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.

Height and Romance

A few years ago when I was still single I had my good friend Michael Emerson spend the night with me. We went out to dinner and I regaled him with stories of my exciting adventures as a single man (that did not take very long). I also talked to him about surprising lessons I had learned. One of the biggest surprises was the advantage tall men gained due to their height. That was good for me since I am 6’-3” but it still surprised me since I did not see what the big deal was about being with a tall guy. Yet I had more than a few women, some of them quite tall, indicate that they would not date a man shorter than them and a smaller, but nontrivial, number of women indicating that the man they dated had to be several inches taller than she. Why height was so important to women just bedazzled me.

As I talked to Mike about this, it became clear that he did not have any answers to that question either. Then we both realized that we were social scientists and could actually design a research study that could satisfy our curiosity. Only nerds would think of such a study as fun but we are nerds. Since we both have tenure, we did not mind wasting some of our research time on a “fun” study. Well it was not a complete waste of time since the research comes out this month in the Journal of Family Issues. With research like this, maybe after I am done with sociology of religion, I will just become a relationship counselor.

We used some of my old data from online personal advertisements, which I collected when investigating issues of interracial dating, and collected data from open-ended questions sent to students at a public university. The advertisements provided a quantitative context for the qualitative findings from the open-ended questions. Whenever possible I prefer using mixed methods to gain a holistic perspective on the particular research question to be studied.

Some of our findings fit with previous research on height and heterosexual attraction. First, height is more important to women than it is to men. In the dating world one is better off being a tall woman than a short man. Second, the taller a woman is, the more open she is to dating someone shorter or only as tall as she and the shorter a man is the more open he is to dating someone taller or as short as he. This makes sense given that a tall woman and a short man eliminates more potential dating partners if they see someone who is respectively several inches taller/shorter than her/him. Finally, the height preference reflected height disparities between men and women. The average height desired by the women was not very different from the average height of men. The same is true for the average height desired by men.

Much of those results can be found in previous work, but what I liked about what we did was that we asked the respondents in the short answer questions why they had their height preferences. Here is where the results got interesting. For example, although we know that men prefer shorter women and women prefer taller men, it is interesting to consider if a woman can be too short or a man too tall. The answer is yes, although rejection of tall men and short women did not happen nearly as often as rejection of short men and tall women. When men indicated a floor to their height preference or women indicated a ceiling, it was generally because they envisioned physical, and possible sexual, difficulties with that partner. For them it was simply a practical concern.

But of course it was more common for males to have a height ceiling than a floor. While their height preferences were not as strong as females’ height preferences, it did exist. The most popular reason men gave for wanting a woman to not be too tall was societal expectations. They seem to want to escape the stigma of having a woman who towered over them. I suspect that if men did not feel this social pressure then more men would be willing to date taller women.

Why is it that women preferred taller men? What we found was that this preference was shaped by the height of the women. Women of different heights preferred taller men, but they did so for different reasons. For taller women they talked about wanting to have a man tall enough so that they could wear heels. They also sometimes talked about wanting to feel smaller than the man. This made them feel more feminine. For shorter women they talked more about feeling secure and protected if they were with a tall man.

My interpretation is that both tall and short women were findings ways to express traditional gender values given their height. For the tall woman she may feel less vulnerable to being physically attacked. In fact her height may give her physical confidence but rob her of confidence to be feminine. Wearing high heels can help her feel more feminine. Yet wearing these heels may only accomplish this if she is with a man who is tall enough to allow her to still be shorter than him. Thus, having a tall man helps her to fit into the traditional feminine role she has learned in our society. On the other hand, a short woman may fit into the role of a woman needing a man to protect her quite easily. Her lack of height can help her feel more physically vulnerable and thus she can look to a man for protection.

Even though I am tall, I do not think I am better able to protect a woman than a short man. A gun is a great equalizer in physical confrontation. Yet whether a tall man can actually protect a woman better, and thus fit into that traditional gender role, is not really that important. Short women believe that a tall man offers better protection and that is enough to make a taller man more attractive. The advantage of a tall man to a tall woman is clearer in a society where a man is supposed to be taller than a woman, even one in high heels. Social critics have pointed out that wearing high heels makes women more physically vulnerable and plays into a traditional patriarchal mindset of women being helpless. The need to have a vision of the man being taller than the women says something about societal patriarchy in that men must be seen as being stronger than women. We even had some women state that they prefer taller men simply because they envision the man as the leader of the relationship. Others talked about wanting to look up into a man’s eyes. Thus, in many ways, traditional gender roles play themselves out in these height preferences.

