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  • Student Survey Exposes Conservative Faculty Discrimination

    5/14/2013 12:24:30 PM Posted by Adam Tragone
    Cal State sealBy Nate Honeycutt

    The discrepancy in the numbers of liberal and conservative faculty in higher education meets the legal requirements for assuming discrimination (Teamsters v. United States, 1977). Though this discrepancy fits the typical stereotype of university culture, relatively little is known about why it occurs.


    Many theories have been posed in an attempt to identify why the imbalance in ideology exists in higher education. Some say that it's because of self-selection-that teaching, educating, and other elements of being a faculty member at a university is not a career that appeals to conservatives.

    Others align with the notion that "birds of a feather flock together"-that people are attracted to organizations made up of "people like me" (Schneider, Goldstein, & Smith, 1995).

    A third more disturbing perspective claims the presence of outright discrimination. Inbar and Lammers (2012) reported that among liberal personality and social psychologists in their national sample, "More than one in three would discriminate against [conservatives] when making hiring decisions" (p. 501).

    Over the past seven months I have been investigating this, asking university faculty across all academic disciplines at four California State Universities (San Luis Obispo, Monterey Bay, Stanislaus, & Humboldt) about their own ideology, their experience of hostility, and their willingness to discriminate against others opposite them in ideology.

    Of the nearly 700 faculty members that responded, 70.4 percent identified themselves as liberal, 15.3 percent as moderate, and 14.3 percent as conservative, or about a 5:1 liberal to conservative ratio.

    The results continue to be quite staggering: 

    • On perception of hostility within their field, conservatives reported nearly double the amount of hostility experienced by liberals and moderates.
    • On inability to express views, conservatives reported that they are nearly two times more likely than liberals and moderates to withhold expression.
    • On discrimination, conservatives reported that they experience almost double the discrimination within their fields reported by liberal and moderates.

    If given two equally qualified candidates hypothetically applying for a job in their department:

    • Liberals were significantly more likely-about two times more likely-to hire a liberal over a conservative.
    • Conservatives were significantly more likely-about two times more likely-to hire a conservative over a liberal.

    Looking at the liberal and conservative groups in a big-picture perspective, one in three of the liberal participants indicated that they would be somewhat to very much inclined to discriminate against a conservative in a hiring decision, while a little under one in three conservatives indicated they would be somewhat to very much inclined to discriminate against a liberal in a hiring decision. 

    These revelations are appalling. Universities should be a marketplace of a variety of ideas, perspectives, and beliefs-not a stronghold for one-sided public policy perspectives. But the results of this study clearly demonstrate that dissenting voices do not have equal standing on campus.

    Without input from conservative colleagues, it is possible for scholars, particularly in the social sciences, to overlook meaningful research questions or even misinterpret their results (Haidt, 2011).

    Either group, if in the majority, is likely to hire "birds of a feather," so discrimination on the basis of politics is not a one-way street. However, given the overwhelming majority of liberals in the faculty, and the unwillingness of conservatives to "out themselves" by expressing their opinions, it is likely that the number of conservatives will continue to shrink in the future.

    Nate Honeycutt is a third-year psychology major and YAF activist at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, where he serves as an elected representative in Cal Poly's student government.


    • Readers' Comments

    • Well written Nate, awesome research!
      Posted by Christian Pringle on 05/14/2013
    • Excellent piece, direct and to the point. Continue to carry the fight forward!!!
      Posted by Robert on 05/21/2013
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