effects of faculty ideology

In the debate about the alleged liberal bias of universities, some people say that it doesn’t make any difference if most professors are left-of-center, because most of their students soon become moderates or conservatives. In other words, professors’ political opinions have little impact.

Indeed, the impact of faculty can easily be exaggerated. Students form their own opinions, and to the extent that they are influenced by others, professors are by no means the most important guides. Peers, parents, clergy, and the mass media almost certainly have more impact. Nevertheless, longitudinal survey data show that the ideology of a given college’s faculty affects its students, even if we hold constant undergraduates’ attitudes when they enter.

The “political climate” of a college, measured in terms of average student opinions and average faculty opinions, has significant and consistent effects on individual undergraduates, influencing their likelihood of voting, their commitment to social activism, and their views on a wide range of contested current issues from the death penalty to taxation. The effects of faculty and peers are independent; the peer effects are considerably bigger. Sometimes, studies find that the peer effects completely negate the faculty effects. However, it may be that liberal students elect to attend certain colleges because their faculty have a reputation for being liberal. Then peer effects would reflect faculty effects.

Incidentally, having a liberal faculty is also associated with increases in students’ interests in the arts.

Pascarella and Terenzini find that “Participation in racial or cultural awareness workshops and enrollment in ethnic or women?s studies courses, for example, are both likely to nudge students’ political orientations toward the left side of the liberal-conservative political spectrum and increase their support for social activism.”

Students in private colleges and selective colleges are most likely to change their opinions in a liberal direction. (This finding is based on measures of attitudes toward a few policy issues.)

Source: Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini, How College Affects Students: Vol. 2, A Third Decade of Research (Jossey-Bass), pp. 286, 294-5, 292 306, 294.

4 thoughts on “effects of faculty ideology

  1. Hellmut Lotz

    There is something in the academic enterprise that privileges a “liberal” mindset. Research and teaching are about raising questions. Its about keeping an open mind. Even when I listen to decidedly conservative scholars such as Harvey Mansfield or David Horowitz, they sound more liberal than their ideological counterparts in the mass media.

    Today’s politics of identity, of course, is less interested in reality. That in itself divorces many important political perspectives from the academy.

  2. Steven Maloney

    Hi Hellmut! I hope that you are doing well! I realy like your comment on academia and people like Mansfield being very different conservatives than what we see in the media. Then again, with the exception of a few people like Dr. Galston, the same thing could be said of the left as well.

    Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that the academy sees things with more precision than the comic book version of history and government that most of our civic education provides most of our students. (Which is incidentally a point that Dr. Glaston raised in a discussion on civic edcucation with Amy Gutman.) The academy is threatening, and likely always will be threatening to those who wish to exploit sort of generic truths about our politics and culture. In that way, I don’t think that there is anything “liberal” about this at all any more than there is something “liberal” about being against intelligent design.

    On a lot of things, I think of Mansfield as on “my side”. On intelligent design, even Charles Krauthammer is on “my side”. My grandfather’s friend who thinks that the UN is a world government and believes that the judiciary is the most powerful branch in the Federal government: he and I have very little ground between us that can even really be bridged.

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