« Robert Pape on Hezbollah | Main | A New Schedule for This Blog »

August 04, 2006

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83420694a53ef00d8342acf6a53ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Liberal "Bias" in Academia:

» Miron's Conundrum: Why Libertarians Should Think the Education Market Has Failed from EconLog
When he launched his first blog, Jeff Miron was explicit about his motivation: In this blog I provide a libertarian... [Read More]

» The Market for Professors from Asymmetrical Information
Miron askswhy is liberal dominance of academia a problem given that it represents a market outcome? That is, if liberal academics are so bad, why does the market support so many of them? Why is there not a demand for conservative universities? If one b... [Read More]

Comments

paul

At the risk of oversimplifying, here is my critique.

Because education is a government supplied service, over the years, lack of innovation has corrupted the institution.

The real service that colleges provide is an extremely expensive screening process for employers.

The corrupted institution appeals to a self selecting type of person (leftist, democrat) who would want to work in that type of environment. (My guess is the ratio of dem/rep is more “normal” in the hard sciences’ and I hope economics).

In other words, who in their right mind would want to work at a university?

Tom C

Zounds...Paul, you have the germ of an idea, but you've grown it into an oak tree. I would say "A real service..." but it's certainly not the only one.

It is a commonly held belief, across many cultures, that the young are more liberal than the old. The predominance of Liberal/Left professors simply reflects market preference of the consumers, not the employers. (Parents are not given much choice, even tho they pay!) At the risk of generalizing, most conservatives are not "Inspiring", "Cool", or even, sadly, "Interesting" to an 18-year-old. Change-the-world types are.

Sometimes, the explanation does not require evil motives.

ryang

How does such a lopsided ratio reflect the preference of consumers? Are you suggesting 80% of college students are Democrats?

I am a moderate/libertarian who just graduated from one of the largest state schools in the country. I think our Political Science department contained one Republican. That is not a free market of ideas, and it is not a reflection of the student's political views. It is only a reflection of discrimination.

Students wishing to major in political science at public universities should be exposed to a wide variety of political views, not just one, as is widely the case today.

Tom C

And we should do what, pass a law?

ryang

I didn't say we should pass a law.

I was responding to "Perhaps the truth is that many conservatives do not really believe in competition; instead they want conservative ideas imposed because these ideas are not doing well in the marketplace."

How do conservatives win elections if their ideas are not doing well in the marketplace?

There is cleary a problem. Perhaps market forces are the best solutions. Conservative donors should pull funding until some degree of realism is obtained.

Tom C

My guess is that we'll both agree that another factor here is that the traditional employment conditions (like those of a law partnership) lead to extreme levels of conformism. Tenure decisions are clearly influenced by personal judgements, and politics will of course be part of that. It can be self-perpetuating.

Interestingly, a study was just publicized yesterday that talked about how much customers want their senior law partners to be white and male, or at least male. The law firms feel frustrated that the customers make these choices -- often by hiring another firm -- undercutting the firms' equal opportunity goals. That's my point with colleges...the darn customers keep wanting to be taught by liberal do-gooders (who are much more exciting). Except in places like economics, because we want them to be more like bankers.

ryang

And my point is that there is more demand for non-liberals from students than there are non-whitemales from corporate law clients.

A client can easily switch to his preferred type of lawyer. A student cannot easily switch universities in the middle of their education. What happens to Republican students? They switch their major from political science to something else. This cannot be good for long term academia.

caveatBettor

Why does academia get to resemble the market? Wouldn't it also resemble non-markets, too, say government and/or monastery?

How does the tenure process resemble what a trader or an entrepreneur goes through? The latter will go through the darwinian experience of spending money to gain some future return. How does the candidate for professor go through that? They invest time and energy, but they receive stipends more than having to take financial risks.

And, my takeaway from reading Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions is that most academics subscribe to paradigms the same way monks subscribe to their respective traditions. The status quo is unfriendly to breakthrough shifts; rather, such progressive thinkers are treated with apostate suspicion.

Beyond the peer-review publishing, what direct accountability is there? Can't a professor simply show up for her classes, and then hide out in her office the rest of the work day? At least that's what my Ivy League professor buddy tells me.

happyjuggler0

If memory serves, customers could buy Ford Model T's in any color they wanted, so long as it was black. Assembly line efficiency taken to a foolish extreme.

Eventually of course customers chose other companies cars, in part because of features such as color they couldn't get from Ford.

Miron's point, and what most of the posters here seem to be missing is: Why don't customers of higher education choose en masse schools with more balanced faculty political ratios?

The poster that said most people ar eliberal while young and that changes over time may be on to something. But it still doesn't explain the poster who complains of the ratio at the school he chose? Why did he choose that school then in the first place? He is/was "Free to Choose" of course....

James

How long until someone makes the argument that universities are dominated by leftists because universities are where the smart people hang out and leftism is the ideology of smart people?

happyjuggler0

How long until someone makes the argument that universities are dominated by leftists because universities are where the smart people hang out and leftism is the ideology of smart people?

