Up the Academy

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

In-house audits that Academia inflicts upon itself invariably give the Ivory Tower a clean bill of health but a recent study at least attempts to scratch beneath the surface. “Our analysis of 38 private colleges and 6,807 student respondents indicates that, consistent with a number of previous studies, faculty members are predominantly liberal and Democratic,” Mack D. Mariani and Gordon J. Hewitt write in the October 2008 issue of P. S.: Political Science and Politics, a monthly journal. “We find little evidence, however, that faculty ideology is associated with changes in students’ ideological orientation.”

“The students at colleges with more liberal faculties were not statistically more likely to move to the left than students at other institutions.” Therein lies the rub for it poses the question of just how left-of-center those students are and, of course, those institutions themselves.

This was a line of inquiry that Mariani and Hewitt were unable to pursue. Moreover, it also leaves unexamined another key trend, namely, what is actually taught.

Mariani, who teaches at Xavier, and Hewitt, an assistant dean at Hamilton College, admit as much in their article. “Of course, this finding does not necessarily mean that professors act fairly or without ideological bias in their teaching, subject matter, or selection of reading materials,” they write. “Professors could, after all, be failing to indoctrinate students despite their concerted efforts to do so!”

“Regardless of any biases (intentional or unintentional) that professors bring to their teaching, the findings presented here may help alleviate the concern that students, on a widespread basis, are adopting the political positions of their liberal professors.” Then again, maybe not, particularly given the claim the scholars make in the very next paragraph.

“The indoctrination argument is, in large part, about what goes on in the classroom,” Mariani and Hewitt write. “But what goes on in the classroom is affected by the broader campus culture and vice versa.”

“Thus, the overall faculty ideology of the institution is likely to influence all students in some way.” It should be noted that Mariani himself gets raves from his students on ratemyprofessor.com.

Hewitt, the assistant dean of the faculty for institutional research at Hamilton, is an administrator and, thus, not listed on the site. Mariani and Hewitt looked at what happened to students’ political views from the time that they arrived on campus until the year that they picked up their degrees.

“In all, 27 % moved to the left and 16% moved to the right,” they found. PS, the publication in which their research appeared, is published by the American Political Science Association.

“By the time these students graduated, their orientation had moved to the left and liberal/Far Left Students outnumbered conservative/Far Right students by more than 8 %,” they write of their subjects. “While the net change of more than 10 % toward the left seems like a significant swing, this can be put in the context of the more left-of-center political orientation of 18-24-year-olds in the general population.”

They don’t mention that more than half of that age-bracket attends college. “Based on these findings we can tell that women move more to the left while in college than men, and that as a student’s family income becomes higher, change in political orientation moves to the right.”

Women’s Studies professors everywhere might breathe a sigh of relief but the riches=right wing politics theory does not explain Obama’s angels.

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