University of Akron Professors John F. Zipp (professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology) and Rudy Fenwick (associate professor of Sociology and Chair of the University of Akron Faculty Senate), have just released a new study examining the question of the "political bias" of faculty in higher education. The study, published in Public Opinion Quarterly, is entitled Is the Academy a Liberal Hegemony? The Political Orientations and Educational Values of Professors. We recently got to a chance to ask professors Zipp and Fenwick about the study.
Interview with Professors Zipp and Fenwick
FE: Thanks for taking some time to talk about your recent project. Can you tell us a little bit about what you set out to examine with your research and why you decided to take on this project?
JZ and RF: There were a series of events in late 2004 and early 2005 that led us to pursue this research. It started with George Will's op-ed piece in November 2004, Academia, Stuck to the Left, claiming that faculty were this liberal monolith threatening traditional academic freedom in American higher education by imposing their view on colleagues and students. A few days after Will's piece appeared our university president mentioned it to an arts and science faculty meeting as one of many attacks on higher education. After that meeting we were talking about Will's piece and how, in our many years in higher ed, we had not experienced anything close to a liberal monolith- and we're in sociology, supposedly one of the most liberal outposts of academe!
We remembered that in the 1990s two sociologists (Richard Hamilton and Lowell Hargens) published an article that used Carnegie Institute surveys on faculty attitudes/values and found that between the late 1960s and the 1980s faculty had actually become less, not more, liberal. Because their article was published in 1993, the last Carnegie survey they examined was 1984. We also knew that there were more recent Carnegie surveys- in 1989, 1993, and 1997. So, we realized that we could use these more recent surveys to address the claims of conservative commentators.
What added urgency to this project was the introduction of a version of David Horowitz's "Academic Bill of Rights" in the Ohio State Legislature in early 2005. When we looked at the preliminary results of the Carnegie data that supported our suspicions that faculty were not overwhelmingly liberal, we knew we had to get these results out, not just to get a publication, but to inform public- and hopefully legislative- opinion on this issue. We published the preliminary results in an op-ed piece in the Dayton Daily News ("College Incorporated," 2/14/05) and made them available through the Ohio Faculty Council (an organization of Faculty Senate representatives from all Ohio public universities) and selected legislators. We would like to think that we had some small effect on the outcome, since the legislation was withdrawn in favor of an agreement between the legislature and state universities to "monitor" the situation through existing university policies. Although this allowed Horowitz to claim "victory," it did not impose direct state oversight, nor force changes to existing university policies.
FE: What were the basic findings of your research?
JZ and RF: We have several key findings:
(1) although liberal faculty outnumber conservatives (2.3 to 2.6 to 1 in the most recent data), between 1989 and 1997, there was increased movement to the center among faculty;
(2) there are considerable differences in the relative liberalism of faculty across disciplines and institutional types, with conservatives being the plurality in some fields (e.g., business, vocational fields) and in two-year colleges;
(3) younger cohorts of faculty tend to be more centrist and conservative than older cohorts, while women tend to be more liberal than men, trends that could have countervailing impacts over time; and
(4) there are significant differences in educational values between liberal and conservative faculty, with conservatives being more interested in preparing students for careers and in shaping their values and less interested in teaching creative thinking or an appreciation of literature and the arts, and less supportive of tenure and the free exchange of ideas in the classroom.
For the rest of the interview, go to Free Exchange on Campus.