I don't know how to answer the "how long" part. However it is pretty easy to counter that it takes a lot of brains to become very rich, and most people agree that the rich are on the Right. (Although libertarians may disagree). Maybe those professors on the Left simply aren't bright enough to become rich.

As the old saying goes: "if you're so smart, why aren't you rich?"

ryang

Unfortunately, students would be making poor decisions if they placed a lot of weight on professor's political idealogy.

#1 Politics is not wholly important to many fields of study

#2 Prestige, cost, and quality of life, are all factors students care about more than politics.

#3 Prestige is especially important to the elite students, even the most conservative ones. Prestige of academic institutions change at roughly the same speed as evolution.

What is the solution? Conservative think tanks? Look how the liberal academic community treats those...

Mike Huben

There are several interesting issues to explore here.

First, conservatives don't seem to mention the imbalance in their favor in the military services, religious groups, and many business organizations.

Second, where do people pick up their preference? Is it in college? From their family? From their church? From business experience? So does it matter?

Third, right-wing ideas are flowing from think tanks (with few exceptions). That's where the money is invested in right wing ideas (many times more than on liberal ideas). The patently low quality of those ideas should lead to their general rejection by the educational elite.

RWB

I changed my college in part because of what I felt was an overly conservative atmosphere at my first university. Students can make choices. And so can donors. And, most important, so can future employees. I agree with Mike Huben--many conservatives are outraged by the number of liberal teachers in colleges, but have no problem with conservative presence in institutions like the military.

Paul asks "Who in their right mind would want to work at a university?" Some liberals would likewise ask, "Who in their right mind would want to work in the military?" To ask these questions is to answer them--liberals (on average) are more likely to enjoy the university lifestyle, and conservatives (on average) are more likely to enjoy the military lifestyle. These people who enter the labor market are therefore making perfectly rational decisions based on their preference to go work in these different fields.

Roger

Couldn't this simply be a matter of labor economics? Smart conservatives tend to have the talents, abilities, and interests to pursue careers in business.

Filling a university's faculty with conservatives would require offering compensation that is on par with the business world's compensation for people of similar ability.

I'd imagine it's far less costly to hire smart liberals, whose talents, abilities, and interests are not as well suited for the high-compensation business world.

Many college students (and their parents!) would certainly like to see a more conservative faculty, but not if it means a huge increase in tuition in order to pay the salaries necessary to retain professors who otherwise could be earning $10M on Wall Street.

mvpy

"Why don't customers of higher education choose en masse schools with more balanced faculty political ratios?"

Students pick college largely on reputation, not anything else; conventional market forces dont really apply. In any case, if they did, Im not aware of any prominent "conservative college". If a kid gets an offer to Yale, say, he'll go there irrespective of political bias or whatever. Like the way some bankrobber once famously said: "thats where the money is".

"conservatives don't seem to mention the imbalance in their favor in the military services, religious groups, and many business organizations."

Oh yeah? All one's concerned with in business etc is the quality of the final product. In academia the final product is communication of ideas. Of course conservatives have misgivings about this "product".

"The patently low quality of those ideas should lead to their general rejection by the educational elite."

Please. The most influential ideas in economics in the past thirty years have come from a minority of conservative/libertarian academics based laregly at the University of Chicago. Since when, anyway, was the "educational elite" the ultimate arbiter of the value of ideas. Reality is the ultimate arbiter of ideas; and I think thats pretty embarrassing to those who espouse government intervention. And, oh, educational elite have always been opposed to free-market ideas; saying that they oppose a certain conservative idea is tantamount to saying nothing.

Finally, its surely possible for academia to make one liberal. Remember, its in the self-interest of academics to lean liberal; after all, its ultimately government that is the purchaser of their policy proposals. A policy proposal that bolsters the role of gov is surely more seductive to a politician than one that posits he embrace laissez-faire.
Further, theres sample selection. Why would a conservative want to go into academia and suffer the fate of Larry Summers, say? Liberals are all for free speech, new ideas - as long as its on their terms.

Mike Huben

mvpy:

Economics as a profession is almost as heavily biased towards conservatives as the military: small wonder many influential ideas come from conservative economists.

Not only that, the conservative think-tank apparatus has heavily promoted those conservative economic ideas, though not necessarily accurately or correctly. That would tend to make them more influential than they might deserve, and involve the think tanks (as I pointed out.)

However, unless you care to conflate economics with conservatism, you've missed the point. Conservative think tank ideas tend to be extremely poor, and encompass quite a bit more than economics.

James

Huben,

When you write, "Economics as a profession is almost as heavily biased towards conservatives as the military: small wonder many influential ideas come from conservative economists." are you speaking from research or just making stuff up?

Per the available data, this is just wrong. According to this study, the economics profession is made up of about 75% Democrats. That isn't as "heavily biased toward conservatives as the military," which tends to be lean Republican.