Of course, Mike and I have barely touched the surface of physical preferences in the context of our current society. This is not a major research topic for either one of us. Speaking for myself, I have other projects I see as more important than issues of physical attraction. But even the research question of physical attraction can offer us insight into gender dynamics in the United States and hopefully someone will be able to build on the work Mike and I did for “fun.”

Why Did Grant Walk?

It has been a long time since I have watched any award shows. To be honest they are just boring to me. I can just read who won what the next day and I am fine. So I guess I had no idea about the quality of entertainment that occurs at these shows. Or according to the actions of Natalie Grant, I had no idea of the lack of quality in that entertainment.

Grant is a gospel singer nominated for 2 Grammy awards. After attending the ceremony last week, she left as she did not want to expose herself to the “entertainment” that was presented. According to reports, there were several candidates for being the type of entertainment that may turn off a Christian woman. Beyonce seem eager to reveal her rump to the world. Katy Perry decided that a simulated burning at the stake of a witch was entertaining. We have a mass wedding ceremony including same-sex couples. And then there was a song about a guy just hoping to get lucky. It is feasible that any one of these “performances” was the one that put it over the top for Grant and convinced her to call it a night.

Her exit has evidently led to hate mail being sent to Grant. In response to that hate mail she replied: “We left the Grammy’s early. I’ve had many thoughts, most of which are probably better left inside my head…I’ve never been more honored to sing about Jesus and for Jesus. And I’ve never been more sure of the path I’ve chosen.” Thus, ultimately we do not know why she chose to leave the event. It is possible that some are angry that she may have left due to the mass wedding, but since Grant has decided to keep that information to herself, they are only speculating. Yet, even if that is the reason she left, we should respect her right to not watch something with which she is uncomfortable, and yes perhaps even disagrees with. Has the new politically correct standard become that individuals must attend same-sex weddings? Seems to violate the assertion that allowing same-sex marriages comes with no costs to those who do not agree with them.

But I do not want to focus on that issue since we do not know why Grant decided to leave the ceremony. Rather I am more interested in the Katy Perry act. From what I have been told Perry took the stage as a witch and after some singing and dancing was “burned at the stake.” What!!!! How did this get approved by whoever decides what goes on the stage? I am not blaming Perry. I get it. She grew up a Christian and now she hates Christians. Maybe it is daddy issues. I leave that between her, her family and God. But there had to be more mature individuals involved in the planning of the program who would see the offensive nature of this act.

I know one of the critiques is that art is supposed to push the limitations. Art is about being cutting edge and challenging the status quo. If you do that then sometimes you are going to be offensive. Let us test that little argument. Instead of simulated burning a witch at the stake how about a performance where we reenact someone machine gunning down a group of Palestinians. Do we think that Jewish performers in the audience would have the right to be offended and walk out? Or perhaps we can have an act simulating a terrorist cutting the head off of a captive. Would a Muslim singer be in the right to be disgusted and to walk out of the award show? Putting issues in this perspective allows us to see why a Christian singer has a right to be offended by an act based on Christians murdering accused witches.

Furthermore, do we seriously think that any performer would do one of these latter two acts no matter how badly he or she wants to be cutting edge? I may be wrong. Perhaps there are media acts in the United States that are as rude to Jews, Muslims, the nonreligious, Buddhists, etc as this one is to Christians. I am open to being proven wrong in my assertion of the exceptional nature of offending Christians as opposed to other religious groups if someone can post some links illustrating my error. So ironically, the Perry act is not all that much of a cutting edge act after all. Does it really take much bravery to blast Christianity in Hollywood?

Someone helping to run the Grammys should have anticipated just how offensive Perry’s act would be, but they failed to do so. We can speculate why they were unable to foresee the insulting nature of this act. The organizers of the Grammys likely have few friends who are Christians or who at least take their Christianity seriously. So they had no one to give them some perspective of why such a performance would be insulting. I found it interesting that many of Grant’s critics automatically assumed that the mass wedding motivated her to leave. When I heard of all of the acts I immediately assumed that it was the witch burning that convinced her to go. I suspect that most of her critics also do not have Christian friends to give them perspective on why that act would be so offensive. I know from my research concerning interracial contact that not having friends from different groups can contribute to a level of ignorance and insensitivity towards members of those groups.

Another reason why the organizers of the Grammys did not foresee how offensive this act is concerns the general propensity of some individuals to dehumanize Christians. I recently finished up a blog series based on my latest book Dehumanizing Christians. The focus of that book was to indicate that ethnocentrism by certain groups of non-Christians lead to similar characteristics tied to previous theories of authoritarianism. I am doing other research investigating a more generalized examination of anti-Christian animosity. Needless to say anti-Christian hostility is an explanation that is underused by academics to explore social events. But it seems very viable that animosity towards Christians explains why the producers okayed an anti-Christian act that I do not think they would have okayed if it was as potentially offensive to members of other religions.

