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Shock and surprise: Scholarship supports empiricism – academe is liberal!

By Marion Edwyn Harrison
web posted May 9, 2005

From time to time a scholarly study comforts one in that the study confirms, or tends to confirm, what one perceives he has observed all along. (Of course, sometimes it's the opposite but we won't dwell upon that.) The writer has friends – and indeed, also professional colleagues – among academics; himself has one college (in history) and two law degrees; has lectured at programs of a number of law schools; has served as president of his law school alumni association; reads some law review articles and other academic publications, as well as the popular press; has published some such pieces; and so forth. That's enough empirically to conclude that academe disproportionately is liberal.

Guess what? A study by prominent George Mason University Professor S. Robert Lichter, Ph.D. (in government, Harvard University), in collaboration with two other academics (Retired Smith College Political Science Professor Stanley Rothman and University of Toronto Political Science Professor Neil Nevette), published by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, of which Dr. Lichter is President, offers a scholarly study which confirms empirical observation: Academe disproportionately is liberal.

The study is based upon a survey of 1,643 full-time faculty at some 180 full four-year colleges. To a point even scholarly surveys must be evaluated with a touch of skepticism but they are far more apt than popular polls to reflect accuracy. When the statistics are overwhelming it matters less because the overall message, not arithmetic precision, is reflective of the facts.

Consider, then, a few such statistics.

As to social issues: Women have a right to an abortion – 67 per cent are said strongly to agree, another 23 per cent somewhat agree. Extra-marital cohabitation is acceptable – 50 per cent strongly agree; another 25 per cent somewhat. The practicing homosexual lifestyle is as acceptable as the heterosexual: 44 per cent strongly; another 23 per cent somewhat. As to political issues: Environmental protection predominates over cost increase and job diminution – 48 per cent strongly agree, another 40 per cent somewhat. Government should reduce the income gap: 38 per cent strongly agree, 34 per cent somewhat. Government should guarantee employment – 25 per cent strongly agree, another 41 per cent somewhat.

By self-description 72 per cent of such faculty is liberal, 15 per cent conservative; 50 per cent is Democratic, 11 per cent Republican.

Do we wonder that a Duke University philosophy professor publicly opined that liberals generally are brighter than conservatives? Or that Harvard President Lawrence Summers, considered liberal-to-somewhat-liberal when in Washington as a Clinton Secretary of the Treasury, transmogrified into a faculty-censured conservative after uttering a (supposedly private) comment about the relative ability of women as compared to men in mathematics and the sciences?

Do we wonder that 51 per cent never, or seldom, attend church or synagogue?

Are we surprised that the percentages summarized above run generally higher in the so-called "elite" schools than in others?

Are we surprised that the quest for "diversity," powerful in academe and widely touted (or forced) in employment and elsewhere, refers only to differences in racial, sexual, sociological and environmental background, but never ever to differences in political complexion?

Messrs. Lichter, Rothman and Nevitte are due ample congratulations for their research, notwithstanding, alas, it merely further substantiates that which is obvious to those who choose to observe. Truly knowledge of the academic disparity accords new meaning to the adage that "There are none so blind as those who will not see."

Part of the solution, of course, individually difficult though often it may be, is for more scholars of moderate and conservative bent to pursue academic careers. Academe greatly influences a civilized society, as indeed it should – but with some balance.

Marion Edwyn Harrison, Esq., is President of, and Counsel to, the Free Congress Foundation.

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