As it happens, I'm qualified to provide anecdotal evidence about both as well. My experience with military members is that about 80% of the enlisted members and somewhat more of the commisioned identify as Republicans, where more than half of the economists I've known have been Democrats.

mvpy

"Economics as a profession is almost as heavily biased towards conservatives as the military: small wonder many influential ideas come from conservative economists."

Really, I dont know where you ascertained this, but Im sure a little googling will reveal the contrary; that most economists in academia (where any economist of repute is) lean liberal. Put differently, the economics profession is more attuned to Paul Krugman than, say, Jeff Miron.

"Not only that, the conservative think-tank apparatus has heavily promoted those conservative economic ideas"

Your view seems to be that ideas and policies ultimately stem from think-tanks. This is rather self-serving, since it conveys the impression that the public are being presumably misguided; rather than, say, embracing your own "correct" worldview. I would argue, rather, that ideas and policies primarily evolve from historical experience; and have very little to do with economists or think tanks. As prominent examples, the repudiation socialism, together with efforts to "fine-tune" economies (aka Keynesian economics), was motivated, not by think tanks, but rather by the catastrophic failure of having seen these experiments play out. Many economists and think tanks alike had long advocated against these, but unavailingly. Similarly, the embrace of globalization and deregulation has little to do with think-tanks, but rather to do with economic necessity and the obvious benefits.

Mike Huben

You guys are a hoot. Now, not only are you conflating economics with conservatism, you're conflating political party with conservatism.

Though actually, that's Miron's fault: he started it. Go back and read his article.

However, James, I think I did misremember: I'd read that economics departments were by far the most conservative departments on campuses some time in the recent past. Good reference.

As for think tanks, here's a relevant summery: Myth: Conservative think tanks are the answer to liberal academia.

James

Huben,

I can't speak for we, but I am not conflating political party with conservatism. I'm using one variable as a proxy for another correlated but less measurable variable. Incidentally, the two gentlemen that taught my first two econometrics classes were a liberal Republican and a conservative Democrat. Rest assured that I was made well aware of the limitations of this approach.

The link you provide is interesting enough, but I notice it's a little dated. Here and now, I think liberals have attempted to counter the influence of think tanks in their own way, what with media groups like moveon.org and think tanks like Brookings.

Kevin K

Two things:

First, the scientific profession is founded on very liberal ideals, a central tenet of which is the belief that a common pool of knowledge to which scholars contribute freely and in return can also access with as few barriers as possible is a Common Good. Someone posted above the profound question "if they're so smart, why aren't they rich"? The answer might be that it is because they have foregone their claim to a piece of the economic pie that their intellectual capital would otherwise have earned, in order to the further what is perceived as a higher goal, that of building a universally accessible body of knowledge, from which all else can begin. Think, for example, if firms needed to pay licensing fees for the employment of calculus, or minimax equations etc. We would today be talking about the ultra-rich Newton family.

Second, much of the discussion I'm reading amounts to little more than ad hominem attacks. That is, of attempting to discredit ideas by attacking the personality of the persons from which the ideas come. If conservatives want academia to embrace conservative ideas, they have a very easy method to do so. Produce some solid research.

Brett

It's not a market outcome when the faculty hires itself. This practice should end, as only the like-minded are offered good jobs, with a nudge and a wink. The whole situation is obvious corruption, the aim being to provide incomes to the professors' friends and fellow travellers. Once they have put a ton of thumbs on the scale, as demonstrated by the political affiliation results referenced in the post, they can proceed to claim that this preponderance proves that liberals are more intelligent than non-liberals. They dominate the universitities (which we've packed), so it must be so.

The academy is no longer respectable.

Brett

It's not a market outcome when the faculty hires itself. This practice should end, as only the like-minded are offered good jobs, with a nudge and a wink. The whole situation is obvious corruption, the aim being to provide incomes to the professors' friends and fellow travellers. Once they have put a ton of thumbs on the scale, as demonstrated by the political affiliation results referenced in the post, they can proceed to claim that this preponderance proves that liberals are more intelligent than non-liberals. They dominate the universitities (which we've packed), so it must be so.

The academy is no longer respectable.

mike

Another factor is that many facutly might start our relatively unaffiliated and become more solidly Democratic over time.

Since most professors are either a) state employees and/or b) funded by the state thru grants and subsidies (cheap loans) ... it is not surprising that they tend to favor the party of more government.

The power of peer pressure is probably also not trivial. Humans adapt their beliefs to fit the social setting they live in. Working in an 80-90% Dem environment would mean strong rewards for saying/acting Dem and strong penalties for being Repub. Many people probably rationally or unconsciously adjust their political preferences to adapt.

In that scenario there is one of the classic tipping points where a small Dem majority becomes self-reinforcing. Same way most towns are dominated by one party - ambitious, but apolitical, people choose to swim with the tide, not against.

The comments to this entry are closed.