with my former colleague, Gordon Hewitt at Hamilton College. I'm at Xavier now, celebrating the Musketeers big win by, er, doing work.

The main point of the study is not to dismiss all concerns about the left wing orientation of the faculty. Rather, our goal was simply to assess the impact that faculty ideology has on the political views of the students they teach. We have two main findings:

First, that faculty are significantly farther to the left than the population (I know, the sky is blue, stop the presses!).

The other finding, which is more newsworthy, is that faculty ideology appears to have little impact on student ideology. Speaking for myself as a conservative college professor, I think this second finding is good news. We take pains in the study to emphasize that we are not addressing what goes on in the classroom - that isn't the nature of the data we used. In fact, we say outright that our findings do not preclude the possibility that faculty members are trying to indoctrinate students but failing miserably at it! Our study looks at one part of the debate and looks at the evidence. We think our approach, which focuses on changes in student orientation, is preferable to "snapshot" studies which look at student ideology at a single point in time. Others will look at this question in a different (and hopefully better) way.

While I think it is good news that students are (apparently) not putty in the hands of their left-leaning professors, there are plenty of other good reasons to be concerned about the lack of intellectual diversity on many college campuses.

Excellent point. If the beliefs and attitudes of faculty don't matter, even if they're pretty much a monoculture, then the argument for "diversity" in general would seem to evaporate.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Edward Sisson emails: "isn't the fundamental premise of the study -- that liberal indoctrination only matters if we see a change in student attitudes -- fundamentally false? No one would say that the structural walls of a building are insignificant because we observe no movement in the building. The walls counteract the force of gravity that otherwise would cause movement -- namely, cause the building to collapse. If, in the absence of the indoctrination, we would see a conservative trend in the student body, then the indoctrination is significant. All this study shows is that the collegiate-level indoctrination preserves whatever attitudes the students have gotten during their high school years."

MORE: See this post by TigerHawk from last fall, too.

STILL MORE: James Joyner has thoughts, and comments: "The changes here strike me as more than 'slight shifts.' The number of students self-identifying as 'far left' more than doubles while the 'far right' cohort drops nearly a third. There’s a ten percent drop in conservatives and a 25 percent jump in liberals. That’s hardly insignificant."

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