Neil Gross Delves into Why Academicians Lie Left of Center

By Hu, Helen | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, November 7, 2013 | Go to article overview

Neil Gross Delves into Why Academicians Lie Left of Center


Hu, Helen, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Higher education is full of liberals because liberals are brighter. Conservatives just want jobs that make money, and it's the idealistic liberals who want to become professors.

Academics hire other academics who are like themselves-liberal. According to Neff Gross, an expatriate sociology professor at the University of British Columbia and author of Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?, these "standard explanations" for academia's liberal bend may have some value. However, Gross says that data show liberals' level of intelligence, values and social class aren't such key factors in why they enter academia.

It's more that they see higher education as a good fit career-wise, says Gross, who has held posts at the University of Southern California and Harvard University. Academia has become typecast as a liberal, secular occupation, he explains. Conservatives see higher ed as "foreign territory" and are less likely to go to graduate school, a necessary step for becoming a professor.

Gross acknowledges that whatever the explanation, universities' predominance of liberals can be self-perpetuating and have a polarizing effect on society.

In Why Are Professors Liberal, an appealing blend of sociology, history and politics, Gross says surveys show most professors are, in fact, left of center, but few are radicals. Many more are moderate, just left of center or "progressive."

Gross finds little evidence of discrimination against hiring and promoting conservatives, but acknowledges the potential for bias is there.

In a claim that could raise eyebrows, Gross says bright conservatives may go into other professions, and the ones with less "intellectual capacity" enter academia and are less likely to rise in the ranks.

Apart from conducting surveys, Gross and his assistants interviewed professors, activists, journalists and others for this book. Their thoughts and anecdotes are among the most readable parts.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

One professor, who says he's more radical than most and teaches Marx and radical political economy, has drawn complaints from parents about brainwashing. But he says he's doing nothing wrong.

The role of higher education is "to expose people to different things--not what they're used to," says the professor.

A microbiology professor says he's liberal but agrees with conservatives on some things.

"I became very troubled by the perspective that all of the enemies of the United States are good people, and everything that goes wrong is somehow our fault," he says.

The twists and turns of Gross' thinking as he sifts through evidence and seeks the story behind the story provide brainy entertainment.

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