Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Politics in Academia

The website Inside Higher Ed reports the results of a new survey of political attitudes among faculty in American higher education. The survey finds that university faculty members are not only more “left-leaning” than the population in general, but that the professoriate is moving further to the left. According to the data presented in the report, in 2007-8, 8.8 % of those teaching at colleges and universities identified as “far left,” but this went up to 12.4% in 2010-2011. Among those at private universities, 16.2% classified themselves as “far left” in the latter year. The percentage of faculty members who identified as “liberal” grew from 47.0 % to 50.3%.
I’ve expressed previously my skepticism about the “left-right” approach to thinking about politics and society. But I also think this approach creates its own reality. Those who categorize themselves as “left” or “right” often use that self-categorization as an easy way of deciding what they should think about difficult topics. This is especially true, I think, at the extremes, where self-identification with programmatic ideologies is strongest. So, these findings may represent a more serious problem than the mere fact that university professors differ from others in American society. While I would want more information on exactly how these self-descriptions predict opinions on specific issues, I strongly suspect that the classifications represent the intensification of political catechisms in institutions that should be devoted to free and open thought.

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