WASHINGTON — College faculties, long assumed to be a liberal bastion, lean further to the left than even the most conspiratorial conservatives might have imagined, a new study says.
By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study, which is being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms — with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.
The disparity is even more pronounced at the most elite schools, where, according to the study, 87 percent of faculty members are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.
“What’s most striking is how few conservatives there are in any field,” said Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author of the study. “There was no field we studied in which there were more conservatives than liberals or more Republicans than Democrats. It’s a very homogenous environment, not just in the places you’d expect to be dominated by liberals.”
Religious services take a back seat for many faculty members, with 51 percent saying they rarely or never attend church or synagogue and 31 percent calling themselves regular churchgoers. On the gender front, 72 percent of the full-time faculty are male and 28 percent female.
The findings, by Lichter and fellow political science professors Stanley Rothman of Smith College and Neil Nevitte of the University of Toronto, are based on a survey of 1,643 full-time faculties at 183 four-year schools. The researchers relied on 1999 data from the North American Academic Study Survey, the most recent comprehensive data available.
The study appears in the March issue of The Forum, an online political science journal. It was funded by the Randolph Foundation, a right-leaning group that has given grants to such conservative organizations as the Independent Women’s Forum and Americans for Tax Reform.
Rothman sees the findings as evidence of “possible discrimination” against conservatives in hiring and promotion. Even after factoring in levels of achievement, as measured by published work and organization memberships, “the most likely conclusion” is that “being conservative counts against you,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me, because I’ve observed it happening.” The study, however, describes this finding as “preliminary.”
When asked about the findings, Jonathan Knight, director of academic freedom and tenure for the American Association of University Professors, said, “The question is how this translates into what happens within the academic community on such issues as curriculum, admission of students, evaluation of students, evaluation of faculty for salary and promotion.”
“It’s hard to see that these liberal views cut very deeply into the education of students. In fact, a number of studies show the core values that students bring into the university are not very much altered by being in college,” he said.
The study did not examine whether the political views of faculty members affect course content.