Academic Bias? – Does it Affect Business Professors?

My previous book, Compromising Scholarship, documented the willingness of academics to engage in political and religious bias. One of the criticisms I have heard about that work is that occupational bias is not limited to social scientists, physical scientists and professors in the humanities. This is obviously true. I have never argued that social bias is only found among academics. My goal was to show that scholars who prided themselves on being inclusive may not be quite as inclusive as they portrayed themselves to be.

A corollary of the critique that bias is not limited to academics in the sciences and humanities is that we should expect to see social bias among other academics. Since there is research indicating that business professors are not as politically liberal as other academics, it seems likely that academics in the business fields exhibit bias against different groups than academics in the sciences and humanities. A difficulty of comparing the social biases of academics in the sciences and humanities to other professionals is that we rarely make apples to apples comparison. The same measures used to assess the strength of the social biases in other professional occupations have not been used to assess those biases in academia.

However, it is possible to compare academics in the sciences and humanities to those in the business fields. While finishing Compromising Scholarship I decided to send out a survey to accounting and marketing professors. The survey was the same one I used in my book. After the book came out I worked on that data a bit. Other research interests got my attention (Squirrel!!) and I did not have time to do the additional literature background needed for a fully developed academic paper. But given that we do not have other relevant empirical comparisons, I decided to go back to the data and see if those in the business fields have the same degree of willingness to discriminate against out-groups as academics in the sciences/humanities and if so then which groups they would discriminate against.

A quick recap of the research in Compromising Scholarship. I sent a survey out to academics labeled for addressing issues of collegiality to academics in nine disciplines. I included a question that asked how a scholar feels about a job candidate who came from a given social group. There were twenty seven groups for the scholars to assess on a seven-point likert scale. The groups were chosen to assess possible political (Democrats, Republicans, Green Party, Libertarians, Communist Party, ACLU, and NRA), sexuality (Heterosexual, Homosexual, Bisexual, Transgendered), religious (Atheist, Mormon, Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish), lifestyle (Vegetarian, Hunter), family status (Married, Divorced, Cohabitating, Single with Children) and age (Under 30, Over 50) dimensions of bias. Higher numbers on the scale indicate that membership in a given social group enhances the desirability of a hypothetical candidate while lower numbers indicate that membership damages desirability. If belonging to a social group neither enhances nor damages a candidate’s desirability then the respondent was allowed to respond with a “4.”

In my original research I found that academics in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities were willing to discriminate against fundamentalists, evangelicals, Mormons, NRA members and Republicans. The bias was stronger against religious out-groups than political out-groups and it varied by discipline. For example, 60 percent of anthropologists were less likely to hire a job candidate if they find out that the candidate is an evangelical. Respectively, I found that 38.8 percent of sociologists, 52.6 percent of English literature professors and 31.1 percent of chemists are less willing to hire a job candidate if they find out that the candidate is an evangelical. On the other hand, 32.3 percent of anthropologists, 28.7 percent of sociologists, 26.9 percent of English literature professors and 16.4 of chemists are less willing to hire a job candidate if they find out that the candidate is a Republican.

My survey to business professors produced a sample of 82 accounting respondents and 144 marketing respondents. I eliminated those who did not work on a college campus which left 63 accounting professors and 111 marketing professors. Like my other work, the response rate is lower than I would have liked, but I did similar methodological checks to make sure that the social demographics of my sample did not determine my results. While these particular findings have not undergone peer review, my original work was reviewed and my methodology is not significantly different.

Because of the contrasting social and political makeup of business professors, I expected that there would be different groups that they would be willing to discriminate against. I found that accounting professors did not reject political and religious conservatives but showed a willingness to reject members of the communist party (32.8% of them were less willing to hire them) and the transgendered (27.1% of them were less willing to hire them). Marketing academics are also likely less willing to hire members of the communist party (38.1% of them were less willing to hire them) and the transgendered (28% of them were less willing to hire them). Both marketing and accounting professors are less willing to hire members of the communist party more than any other group, and I suspect that this is the least popular of the 27 groups I asked about for members in the general business disciplines.

As I expected, there are distinct social groups more likely to be rejected by business professors than by professors in the physical sciences, social sciences and humanities. It should not come as a surprise that members of the communist party are not held in high esteem by business professors. The philosophy of communism is not exactly conducive to the profit-making goals of business. The resistance to the transgendered may represent a desire of business professionals to support traditional sexual norms. I did not document resistance to homosexuality or bisexuality but it may be that transgenderism is a bridge too far.

Critics are correct when they state that social bias is not limited to the academic disciplines investigated in Compromising Scholarship. Business academics seem to exhibit bias towards norms of traditional sexuality and rejection of economic radicalism. The idea that the same groups face negative biases in all sectors of academia is not supported by this study. However, there is no evidence of a positive bias within the business academics towards religious and political conservatives. Since political conservatives are more likely to be business academics than academics in the science and humanities, it may be that explanations of ethnocentrism or group interest are not useful for understanding academic bias. Yet it is possible that because the ratio of conservative to progressive academics in business disciplines is much less than the ratio of progressive to conservative academics in the sciences and humanities that political conservatives are not prominent enough in the business disciplines to create ethnocentric norms that generate positive bias for political conservatives.

Beyond understanding which groups business professors may reject, it is also important to speculate about whether there is a stronger or weaker propensity of business professors to reject out-group members relative to other academics. Among business professors only communist party members and the transgendered had percentages of respondents willing to reject them significantly higher than the general percentage of professors willing to reject other social groups. There were at least five social groups (fundamentalists, evangelicals, NRA members, Republicans, Mormons) who consistently had significantly lower scores when looking at these 27 groups with professors in the physical sciences, social sciences and humanities. Furthermore, the level of rejection of members of the communist party and the transgendered is distinctly lower than towards at least fundamentalists and evangelicals. A quick examination of my previous reporting of the percentage of professors in the various disciplines less willing to hire individuals from the noted groups demonstrates that business professors reject out-groups in much lower percentages than other professors. Another piece of evidence suggests that professors in the business fields are more open to hiring out-group members than those in the sciences. A significant minority of business professors did not favor or disfavor any of the groups by indicating that social group membership did not matter for all 27 groups. This would have been done by scoring a “4” for all 27 groups. As it concerns hiring a potential candidate, 40% of the accounting and 43.8% of the marketing professors indicated this. In my original work only 25 percent of the social scientists, 25.3 percent of the humanities scholars and 31.3 percent of the natural scientists stated that none of the social groups mattered as it pertains to hiring a candidate. Thus, business professors are more open to ignoring social group membership of all different types as it concerns hiring a potential job candidate than professors in the sciences and humanities.

It is quite possible that my listing of the 27 groups to test did not include groups that would be especially distressing for business professors. This oversight may create findings indicating that business professors are less open to hiring individuals with whom they disagree than other academics. I believe that I attempted to add a wide enough variety of social groups to irritate just about anyone. As I look over my listing I am hard pressed to think of what groups may be more hated by business professors than members of the communist party. However, my lack of imagination, rather than social reality, may contribute to the potential assertion that business professors are less likely to reject out-groups than other professors. Thus, I am hesitant to make such an assertion. What I do assert is that notions that professors in the business fields are more likely to participate in discrimination against social out-groups than those in other academic disciplines do not seem accurate. I am critical of assertions of greater tolerance within academic fields supposed to be more open minded than business disciplines.


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