Left has an advantage with higher learning
The left has a chokehold on universities. This will shape the America for years to come.
Americans are roughly evenly split between liberals and conservatives. Here I use party affiliation as evidence of political orientation. The Pew Research Foundation found that the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 1.1 to 1, that is, roughly equal (2020 data). Specifically, 33% of registered voters identify as Democrats and 29% identify as Republicans.
First, consider top universities. Brooklyn College’s Mitchell Langbert and Heterodox Academy’s Sean Stevens found that in 2019 at top universities — specifically the best private universities, public universities, and liberal arts colleges in each state – the ratio of Democrat to Republican professors is 9 to 1. The drift to the left appears to be increasing as the ratio among younger tenure-track professors is 11 to 1. Among female professors the ratio is an incredible 16 to 1.
In some fields, the ratio is even more skewed. Langbert and Stevens found that the Democrat-to-Republican ratios for some departments are as follows: anthropology (42 to 1), English (27 to 1), and sociology (27 to 1).
Second, consider the Ivy League. In 2016, The Washington Times’ Bradford Richardson reported that Columbia and Princeton had 30 Democrat professors for every Republican professor. In 2020, The Yale News’ Madison Hahamy reported that Yale professors gave less than 3% of their political donations to Republican candidates and affiliated groups.
The elite schools matter. Six of the last ten presidents graduated from Ivy League schools and another two graduated from the Ivies’ peers (Duke and Naval Academy). Seven current Supreme Court justices went to the Ivy League or Stanford for both undergraduate and law school. Ditto for the senate majority leader. The Ivies and their peers produce a significant portion of the leadership of Silicon Valley, U.S. military, and Wall Street. The faculty’s ideas likely explain — at least in part — the nearly homogenous public views of the leaders of these fields concerning affirmative action, Big Tech censorship, illegal aliens, interventionist wars, transgenderism, vaccine mandates, voter IDs, etc.
Third, consider top tier liberal arts colleges. Examples include Williams, Amherst, and Swarthmore. Langbert found that the ratio of Democrat to Republican professors at these schools is 10 to 1. Incredibly, 39% of the colleges – 20 of the 51 — did not have a single Republican professor. In New York state, these schools include Colgate (19 to 1), Hamilton (25 to 1), and Vassar (35 to 1).
Lest one thinks this is just a feature of the faculty, Sarah Lawrence University’s Samuel Abrams points out that university administrators skew even further left than the faculty. Their liberal-to-conservative ratio is 12 to 1. In contrast, Abrams points out, most occupational categories have more conservatives than liberals. As a result, the administrators will not be keeping the faculty’s political biases in check.
The University of Colorado’s Spencer Case argues that the lopsided ratios are in part the result of discrimination. He cites research from several sources. The University of Toronto’s Yoel Inbar and the University of Cologne’s Joris Lammers found that 38% of social and personality psychology professors said that they would hire a liberal over a conservative if forced to choose between two equally qualified candidates. A significant minority said they were willing to discriminate against conservatives regarding grant review, paper review, and symposia invitations. In 2010, University of North Texas’ George Yancey found that roughly 30% of sociologists would be less likely to support a job seeker if they knew that he was a Republican. Cambridge University’s Uwe Peters et al. found that a significant minority of surveyed philosophers were explicitly willing to discriminate based on political orientation. The further to the left a philosopher is, Peters et al. found, the more she is willing to discriminate. Case points out that this willingness to discriminate aligns with conservative professors’ perception of hostility. Nearly half report censoring themselves.
There is no clear solution to this problem.
First, at least some of the leftist bent among faculty is due to demographics and self-selection. Writing in The Atlantic, Adam Harris points out that in the 2018 election, college-educated white voters were noticeably more likely to cast their votes for Democrats than white voters without a degree. Demographic and self-selection factors are difficult to disentangle from discrimination.
Second, there is no way to prevent this discrimination without having outside people hire and promote faculty. The willingness to discriminate is too strong to be voluntarily set aside. Outside people would lack the expertise to make these decisions or would come from the same class as current discriminators.
Third, affirmative action for conservatives would come at the expense of merit. Conservatives would end up underperforming. This would result in people looking askance at conservative faculty just as they do regarding current affirmative action faculty.
The problem here is Robert Conquest’s second law of politics. It states that, “Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.” If this is correct, then conservatives will have a significant presence at a university only if it is explicitly right-wing.
There are some universities that have such an identity – for example, Brigham Young, Hillsdale, Liberty, and SMU – but they lack the national importance of the elite universities. In addition, they are often sectarian and, thus, lack broad-based appeal. The elite schools continue to have the best faculty and students. A conservative attempt to capture an elite university would be prohibitively expensive (the schools have large amounts of money that would be used to fight the capture) and, if successful, would likely endanger its elite status.
The best alternative is to offer alternative programming. Conservative organizations try to do so. Perhaps the most high-profile instance of this is the Federalist Society, which provides a vital counter to the left in law schools (Disclosure: I was a member). Still, it is unclear if this alternative programming does much to counteract the leftist programming.
Stephen Kershnar is a State University of New York at Fredonia philosophy professor. His views do not represent those of the university. Send comments to email@example.com