The Academic Reason Why There Are So Few Conservatives in Academia

It seems that about every six months or so I see an article like this one, arguing that the political or religious disparities in academia haves little to do with bias and much to do with self-selection. I get tired of such articles but expect more to come. There is nothing I can do to stop this nonsense. However I can supply an article that truly examines scholarship about academic bias so that these articles can be refuted.

Let’s set the table for this discussion. No one today disputes that we have extreme political and religious skew in academia. Individuals in academia are overwhelmingly politically progressive and nonreligious. The only real question is why. Many individuals, like the writer of this article, rely on a theory of self-selection. By this theory, the reason for the skew is that political and religious conservatives choose not to go into academia. Reasons given range from the notion that such conservatives would rather make more money; they do not like dealing with new ideas; they have nothing of value to offer, and they do not have the same ability to engage in critical thinking. Thus in explaining the disparity by theories of self-selection, those who make up the majority group in academia get to throw a few more shots at political and religious conservatives. Little wonder this is the popular theory for those left of center.

But those who make this argument generally do so by speculation rather than drawing on evidence. They certainly do not make their arguments with academic research. In a bit I will point out the couple of academic studies that lend a little support to this notion, but that support is very weak. But usually not even these studies are used in assertions about self-selection. It is just assumed that conservatives are either money-hungry, stuck on old ideas, non-creatives or non-critical thinking.

Just to show how offensive the self-selection thesis is let’s use it with another group. Men are overrepresented in academia as well. Can it be that women simply are less likely to choose to be in academia? Perhaps they are not interested in new ideas or have not learned how to critically think. Perhaps the topics covered in academia are not as interesting to women as they are to men. Perhaps, they do not want to make the sacrifices necessary to do science so that they can spend more time with their families? Perhaps they are too focused on making enough money for their families to consider an academic career? I can go on, but I trust I made my point. While there may be some self-selection with conservatives and women, where there is such a tremendous skew it is wise to see if there is evidence for discrimination, subtle bias, and/or institutional forces that limit these groups’ access to academia.

So what evidence can we see for this self-selection possibility? Neil Gross did an experiment where he sent letters to graduate advisors at a variety universities of a fictitious student asking about the graduate program. He varied whether the person worked for Barack Obama’s or John McCain’s presidential campaign in the letter. He found that it did not matter. The student’s email was treated the same regardless of whether it stated working for Obama or McCain’s election.

I previously wrote a critique of the book which showed why I think the results are not as strong as Gross argues that they are. I will not go into my entire critique; however, I do want to call attention to a decision Gross made when doing his project. He deliberately chose to have the student work with McCain’s and not Sarah Palin’s campaign because he did not think it would be believable if a prospective graduate student worked for her. Gross is essentially saying that if a student is too conservative, then that student cannot be a serious candidate for graduate school even as he argues that there is little or no bias in academia. What? If we really want to test bias, then it makes more sense to test it with the more extreme case and not the safer McCain case. The mere fact that Gross opted for the safer case suggests that despite his work, he knows that certain ideas are punished in academia.

The other research that even remotely provides some evidence of self-selection is work by Rothman et. al. They did a survey showing that few Republican or Christian faculty claim to have experienced discrimination. My problem with this work is that the terms Republican and Christian are too generic. As I will show below it matters what type of Christian you are as to whether you will face bias. Thus I am not convinced by this research, in light of other work, that we do not have a problem with academic bias.

So let’s look at the empirical evidence indicating that academic bias is a problem. Of course I have to start with my own work in Compromising Scholarship. I sent a survey out to academics in several disciplines and asked whether they would be more or less likely to hire someone if they were a members of certain groups. I included political, sexuality, religious, lifestyle and age groups. About half of the respondents stated that they would be less likely to hire someone if they were a conservative Protestant.

Think about that. Half of the respondents, who are professors at various colleges, openly state that they are willing to engage in religious discrimination. We can only imagine how many are willing to discriminate but choose to not put that on a survey. As it concerns political conservatives, I found almost a third of the respondents were less willing to hire someone if they are a Republican, but about forty percent were less willing if they are an NRA member. Not as bad as it is for conservative Protestants but unacceptable nonetheless.

Now you can see why generic measures of Christians and Republican are not as useful as talking about conservative Protestants or NRA members. The bias in academia is less when just talking about Republicans or Christians in the abstract. When you have an actual Republican who advocates for 2nd amendment issues or a Christian who believes the Bible to be the Word of God, then the situation dramatically changes.

Some may argue, perhaps individuals are willing to state that they will discriminate on a survey but are not willing to discriminate in real life. That seems unlikely, but it is possible. However, Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter (See their chapter “The Vanishing Conservative” in The Politically Correct University) found that cultural conservative academics tend to work at lower status jobs than would be expected given their achievements and qualifications. So we have systematic evidence that a certain type of conservative, and social conservatives is the type most likely to be religious, is not compensated according to his or her level of productivity. Do you think that if we had evidence that blacks were not being rewarded to their level of productivity in academia that anyone would dare bring up self-selection as an explanation for their lack of success in academia? Yeah. Me neither.

Well maybe this is just a freak occurrence connected to the hiring process. Maybe, despite how bad it is when someone is unfairly kept from a job, once a conservative is hired, then he or she is just as free to argue for his or her ideas as anybody else. Nope. Wrong again. Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers also did a survey of 800 social and personality psychologists finding that they are willing to discriminate against political conservatives when it comes to hiring, reviewing papers, reviewing grant proposals and invitations to a symposium. It is comparable to my work with two critical differences. First, they only concentrated on one discipline while I show that this type of bias occurs across a variety of scientific and humanities disciplines. Second they show that this bias plays out in a variety of ways. It is not just in hiring. It is also in whether one gets published or gets a grant that this bias plays itself out. One does not escape the bias once one gets hired. In fact the bias remains throughout one’s career.

I should know. Early in my career, my research concentrated on issues of race and ethnicity. While I offered some novel concepts, I think it is safe to say that for the most part, my work fit into the dominant race and ethnic academic paradigm. But over the last several years, I have been doing empirical work in anti-Christian bias in society and academia. The way my work has been treated has changed dramatically although I became better, not worse, in doing research. Reviewers are clearly more hostile to my work on anti-Christian bias than my work in race and ethnicity, and some of their critiques are almost laughable. Those who want to state that we can trust science because it enables an open search for the truth have never tried to publish work that violates the political and moral sensibilities of academics.

I got some insight into the source of this bias through some of my recent work. When my co-authors and I wrote an article based on open-ended questions to academics, we found that many of these academics have some of the same stereotypes I found in my research on Christianophobia. Academics see conservative Christians as not able to handle new ideas and not able to critically think. Sound familiar? The very arguments used to justify the notion of self-selection make up the very stereotypes people have of conservative Christians. I do not think that is a coincidence. Arguments of self-selection tend to be arguments that reinforce the distorted image many academics have of conservatives. Theories of self-selection are often less about scientific evidence and more about supporting the stereotypes and biases of those who do not like conservatives.

This does not mean that self-selection does not exist. But given the lack of empirical evidence we have for self-selection and the strong empirical evidence we have for arguments of discrimination, it occurs to me that we should begin examinations of the political and religious makeup of academia with a focus on reasons of bias with a slight nod to the possibility of self-selection. Instead, the majority of online articles do the reverse. They focus on self-selection with a slight nod to the possibility of bias. This is exactly opposite from what our empirical evidence has told us.

