Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Liberal US Academics Keep Their Politics to Themselves: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Liberal US Academics Keep Their Politics to Themselves: News

Article excerpt

Research reveals conservative fears of left-wing influence are unfounded. Matthew Reisz writes.

A sociologist has warned of "real dangers for the future of American higher education" in the widespread conservative perception that universities are "not just full of liberals, but promoting a liberal agenda".

Neil Gross, professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, first became interested in "the way that politics and academic life are interlaced" in 2005 when he was working at Harvard University at the time that Lawrence Summers, then president, stirred up intense controversy for reportedly suggesting that men outperformed women in science because of biological differences.

"I remember walking into a faculty meeting past throngs of reporters," he tells Times Higher Education, "and thinking it fairly remarkable that the outside world could be so interested in what, on some takes, were just academic matters."

Equally striking was "the campaign by conservative activist David Horowitz for ... an 'academic bill of rights' designed, in his view, to protect students from indoctrination".

These two episodes were among the main spurs that led Professor Gross to embark on the research leading to his new book, Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care? Although he concedes in the text that conservatives are "basically correct" in claiming that US universities are "a bastion of liberalism" in the sense that academics are "overwhelmingly Democrat", there are also "many fewer radicals in the academic ranks than some conservatives charge".

In investigating why the academy is left-leaning, Professor Gross made use of what is known as an "audit study", sending out fake emails to directors of graduate studies from potential students that mentioned that they had worked on either the Obama or McCain 2008 presidential election campaigns. …

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