Chart of the Day: Universities Are Pretty Liberal Places

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


The chart on the right comes from Heterodox Academy, a group founded a few months ago to promote more ideological diversity on university campuses. What it shows is unsurprising: over the past few decades, university faculties have become almost entirely liberal. And this is for all university faculty. According to HA, humanities and social science faculty are closer to 95 percent liberal.

Why? Paul Krugman thinks it’s because conservatives went nuts starting in the 80s, so nobody with any intelligence and genuine curiosity wants to associate with them anymore. Michael Strain suggests that it might be because faculties actively discriminate against conservative job candidates. This argument has been going on forever, and there are a few basic points of view:

  • Undergrads, especially in the humanities, are mostly liberal, which means that PhD program fill up with liberals. Conservatives just aren’t interested in the liberal arts these days, so there are very few to choose from when it comes time to hire new faculty.
  • Being exposed to graduate work in the humanities converts a lot of people to liberalism.
  • Liberal arts departments consider conservative views inherently racist/sexist/etc. and are loath to hire anyone who promotes conservative views.

Needless to say, all of these interact with each other, and more than one may be right. But here’s what I don’t get: why the endless argument? These all seem like eminently testable hypotheses:

  • Are undergraduate liberal arts departments predominantly filled with liberal students?
  • Are conservatives not much interested in the liberal arts these days? Why?
  • How many conservatives apply to grad programs in the liberal arts? How many are accepted?
  • How much do views change while in grad school?
  • How many conservatives end up getting PhDs in the liberal arts?
  • Of those, how many get tenure-track jobs?

If, say, 95 percent of job candidates are liberal, then there’s probably no discrimination. Conservatives are being hired in proportion to their numbers. If conservatives generally don’t major in the liberal arts as undergrads, then probably PhD programs aren’t discriminating either. Etc. These all seem like fairly answerable questions.

Most likely, there’s a vicious circle involved. As the American right became more conservative while the liberals arts became (say) modestly more liberal, it would make sense if conservatives just didn’t feel like joining up. This naturally produced a more left-leaning liberal arts faculty, rinse and repeat. Eventually you end up at 95 percent.

But why guess? Can’t these questions at least be suggestively answered?

For what it’s worth, I agree that it’s a problem regardless of how it happened. It’s easy for liberals to see the conservative bubble when we talk about Fox News or talk radio, and we immediately understand why it’s bad: it makes people lazy and unwilling to question their basic beliefs. We don’t see this so clearly when it’s our own bubble, but we should. Bubbles are bubbles, and ours are no better than theirs.

And now to end on a griping note: I would be a lot more sympathetic to conservative complaints about the academy if they showed an equal concern about fields that lean heavily conservative (big business, the military, etc.). For some reason, though, that never seems to strike them as a problem. Why?

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate