Liberal ‘Groupthink’ Puts Professors at Odds With Most Americans, Report Says

A report released on Wednesday on the political views of faculty members accuses professors of liberal “groupthink,” a stance that the report says puts them at odds with the beliefs of most Americans on national and international issues.

The report, by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, was based on an online, nationally representative survey of 1,259 professors at four-year colleges and universities in the spring of 2005. It found that, in general, professors are critical of American business and foreign policy and are skeptical of capitalism.

Among other findings, the report, “A Profile of American College Faculty: Volume 1: Political Beliefs & Behavior,” says that:

* Professors are three times as likely to call themselves “liberal” as “conservative.” In the 2004 presidential election, 72 percent of those surveyed voted for John Kerry.

* Almost one-third of professors cite the United States as among the top two greatest threats to international stability — more than cited Iran, China, or Iraq.

* Fifty-four percent of professors say U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is partially responsible for the growth of Islamic militancy.

* Sixty-four percent say the government’s powers under the USA Patriot Act should be weakened.

Professors, says the report, are at the “forefront of the political divide” over U.S. foreign policy that has developed since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Faculty members have “aligned themselves in direct opposition to the political philosophy of the conservative base voting for the prevailing political power” in America, it says. Unlike most Americans, it adds, faculty members “blame America for world problems” and regard U.S. policies as “suspect.”

The report labels the faculty’s overall stance as liberal “groupthink,” and says it is dangerous because faculty members “are supposed to provide a broad range of … approaches to addressing problems in American society and around the world.” Professors are role models for students and frequently are called upon to act as “pundits” by the media and as experts on foreign policy, it adds.

The group joins other critics — including conservative activist David Horowitz and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni — that have alleged that academe fosters a left-wing political bias. But the new report says the solution is not for universities to hire more conservative professors.

“The fact that there are more liberals than conservatives on campus is not the key issue,” Gary A. Tobin, president of the institute, said during a teleconference on Wednesday. “We argue that were the political ideology reversed — that three of every four identified themselves as conservatives rather than liberals — the problem would be exactly the same. The presence of a dominant ideology has the potential to interfere with unbiased, honest, and creative scholarship and teaching.”

But Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, says that regardless of their political stance, most professors are reluctant to make their views known on campus.

“What faculty think and what they’re willing to express in front of their students are two very different things,” said Mr. Nelson, a professor of liberal arts and sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign. “Many of my colleagues over the years take real pride in knowing that their political opinions are invisible to their students. I don’t. I put it all out there and encourage students to disagree.”

The Institute for Jewish & Community Research is a nonprofit think tank that performs research on a broad range of issues, including racial and religious identity, philanthropy, and higher education. It plans to release two additional reports based on the survey. One will cover the religious identity and behavior of college faculty members, and the other will gauge professors’ attitudes toward the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy.

All told, Mr. Tobin called the survey “the most comprehensive look at the beliefs and ideology of faculty
ever compiled.”

Copyright © 2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education