Accuracy in Media

A key reason why few conservatives go into the teaching profession is that the job of a professor does not fit the image many conservatives have of themselves, two scholars argued.

“The professoriate, along with a number of other knowledge work fields, has been ‘politically typed’ as appropriate for and welcoming of people with broadly liberal political sensibilities, and as inappropriate for conservatives,” Ethan Fosse and Neil Gross said in a working paper, entitled “Why Are Professors Liberal?”

Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University was in agreement with Fosse’s and Gross’s conclusion and said that this pattern is true in academia more so than in other professions.

Bauerlein was one of several professors who commented on the Fosse paper in a forum organized by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

“As liberal and leftist values circulate freely from one class to the next, the impression hardens and conservatives steer clear,” Bauerlein said.

Fosse and Gross said, “when it occasionally happens that conservative students do form the aspiration to become professors, they are likely to run up against barriers involving both self-contempt incongruence and negative judgments from peers and occupation members.”

Thomas Bertonneau, a Classical Literatures and Comparative literatures professor at State University of New York at Oswego disagrees with Fosse and Gross that the liberal political character of academia is “explained in part by the fact that scholarly life attracts people who have a ‘high tolerance for controversial ideas.’ “

“On the contrary: the academy is intellectually conformist and averse to actual controversy. On every subject – from ‘global warming’ to Darwinism to affirmative action to abortion – there is one permissible opinion,” Bertonneau said.

“The professoriate is not merely liberal, it is radically left liberal in its basic assumptions and it is relentless in its determination to make itself homogeneously left liberal, if necessary by driving out difference,” he added.

Mary Grabar of Georgia Perimeter College added that many conservative professors face harassment, ridicule, censorship and open discrimination.

“Had Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse bothered to talk to conservatives in the academy or to the multitudes who left in disgust … I would have told them about my experiences in graduate school, like being branded an ignorant Christian fundamentalist for simply pointing out the religious references in T.S. Eliot’s poem, ‘Ash Wednesday,'” Grabar said.

“While my colleagues proudly post photos from Obama and Biden signed, ‘Thanks for your help,’ we conservatives tremble lest a hiring committee discover a letter to the editor on the Internet or our membership in the National Association of Scholars,” she said.

Fosse and Gross said “research on job values, much of it influenced by rational choice theory, would suggest the underlying mechanism … is the taste liberals and conservatives have for specific features of the work environment – tastes reflective of their political ideologies and worldviews.”

“Although adolescents and young adults have limited cultural exposure to a wide array for occupational models, research suggests that their social circumstances constrain the number of options … along parallel lines, we argue that for young people whose political identities are salient, liberal and conservatism constrain horizons of educational and occupational possibility,” the scholars added.

For example, “most young adults who are committed liberals would never end up entertaining the idea that they might become police or corrections officers, just as it would never cross the minds of most committed conservatives that they might become professors, precisely because of the political reputations of these fields,” they said.

Fosse and Gross also theorized “very religious students tend to steer clear of academia because it has a reputation for secularism, which further contributes to the liberalism of the professoriate.”

“Many surveys have documented the religious skepticism is far more common among professors than within the U.S. population,” Fosse and Grosse said in their paper.

“To the extent that the American conservative movement and Republican Party have defined themselves partly around issues of religious faith, professors who claim no affiliation with any religion may be predisposed toward liberalism, accounting for some of the political gap between professors and other Americans,” they said.

Fosse toils at Harvard and Gross is an associate professor in the Sociology Department at the University of British Columbia. In the February issue (pdf) of Accuracy in Academia’s monthly Campus Report newsletter, AIA executive director Mal Kline offers his own take on their thesis.

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