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Question: Are professors liberal?

Monday, May 6, 2013 - 8:36 am

I’ve been looking at the question, “Are professors liberal?” for a long time now. This is a product of long-standing misguided assumptions and overdrawn conclusions about the politics on our college and university campuses where I have lived since I was 17.

This attack by Republicans on higher education started as elevated discourse in the 1980s, but Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum took it to the knuckle-dragging anti-intellectualism of the 1920s East Tennessee “monkey business” to discredit Obama for having spent “too long,” three years, at Harvard while Romney, himself, spent four years there. Enough already.

After reading every “study” both good and bad I could find, I’ve concluded an answer for the question I posed at the start. The answer is a little more than liberals would like to admit, but a lot less than conservatives would have us believe for political purposes.

Of course, political orientation is differentiated somewhat by academic disciplines. When I first set foot on a small Christian college in 1954, I was “told” not to major in business (my mother’s choice for me), but it’s the No. 1 choice in 2013, the choice of my oldest granddaughter.

Where are all those tenured radicals? They don’t exist in great numbers (maybe 5-8 percent), but they are usually the ones the media pick to present “whatever” in order to sell papers or to gain viewers.

My dropout rate at Ball State for 40 years was about 50 percent, and the ones who stuck it out described me on their evaluation of me and the course as a libertarian who came down on the left for most issues. But my critics called me a “liberal.” If I had been an economist in Ball State University’s department of economics, I would not have been the only libertarian, just the only non-conservative one. Is it by chance this economics department is 100 percent Republican?

Russ Pulliam, assistant editor of The Indianapolis Star, once spent a day with me on the Ball State University campus. I remember his claim that most conservative columnists were smarter than liberal ones. Regardless of his claim, the data will not support that claim for the professorate.

Finally, I admire the great effort by conservatives to raise money to educate young conservative minds, but very few of them end up as college profs. Why is that? Money? Yeah, money talks. In fact, our founders who lived into the next century — Jefferson, Washington, Rush and John Adams — were disillusioned that our country was so focused on “moneymaking, so capitalistic,” to use Gordon Woods’ words. “So vulgar.”

B. J. Paschal, Ph.D. is a retired Ball State University professor.