New Paper Assails Report That Said Bias Against Conservative Professors Is Common in Academe

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A REPORT LAST SPRING arguing that conservative faculty members are less likely to advance in academe has drawn a withering attack in a new paper written by four scholars at the University of Pittsburgh. The authors of the original report, however, take issue with the response.

The original report, published in The Forum, a journal of applied research in contemporary politics, was based on a 1999 survey of 1,643 faculty members at 183 colleges in the United States. It found that "the professoriate is tilted toward liberal attitudes and the Democratic Party" and that conservatives seem to be at a "disadvantage in the competition for professional advancement." The report cautioned, however, that its results did not "definitively prove" an ideological bias in hiring (The Chronicle, March 31).

The response, published in the current issue of The Forum, attacks the report's conclusions as "inconclusive, misleading, or false." It also contends that ideological discrimination is unlikely in higher education because political leanings are rarely discussed in the hiring process and that it would be difficult, and probably impossible, for a potential employer to discover an applicant's political affiliation.

Instead, the authors suggest that self-selection is a better explanation for the comparative dearth of conservative professors at elite institutions. For instance, social conservatives may not want to work at research universities if they object to the scientific method, the authors say.

The authors of the new report are: Barry Ames, a professor of comparative politics; David C. Barker, an assistant professor of political science; Chris W. Bonneau, an assistant professor of political science; and Christopher J. Carman, an assistant professor of political science. All four are faculty members at the University of Pittsburgh.

In a response to that response, published in the same issue of The Forum, the authors of the original report object vehemently to such criticism. "There is something disquieting about characterizing fundamentalist Christians (and 'by extension,' most socio-cultural conservatives) as unsuited to the life of the mind, unwilling or unable to think scientifically, and who remain in lower quality positions because they're happier among their own kind," they write.

One of the authors of the original report, Stanley Rothman, a professor emeritus of government at Smith College, used more direct language in an interview on Monday. "The whole critique is based on a lot of nasty statements," he said. "I thought they did themselves dirty by calling us names, being sarcastic, and making snide remarks."

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Harold Paul thompson - 8/11/2005

I would like to know if the liberal majority in elite educational instituions feel any need for more diversity in their ranks, one of the main tenets of liberals.