Let me address a counterpoint that someone is going to make and one with which I do not totally disagree. Someone will say that I am approaching this in an unwarranted dichotomous manner. It does not have to be either self-selection or academic bias. It can be both self-selection and academic bias. This means that political and religious conservatives choose to not enter academia, but they do so because they have seen minor evidence of some discrimination. But some will say that these individuals have a “persecution complex” and are seeing discrimination where it does not exist. So they are not necessarily being weeded out once they get into academia, but their fears of discrimination keep them from choosing academia. However, the empirical evidence is that their fears are justified, even if some individuals blow those fears up more than they should, and thus their concerns should not be dismissed. Given that evidence, it is not useful to talk about persecution complexes.

I do think there is an interactive effect by which the evidence of bias convinces some conservatives that academia is not for them. If we eliminated this type of discrimination, we would see fewer conservatives “select” themselves out of academia. Furthermore, the evidence presented here shows that the bias does not merely discourage conservatives from applying, but it continues to hurt them throughout their career. So if we really want to know why there are fewer conservatives, the evidence right now strongly swings to bias and away from the comforting notions (comforting for academics anyway) for self-selection.

With this much evidence of academic bias out there, I really do not know if those denying it are simply lazy or if they are too wedded to their belief that academics cannot be biased to see the evidence that many are. Let’s find out if it is laziness or ignorance. Next time you see one of those articles about how political and religious conservatives are simply choosing not to go into academia, can you send this blog entry to the author? Or at the very least, put it in the comments of the article? We can see how the author reacts to the new evidence. And maybe if we can get the word out, we can stop the dissemination of wrongful thinking connected to bad or misunderstood science. I know you share with me the desire to confront the science deniers (Wait! That is another stereotype of conservatives is it not?).


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46 responses to “The Academic Reason Why There Are So Few Conservatives in Academia”

  1. I’m curious how the impact factor of your recent papers on academic bias compares to race theory. I would expect the former to be more novel since it is an unexplored field (so higher impact) but of course there would be less people working on it (lower initial impact)

    Also what moral and strategic advice would you give to early career researchers that fit into a discriminated category you listed

    Third I wonder why conservative protestents experience more discrimination than political conservatives. Is there research on this. What happens if someone is in a mixed category? Say someone who says the Bible is the word of God but a political progressive. Or an outspoken atheist/agnostic who is a political conservative. It would be interesting to see how these biases intersect in these cases (also economic progressive/social conservative vs social progressive/economic conservative)

    Finally amongst political progressives self selection isn’t always an excuse in other areas. It is possible that there is a systemic disadvantage that isn’t anyones fault (say opportunity cost due to childbirth and the physical exhaustion that can come from breastfeeding) and people will advocate that there be mechanisms to compensate for that opportunity cost because the thing degrading their opportunity is neither a bad thing or a thing that reflects their talent. In the case of Christians, I have met some who nearly walked away from a career in science because they feared they couldn’t help people enough with it. A couple of others I met found a way to help others by teaching physics at a low ranked university in a impoverished, war torn country to help boost the university. The cost to their careers were pretty substantial (although both managed to stay in academia). I wonder if it is possible to also have a conversation about these forms of self selection as well (although perhaps since there is resistance to addressing even blatant discrimination maybe more subtle forms of disadvantage are impossible to talk about for now)

    • Work on race is much more impactful to the field than work on anti-conservative bias. The former conforms to the paradigm of the field while the latter does not. As to advice I wrote a CT piece called “Into the Academic’s Lion Den” on that subject. Basic advice is do excellent work and keep your head down until you have tenure. Do not know why more religious than political hostility other than perhaps in some ways religious differences matter more than political differences. That would be an interesting angle to explore. Finally, you are correct that progressives do not accept explanations of self-selection expect when explaining low numbers of conservatives. I think that says a lot. Thanks for your comments.

      • Graham asked, “I wonder why conservative protestents [sic] experience more discrimination than political conservatives.”

        I’m recalling a useful bit of research from 2007 by Tobin and Weinberg entitled “Religious Beliefs and Behavior of College Faculty.” What I recall includes the result that college faculty who were surveyed regarded Evangelical Protestants negatively far more often than they regarded those of other religious groups negatively.

