Republicans Outnumbered in Academia, Studies Find

[ It could be that more academics are liberal because that’s what (generally) happens to people who devote their lives to the expansion of the mind. Thanks to Michael Roselius for passing this article along. –BL ]

November 18, 2004 | New York Times


BERKELEY, Calif. – At the birthplace of the free speech movement, campus radicals have a new target: the faculty that came of age in the 60’s. They say their professors have been preaching multiculturalism and diversity while creating a political monoculture on campus.

Conservatism is becoming more visible at the University of California here, where students put out a feisty magazine called The California Patriot and have made the Berkeley Republicans one of the largest groups on campus. But here, as at schools nationwide, the professors seem to be moving in the other direction, as evidenced by their campaign contributions and two studies being published on Nov. 18.

One of the studies, a national survey of more than 1,000 academics, shows that Democratic professors outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one in the humanities and social sciences. That ratio is more than twice as lopsided as it was three decades ago, and it seems quite likely to keep increasing, because the younger faculty members are more consistently Democratic than the ones nearing retirement, said Daniel Klein, an associate professor of economics at Santa Clara University and a co-author of the study.

In a separate study of voter registration records, Professor Klein found a nine-to-one ratio of Democrats to Republicans on the faculties of Berkeley and Stanford. That study, which included professors from the hard sciences, engineering and professional schools as well as the humanities and social sciences, also found the ratio especially lopsided among the younger professors of assistant or associate rank: 183 Democrats versus 6 Republicans.

The political imbalance on faculties has inspired a campaign to have state legislatures and Congress approve an “academic bill of rights” protecting students and faculty members from discrimination for their political beliefs. The campaign is being led by Students for Academic Freedom, a group with chapters at Berkeley and more than 135 other campuses. It was founded last year by the leftist-turned-conservative David Horowitz, who helped start the 1960’s antiwar movement while a graduate student at Berkeley.

“Our goal is not to have the government dictate who’s hired but to take politics out of the hiring process and the classroom,” said Mr. Horowitz, who called the new studies the most compelling evidence yet of hiring bias. “Right now, conservative students are discouraged from pursuing scholarly careers, because they see very clearly that their professors consider Republicans to be the enemy.”

Academic leaders have resisted his group’s legislative proposal, saying that discrimination is rare and already forbidden, and they dispute the accusations of faculty bias. Robert J. Birgeneau, the chancellor of Berkeley, said that he was not sure if the new study of his faculty accurately reflected the professors’ political leanings, and that these leanings were irrelevant anyway.

“The essence of a great university is developing and sharing new knowledge as well as questioning old dogma,” Dr. Birgeneau said. “We do this in an environment which prizes academic freedom and freedom of expression. These principles are respected by all of our faculty at U.C. Berkeley, no matter what their personal politics are.”

Professors at Berkeley and other universities provided unprecedented financial support for the Democratic Party this election. For the first time, universities were at the top of the list of organizations ranked by their employees’ contributions to a presidential candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group.

In first and second place, ahead of Time Warner, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft, were the University of California system and Harvard, whose employees contributed $602,000 and $340,000, respectively, to Senator John Kerry. At both universities, employees gave about $19 to the Kerry campaign for every dollar for the Bush campaign.

One theory for the scarcity of Republican professors is that conservatives are simply not that interested in academic careers. A Democrat on the Berkeley faculty, George P. Lakoff, who teaches linguistics and is the author of “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think,” said that liberals choose academic fields that fit their world views. “Unlike conservatives,” he said, “they believe in working for the public good and social justice, as well as knowledge and art for their own sake, which are what the humanities and social sciences are about.”

Some non-Democrats prefer to attribute the imbalance to the structure of academia, which allows hiring decisions and research agendas to be determined by small, independent groups of scholars. These fiefs, the critics say, suffer from a problem described in The Federalist Papers: an autonomous “small republic” is prone to be dominated by a cohesive faction that uses majority voting to “outnumber and oppress the rest,” in Madison’s words.

“Our colleges have become less marketplaces of ideas than churches in which you have to be a true believer to get a seat in the pews,” said Stephen H. Balch, a Republican and the president of the National Association of Scholars. “We’ve drifted to a secular version of 19th-century denominational colleges, in which the university’s mission is to crusade against sin and make the country a morally better place.”

Dr. Balch’s organization of what he calls traditional scholars is publishing the two new faculty studies in its journal, Academic Questions (online at In one study, Professor Klein and Charlotta Stern, a sociologist at the Institute for Social Research in Sweden, asked the members of scholars’ professional associations which party’s candidates they had mostly voted for over the previous decade.

The ratio of Democratic to Republican professors ranged from 3 to 1 among economists to 30 to 1 among anthropologists. The researchers found a much higher share of Republicans among the nonacademic members of the scholars’ associations, which Professor Klein said belied the notion that nonleftists were uninterested in scholarly careers.

“Screened out, expelled or self-sorted, they tend to land outside of academia because the crucial decisions – awarding tenure and promotions, choosing which papers get published – are made by colleagues hostile to their political views,” said Professor Klein, who classifies himself as a libertarian.

Martin Trow, an emeritus professor of public policy at Berkeley who was chairman of the faculty senate and director of the Center for Studies in Higher Education, said that professors tried not to discriminate in hiring based on politics, but that their perspective could be warped because so many colleagues shared their ideology.

“Their view comes to be seen not as a political preference but what decent, intelligent human beings believe,” said Dr. Trow, who calls himself a conservative. “Debate is stifled, and conservatives either go in the closet or get to be seen as slightly kooky. So if a committee is trying to decide between three well-qualified candidates, it may exclude the conservative because he seems like someone who has poor judgment.”

The students’ magazine, The California Patriot, has frequently criticized Berkeley for the paucity of conservative views and for cases of what it has called discrimination against conservative students.

“I’m glad to get the liberal perspective, but it would be nice to get the other side, too,” said Kelly Coyne, the editor of the magazine and a senior majoring in political science. “I’m really having a hard time finding courses my last year. I don’t want to spend another semester listening to lectures about victims of American oppression.”

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