By James Barrett
It’s no secret that the majority of the faculty at our colleges and universities lean heavily to the left and generally support the Democratic Party’s agenda, and study after study over the last few decades has shown that ideological and political imbalance to be growing increasingly more dramatic. A new study has produced perhaps the most eye-opening findings yet.
An extensive study of 8,688 tenure-track professors at 51 of the 66 top-ranked liberal arts colleges in the U.S. published by the National Association of Scholars found that the ratio of faculty members registered as Democrats compared to those registered Republican is now a stunning 10.4 to 1. If two military colleges that are technically described as “liberal arts colleges” are removed from the calculations, the ratio is 12.7 to 1.
The researcher, Mitchell Langbert, Associate Professor of Business at Brooklyn College, found that nearly 40% of the colleges in the study had zero faculty members who were registered Republican. Not a single one. Nearly 80% of the 51 colleges had so few Republican faculty members that they were statistically insignificant.
Here’s how Langbert leads into his study of what he describes as the “troubling” political homogeneity of faculty at our leading liberal arts colleges:
In this article I offer new evidence about something readers of Academic Questions already know: The political registration of full-time, Ph.D.-holding professors in top-tier liberal arts colleges is overwhelmingly Democratic. Indeed, faculty political affiliations at 39 percent of the colleges in my sample are Republican free—having zero Republicans. The political registration in most of the remaining 61 percent, with a few important exceptions, is slightly more than zero percent but nevertheless absurdly skewed against Republican affiliation and in favor of Democratic affiliation. Thus, 78.2 percent of the academic departments in my sample have either zero Republicans, or so few as to make no difference.
My sample of 8,688 tenure track, Ph.D.–holding professors from fifty-one of the sixty-six top ranked liberal arts colleges in the U.S. News 2017 report consists of 5,197, or 59.8 percent, who are registered either Republican or Democrat. The mean Democratic-to-Republican ratio (D:R) across the sample is 10.4:1, but because of an anomaly in the definition of what constitutes a liberal arts college in the U.S. News survey, I include two military colleges, West Point and Annapolis. If these are excluded, the D:R ratio is a whopping 12.7:1.
When Langbert broke down the political affiliations by field, he found some clear and rather unsurprising trends: by far the highest imbalance is found in the more ideological fields, in particular the social sciences and humanities:
The STEM subjects, such as chemistry, economics, mathematics, and physics, have lower D:R ratios than the social sciences and humanities. The highest D:R ratio of all is for the most ideological field: interdisciplinary studies. I could not find a single Republican with an exclusive appointment to fields like gender studies, Africana studies, and peace studies. As Fabio Rojas describes with respect to Africana or Black studies, these fields had their roots in ideologically motivated political movements that crystallized in the 1960s and 1970s.
Langbert found the following ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the key academic fields (ordered from most biased to most balanced):
So how did we get here? Langbert notes that this trend toward an increasingly uniformly left-leaning faculty has spanned decades, both in the United States and Britain. “More than a decade ago, Stanley Rothman and colleagues provided evidence that while 39 percent of the professoriate on average described itself as Left in 1984, 72 percent did so in 1999,” Langbert writes. “They find a national average D:R ratio of 4.5:1.7 More recently, Anthony J. Quain, Daniel B. Klein, and I find D:R ratios of 11.5:1 in the social science departments of highly ranked national universities.”
Langbert’s findings show that the ratio is now almost 13:1 if the military colleges, which probably shouldn’t be categorized as liberal arts, are excluded from the equation. Langbert offers some examples of why this disturbingly homogeneous faculty is so problematic in academia (footnotes removed):
Political homogeneity is problematic because it biases research and teaching and reduces academic credibility. In a recent book on social psychology, The Politics of Social Psychology edited by Jarret T. Crawford and Lee Jussim, Mark J. Brandt and Anna Katarina Spälti, show that because of left-wing bias, psychologists are far more likely to study the character and evolution of individuals on the Right than individuals on the Left. Inevitably affecting the quality of this research, though, George Yancey found that sociologists prefer not to work with fundamentalists, evangelicals, National Rifle Association members, and Republicans. Even though more Americans are conservative than liberal, academic psychologists’ biases cause them to believe that conservatism is deviant. In the study of gender, Charlotta Stern finds that the ideological presumptions in sociology prevent any but the no-differences-between-genders assumptions of left-leaning sociologists from making serious research inroads. So pervasive is the lack of balance in academia that more than 1,000 professors and graduate students have started Heterodox Academy, an organization committed to increasing “viewpoint diversity” in higher education. The end result is that objective science becomes problematic, and where research is problematic, teaching is more so.
In his explanation of his methods for conducting the study, Langbert notes that he found that 23.4% of tenure-track professors from the 51 colleges were unregistered with either the Democratic or Republican parties. He explains that he did not try to deduce their political leanings because it is “not possible to accurately measure” the political affiliations of those who list themselves as independent or unaffiliated. Citing a 2014 Gallup study that found that an equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans believe a third party is needed, Langbert reasons that there “seems little reason to believe that one party or ideology is more strongly associated with non-affiliation.”