At the end of the day, having distasteful acts at the Grammy awards is not even close to being one of the more important problems in our society. I suspect that such performances will decrease the number of viewers of award shows over the next few years, but that will not be the end of the world. However, these episodes do provide insight into certain social dynamics occurring in the United States. So deconstructing these events provides us more insight into the religious atmosphere in our society.

Let’s Boycott – Not

About a week ago I decided to pick up a little lunch. I was trying to avoid red meat so I decided to go to Chick-Fil-A. However, the drive-through line nearly circled the store. I did not feel like going into the restaurant so I went to a close by WhataBurger and ordered a grilled chicken salad. But I really wanted that chicken sandwich so while I was in line at the WhataBurger I began to think about the boycott. You remember the boycott. The one launched against Chick-Fil-A because of their support for traditional marriage. That boycott certainly was not working given the number of people waiting to place their order. Chick-Fil-A is not going out of business any time soon.

The boycott against Chick-Fil-A has worked about as well as the boycott against Starbucks. Starbucks was supposed to feel the wrath of Christian conservatives due to their support of same-sex marriage. Ever see an empty Starbucks? I probably have but it has been a long time. The boycott against them seems to have no effect whatsoever. It probably helps some conservatives to feel good and they can console themselves with the fact that none of their money is going to be used by the leaders of Starbucks to support causes they oppose. However, it is clear that Starbucks is not feeling pressure to alter their political advocacy. Like Chick-Fil-A they are not going out of business any time soon.

What can we learn from these failed boycotts? These failed boycotts indicate the degree of cultural division in our society. Generally speaking, boycotting an organization for supporting a culturally conservative cause is likely to fail since cultural conservatives are going to financially support that organization. The reverse is true when it comes to boycotting an organization that supports a culturally progressive cause. The exception to this is if an organization’s product especially caters to one group or the other. The show Duck Dynasty caters to individuals who tend to support culturally conservative causes. Thus when GLAAD fought against those cultural conservatives over the Duck Dynasty controversy, there is no question who the producers at A & E needed to keep the successful show going. There are limited times where a boycott can work but if the opponents of those doing the boycotting can support the business being boycotted, then a boycott is doomed to fail.

My observation about boycotts has important implications about our society. There is often talk about a culture war. It is a war fought not only about cultural political issues but also over lifestyles and theological presuppositions. It seems that both sides in this war are of roughly equal strength. Thus, both sides of the war are strong enough to protect businesses supporting their causes. Since cultural conservatives and cultural progressives are of equal strength, they view each other as threats that must be stopped. This helps to explain the degree of vitriol we often pick up between cultural conservatives and cultural progressives. Those of us who perceive ourselves in neither camp have to watch them attack each other and this type of hostile attitude is not going away in the near future. Lucky us.

Over the last few years I have done quite a bit of work documenting the type of bias and intolerance found within cultural progressives. There is a lot of previous work documenting these qualities within cultural conservatives. Both sides believe that they are locked in a war they must win. Cultural conservatives believe that if they do not win then society will fall into the hands of immoral secularists who will end the traditional social structures that have sustained us. Cultural progressives believe that if they do not win then society will become a theology that oppresses all non-Christians. This reminds me of work on religious terrorists by Juergensmeyer who pointed out that those terrorists feel that they are in a cosmic war that they dare not lose. They feel free to engage in terrorism as they are desperate to win their social struggles. Neither cultural progressives nor cultural conservatives are terrorists, but both are desperate to win their social struggles and they are not only willing to avoid a Chick-Fil-A sandwich or a caffe latte but also will try to stigmatize those who do eat or drink those products. But, as I have pointed out, the energy on the other side of the struggle prevents those boycotts from succeeding.

The deep concern of those on both sides of the cultural war is creating an interesting phenomenon. We are becoming a society not only divided by the traditional cultural/political issues, and our lifestyles but also by the very products we purchase. As I looked at that car line at Chick-Fil-A, I could not help thinking that those in the line were likely to be cultural conservatives. When I look at a Starbucks I tend to think that those customers are probably cultural progressives. Since I buy at both Chick-Fil-A and Starbucks, obviously I am an example that such assumptions are not always correct. But I do fear that we are becoming a society that culturally divides itself in every way possible. That divide is not just on the overt cultural elements such as media consumption, religious tradition, entertainment choices but even in our most basic decisions such as where we purchase our food and drink. If we link a division with even more basic ways about how we divide ourselves such as where we live (cultural progressives tend to live in big cities while cultural conservatives tend to live in small towns and certain suburbs) then we can gain more of an appreciation of just how much our society is segmented.


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