Grade Bias Study Bias

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Academics are finally starting to acknowledge that conservative students may be graded down for their beliefs but they are desperately trying to put a spin on the reasons for the inequity.

“To the extent that the ideologies of student and academic achievement are concordant, the student can be expected to receive higher grades than students in the same academic environment whose ideology is discordant with it,” according to a study published in the Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin. “In other words, grades may be in part a reflection of the ideological fit between students and their major.”

The study was published by the Society for Personality and Psychology. Three researchers from three universities worked on the study and they reveal their biases early on.

“Although few academic environments are openly committed to specific political ideologies, academic disciplines vary with regard to the kinds of sociopolitical messages they communicate to their students,” the researchers write. “For instance, as students become socialized into their respective fields, social science students are more likely to blame social problems such as poverty and unemployment as residing in the political system, whereas business students are more likely to blame the poor and unemployed themselves (Guimond & Palmer, 1990; see also Guimond, 1999; Guimond, Begin, & Palmer, 1989; Guimond & Palmer, 1996).”

“To the extent that certain political worldviews are dominant in different economic environments, it must be expected that the fit between an individual’s views and those prevalent in the academic field helps shape the individual’s performance in that field.”

What they miss is that conservatives’ gripe is not with the poor and unemployed but with the government programs that keep the indigent in that condition(Charles Murray, 1984; Robert Rector, 1990-2005). Markus Kemmelmeier of the University of Nevada authored the study with Cherry Danielson of Wabash College and Jay Basten of the University of Michigan.

“Although the term can assume a variety of different meanings, conservatism is most commonly associated with support for capitalism and general opposition to equality of individual outcomes (Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, & Sulloway, 2003; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999),” the authors write. “Social dominance theorists have demonstrated that conservatism is connected to numerous HE [Hierarchy Enhancing] beliefs, including racism.”

“Moreover, the association between conservatism and other HE beliefs is fully explained by social dominance orientation (e.g., Sidanius & Pratto, 1993; Sidanius, Pratto, & Bobo, 1996).”

Note the complete absence of the word freedom. As for equality of outcomes, conservatives would argue that societies that practice enforced egalitarianism do indeed achieve equal results, in the form of universal poverty, frequently accompanied by devastating famines (Ethiopia, 1985; Zimbabwe, 2005).

The authors even imply that conservative students, too, might get grade bumps in certain courses. Just as liberals thrive and conservatives are at a disadvantage in the social sciences, the writers indicate, so too, the situation is reversed in business and economic classes.

“But even if grades are assigned without bias and reflect the quality of students’ academic work, biases might be more subtle,” Kemmelmeier and associates warn. “Instructors might perhaps inadvertently treat conservative and liberal students differently by creating a classroom climate that is more encouraging of the former than the latter group and indirectly encourage better performance (e.g., Harris & Rosenthal, 1985).”

“Likewise, teaching methods and classroom structure might be more amenable to conservative than liberal students, for example, by emphasizing competition over cooperation (cf. Kelley & Stahelski, 1970; Kuhlman & Marshello, 1975).”

Please note the use of the weasel words like “might” and the antiquity of the last studies cited. And, comparing material covered in Business and Economics classes with principles transmitted in the remainder of social science classes is a risky proposition.

For openers, assuming that disciples of Milton Friedman dominate business schools and economics departments is an assumption not borne out by most studies (Daniel Klein, 2005, American Enterprise Institute, 2005). Finally, it is hard to match up lectures on profit and loss with classes on social dominance: The former involve bottom-line numbers, the latter revolve around bottomless word play.

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.