The Ivory Tower

January 22, 2010 | NeW Staff

This week The New York Times featured an article on why professors “lean to the left” based on research by a Mr. Gross and Mr. Fosse. I found this article quite intriguing, as it offered an explanation for the phenomenon I had not yet encountered. The authors found that the professoriate may be subject to “typecasting,” like several other professions in current times. The article provides an example with the nursing profession which has also been typecast, which is evident by the dismal amount of men that are currently in the field (6%). Thus, nursing may be “gender typed,” whereas professors are “politically typed.”

The authors found that liberals and professors often share four traits, including: advanced degrees, a nonconservative religious theology, an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas, and a disparity between education and income. Harvard professor Louis Menand addresses the mismatched education levels and salary complements, and argues it was the product of progressive reformers in the late 19th century. According to the view of the early reformers, the only way to justify the compensation in academia was to offer academics valuable security. Consequently, the ability and privilege to hand pick colleagues and decide who receives tenure made up for the field’s modest salaries. Once this happened, academia experienced a snowball effect. 

While Mr. Gross and Mr. Fosse’s research is still waiting to be published, it may provide unprecedented quantitative evidence to a question that is often approached with anecdotal reports. 

As a graduate student, I often find that I am one of few conservatives on my campus. I have been fortunate in that I have had a great experience during my university years, and I hope that all students of diverse ideological backgrounds may continue to do so in the future. However, I feel that as the political climate polarizes individuals, students and faculty included, we may forget to listen to one another. The most rewarding part of academia is the exchange of ideas, and with this, the creation of a learning community. I have the utmost respect for colleagues who harbor different political views then me, and in turn, I ask for the same respect from them. Hostile classrooms that threaten to ostracize individuals who stand with minority opinions truly lose an imperative component of education: being exposed to concepts that are different and uncomfortable. The best part of my time in higher education has been the opportunity to be exposed to varying types of people, experiences and ideas. It is my hope that neither conservatives, liberals, nor other ideological groups will be blatantly discriminated against in an institution of higher learning.

Acceptance may be easier said then done for conservative students and faculty. Yet everyday offers the chance to increase understanding and tolerance in the classroom, and perhaps this is best approached one day at a time. What are your classrooms like? Do you feel like you must censor your opinions around others?
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