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  • Writer's pictureCorey Lee Wilson

Dramatic Shift That’s Hurting Students’ Education

Something alarming has happened to the academy since the 1990s. As the graph below shows, it has been transformed from an institution that leans to the left, which is not a big problem, into an institution that is almost entirely on the left, which is a noticeably big problem. This phenomena are shown on the next two graphs. If you've spent time in a college or university any time in the past quarter-century you probably aren't surprised to hear that professors have become strikingly more liberal. In 1990, according to survey data by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA, 42 percent of professors identified as "liberal" or "far-left." By 2014, that number had jumped to 60 percent and represents a much higher percentage as opposed to the student body they teach. Over the same period, the number of academics identifying as "moderate" fell by 13 percentage points, and the share of "conservative" and "far-right" professors dropped nearly six points. In the academy, liberals now outnumber conservatives by roughly 5 to 1. Among the general public, on the other hand, conservatives are considerably more prevalent than liberals and have been for some time. Nowadays there are no conservatives or libertarians in most academic departments in the humanities and social sciences. The academy has been so focused on attaining diversity by race and gender (which are valuable) that it has created a hostile climate for people who think differently. The American academy has–arguably–become a politically orthodox and quasi-religious institution. When everyone shares the same politics and prejudices, the disconfirmation process breaks down. Political orthodoxy is particularly dangerous for the social sciences, which grapple with so many controversial topics (such as race, gender, poverty, inequality, immigration, and politics). Can a Social Science that Lacks Viewpoint Diversity Produce Reliable Findings? America needs innovative and trustworthy research on all these topics, but can a social science that lacks viewpoint diversity produce reliable findings? But the folks that first put these numbers together, a group of academic faculty calling themselves Heterodox Academy, argue that homogeneity in higher education is a bigger problem than it is in other areas. "With relatively few right-leaning voices in the professoriate, particularly in the humanities and the social sciences where ideas matter most, many college students receive less than the intellectually rigorous education they deserve," some of the group's members recently wrote. Dr. Samuel Abrams explored how the left-to-right ratio has increased over the past 25 years, particularly at colleges and universities in New England. He also reviewed work by Honeycutt and Freberg (2016) which suggested that conservatives experience a more hostile climate in academia than moderates or progressives. A quarter-century ago, college professors were about 16 percentage points more likely to identify as "liberal" or "far-left" than their first-year students. By 2014, professors were close to 30 percentage points more likely than freshmen to call themselves liberal. Among the college class of 2009, 39.1 percent identified as liberals, 38.5 percent called themselves moderates, and 22.5 percent said they were conservatives. While more liberal and less conservative than the general public, the seniors were also considerably less liberal and more conservative than the people who taught them.

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