A study, which surveyed 1,417 full-time professors from 927 community colleges and four year institutions concerning their political affiliation, was recently released. “The Social and Political Views of American Professors” asked participants to classify themselves in one of seven categories ranging from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. Authors Neil Gross, an assistant professor of sociology at Harvard University, and Solon Simmons, an assistant professor of conflict analysis and sociology at George Mason University, found that professors are much more likely than the American public to identify themselves as liberals and moderates.
The findings are further broken down into political orientation of faculty members by age, sector and discipline. At a liberal arts college such as Carleton, left-leaning thinkers seem to be the most prevalent on campus. 61 perent of professors surveyed from liberal arts schools identify themselves as liberal while only 3.9 percent classify themselves as conservative. Among disciplines, professors teaching business lean slightly to the right, computer science professors are most commonly moderates and humanities and social science professors are the most decidedly liberal. The study also suggests that older professors are more likely to identify themselves as radical and extremely liberal while younger faculty members tend to be more moderate.
Of the findings, visiting assistant professor of political science Tun Myint said, “I find studies that put people in a political camp useless because there is no way to categorize the complex minds of professors and people. It is a problem not only in academics but politics as well.”
In addition to political orientation, the survey asked professors for their opinions on a number of policy and social issues. While there is strong support for abortion and gay rights, there is a split of opinion concerning affirmative action. The numbers show that a slight majority of professors support affirmative action with 11 percent strongly favoring it and 39.7 percent favoring it compared to 31.9 percent opposing affirmative action and 17.4 percent strongly opposing it.
There are various theories that address why there is a lack of diversity in political opinions of professors on college campuses. One theory is that academic careers are more attractive to people who are uninterested in the world of markets and profits.
As history professor Diethelm Prowe explains, “Professors are not classic property holders. We do not have the same kind of stake in the economy. We don’t worry about that. We are thinking of the rest of the population.”
Even if liberal professors are the numeric majority of academia, both Myint and Prowe insist that a professor’s main concern is often expressing tolerance of different opinions.
Myint said, “Professors, especially in an open environment like Carleton are genuinely looking to enlighten themselves and their students. We are interested in the way in which ideas originate, develop and transform.”
“Most of us are really very determinedly non-political in our teaching and classroom. It is very important to be tolerant,” said Prowe. “Students can have any opinion they want and everyone feels very strongly about that.”