Footnote 7 – Menand, The Marketplace of Ideas

Footnote 7 – Louis Menand, The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University  (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010), pp. 132-136, 154-155.

“The claim by conservatives that the academy is under the control of a left-wing professoriate is an old one, and studies since the fifties had tended to confirm the general suspicion that professors, as a group, are more liberal than the general public. In 1952, for example, social science professors voted for Adlai Stevenson over Dwight Eisenhower in the presidential election by a margin of 58 percent to 30 percent, even though Eisenhower (who, when he ran for office, was the president of Columbia University) won the election by almost 11 percentage points….

“In 2007, two sociologists working at Harvard and George Mason, Neil Gross and Solon Simons, conducted a national survey of the political views of the professoriate that observed all the protocols of scientific research and that has a good claim to being an accurate statistical picture of the 630,000 full-time professors, at every level of institution, from research universities to community colleges, in the United States at the time….The results of the survey are quite stunning.

“Gross and Simmons found that younger professors today tend to be more moderate in their political views than older professors, supporting the theory that the generation that entered the professoriate in the sixties was a spike on the chart ideologically. They also found, however, that the younger professors are more liberal in their social views. But the most important finding of the survey, they say, is that a large plurality of professors holds a center-left politics….

“What is striking about these results is not the finding that professors tend to be mainstream liberals.  It is the finding that they tend to be so overwhelmingly mainstream liberals. These are the data: [Table] … 44.1 percent of professors are liberal and 9.2 percent are conservative.  By contrast, in the public opinion poll closest to the time of the survey, the American public as a whole reported itself to be 23.3 percent liberal and 31.9 percent conservative.

“….It is unlikely that the opinions of the professoriate will ever be a true reflection of the opinions of the public; and, in any case, that would be in itself an unworthy goal.  Fostering a greater diversity of views within the professoriate is a worthy goal, however.  Professors tend increasingly to think alike because the profession is increasingly self-selected.  The university may not explicitly require conformity on more than scholarly matters, but the existing system implicitly demands and constructs it.”

Louis Menand is Ann T. and Robert M. Bass Professor English at Harvard University.  His book, The Metaphysical Club, wone the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for History. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 2001.   As with many of the quotations selected for inclusion (and sometimes commentary) on this blog, one should understand that there is often more nuanced discussion of the point at hand in the text preceding and following what is quoted here.  These are designed to steer interested readers to those discussions – that is all!

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