Conservatives often portray academia as a place teeming with the influence of liberalism. The all-powerful liberal professors, so the stereotype goes, indoctrinate students with Marxism and political correctness, while muscling conservatives out of the ivory tower, lest their hated views bring a diversity of opinion to campus.
But of course, like any caricature, it’s false. Matthew Woessner, a political scientist at Penn State in Harrisburg, has been researching what he calls the supposed “Plight of Conservatives in Higher Education,” and the new issue of Academe includes an article he wrote about his research.
His conclusions shouldn’t surprise anyone to the left of Rush Limbaugh. He writes in Academe that
I began to realize that Republicans and conservatives, while vastly outnumbered in academia, were, for the most part, successful, happy, and prosperous… Asked to consider what they would do if given the opportunity to “begin your career again,” 91 percent of Democratic faculty and 93 percent of Republican faculty answered that they would “definitely” or “probably” want to be a college professor. Similarly, few right-leaning students or administrators claimed to have been the victims of political mistreatment. Like their Democratic counterparts, most were satisfied with their experience in higher education.
What is a surprise is that Woessner is a full fledged conservative himself. He says he happily supported George W. Bush for president and thinks that Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas are great. So he’s the last person who would have any incentive to try to prove that academia is (to borrow a phrase) fair and balanced. And he writes that his research confirms what he’s seen personally in his career – he never experienced any ill-effects of being a conservative in higher ed, but he writes that “I simply assumed that I was the exception. I now realize that my story is not unique.”
His full research is more broad than this – he also looks at how students perceive and respond to their professors’ political leanings, and whether students of different political views are more likely to choose certain courses of study over others. I highly recommend you read the full article to get his entire argument. It’s a thoughtful treatment of a very important and timely subject.