Research confirms that professors lean left, but questions assumptions about what this means for conservatives

When Betsy DeVos on Thursday accused liberal faculty members of trying to force their views on students, the new education secretary infuriated many professors — and won praise from some conservatives. Most faculty members who weighed in on social media denied the indoctrination and unfairness charges. While not disputing her assertion that they are more likely than others to be liberal, they said it was unfair to say that this meant they were indoctrinating anyone. Many conservatives who applauded DeVos said their personal experiences (or those of their children, nieces, nephews, etc.) showed she was correct.

For all the back-and-forth of traded anecdotes, there is research on these subjects — in peer-reviewed articles, books published by scholarly presses and so forth. And most of these studies reach a consensus.

Yes, professors lean left (although with some caveats). But much of the research says conservative students and faculty members are not only surviving but thriving in academe — free of indoctrination if not the periodic frustrations. Further, the research casts doubt on the idea that the ideological tilt of faculty members is because of discrimination. Notably, some of this research has been produced by conservative scholars.

DeVos is not the only one to raise the issue recently. A state senator in Iowa has introduced a bill to require that no professor or instructor be hired by a public university if his or her most recent party affiliation would “cause the percentage of the faculty belonging to one political party to exceed by 10 percent” the percentage of the faculty belonging to the other dominant party. The bill, like the DeVos speech, has angered many professors.

Are Professors More Liberal Than the Public at Large?

The most complete study of the politics of professors is 10 years old. The study is unusual among such research efforts in that it included community college faculty members (who are left out of many such analyses) and…

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