Presented at a University symposium last Saturday, the findings are based on one of the most extensive surveys of the political opinions of college faculty, according to Assistant Professor of Sociology Neil Gross, who co-authored the study.
The report found that contrary to popular belief, liberals do not make up the largest group of college professors. Moderates are the most represented political group amongst faculty in higher education.
Gross and co-author Solon Simmons, a professor at George Mason University, analyzed 1,417 full-time professors’ responses through a detailed survey containing over 100 questions about their social and political beliefs. Responses were gathered from 4-year institutions as well as community colleges.
This expansive data set allowed the researchers to make more rigorous conclusions as compared to similar studies undertaken during the 1970s.
“Our view is that much of the work that was done during this period was really politically motivated. It was designed to highlight the political liberalism of professors,” Gross said. “Our study is more methodologically rigorous and our aims are different.”
The new study’s conclusion was unexpected, according to Gross, who pointed to the common perception that professors are “not only liberal, but many are quite radical in their beliefs.” However, he clarified that the moderates in academia are still relatively left leaning when compared to moderates in the rest of America.
The results of the study also indicate that conservatives are still in the smallest minority, making up only 9.2 percent of professors, as compared to 46.1 percent and 44.1 percent for moderates and liberals, respectively.
When asked about the study, Harvey C. Mansfield ’53, the Kenan Jr. Professor of Government and author of “Manliness”, said conservatives are discriminated against in academia, pointing to the low percentage of conservative faculty members to support his conclusion.
“I’ve never been to a department meeting where someone said, ‘let’s not have a conservative,’ but I have heard it in the hall,” Mansfield said.
He added that fields of study popular amongst conservatives—including military history and literature and politics—are underrepresented in universities.
Eliot University Professor Lawrence H. Summers, who spoke at last weekend’s symposium, said he believed that “the lack of diverse perspective” is a serious problem because it denies progressives the opportunity to “sharpen and develop their arguments.”
In an interview with The Crimson, Summers added however that “any kind of external requirement or any kind of political party litmus test around academic hiring would be disastrous.”