        A lot of people that I talked to about it expressed their opinion that conservative religion was a proxy for political conservatism in that study, but I found that unconvincing. Evangelical religion holds a place of special loathing in the minds of a lot of Progressives. They regard political conservatives as racist or greedy, choosing conservatism because it benefits them in some way. They regard religious conservatives as too stupid to breathe on their own. They loathe stupidity more than they loathe self-interest.

        The study can be found at http://www.jewishresearch.org/PDFs2/FacultyReligion07.pdf.

  2. The thing is, it’s like asking why there are so few short people playing in the NBA. Being tall complements your ability to be successful in that particular field of endeavour.

    Conservatives often value tradition, seeing it as having inherent value. They tend not to throw away something that has worked for them in the past, and as a consequence, are more reticent to engage with new ideas or major paradigm shifts. Why are there more progressives in the academy? Because academic success requires being particularly open to changing your way of thinking. To being willing to abandon old ideas, rather than holding onto them.

    I’m not saying that either of these stances are better, but it seems very obvious to me that cause of the disparity is not malice, but suitability. The conservative mindset has many benefits, but the exploration of radical new ideas is one that it does not naturally incline towards. Obviously, this is not a blanket statement that fits everyone – there have been many successful conservative academics – but it requires a certain mental partitioning that is difficult to achieve.

    • My experience is that progressives are just as stubborn holding on to their chosen ideas as conservatives. Which is why the evidence of anti-conservative bias is more explanatory to me.

      • I disagree with that statement. The last half century in academia is full of ideas that have fallen by the wayside.

        To be honest, I think a lot of conservative dogma fails to meet the standards of intellectual rigour which the academy demands. It is held for other (quite possibly perfectly reasonable!) reasons, including tradition, an aversion to change, a pre-assumed ethical framework, or some platonic morality. These are all perfectly reasonable rationales for many, but they simply don’t cut the mustard at the academic coalface.

        This is not to say that there are not fantastic conservative scholars (there are). But being successful in academia requires putting your own dogma under the harshest light, and searching for flaws. It requires questioning your own reasoning, and if it fails to meet the necessary rigour, accepting the potential error of your premises. Academia is like a chess game where you’re in a permanent state of gambit – the only way to win is to offer up the game on every turn.

        This is not, in my experience, a position which comes easily to conservatives – it must be learned. Are they willing to put their traditions, their moral framework, and their religious beliefs, on the table to suffer under the scrutiny of academic rigour? And, more importantly, are they willing to leave them by the wayside if they fail? This question will affect the quality of their work, which will in turn affect their employability.

        • Kuhn’s work on paradigms critiques this notion that science is an open search for truth. Rather we develop paradigms and defend them. Only if there is overwhelming evidence against the paradigm will we re-evaluate it. Today progressives have set the paradigm and they will defend it. Even if it means keeping conservatives out.
          As far as who is more open to alternative ideas, conservatives or progressives, I do not think there is direct research on that question. However, Haidt has found that conservatives understand the ideas of progressives better than progressives understand the ideas of conservatives. I am betting that conservatives take the ideas of progressives more seriously than vice versa which would suggest more open-mindedness on their part. I would like to see the question of politics and open-mindedness with better operalization but given these preliminary findings I doubt that progressives are MORE open-minded than conservatives. My bet is that there is no difference or perhaps conservatives are slightly more open-minded since they have to operate as ideological minorities in academia.

          • It sounds like you are using a lot of speculation to support your paradigm and that it isn’t a very objective one. For one thing you haven’t addressed the practicality of political bias in hiring decisions. I have been on many academic search committees, and the only times when the issue of a candidate’s political or religious views even came up was when we were told by our EEO rep that such questioning was illegal. No committee member ever expressed interest or concern about such matters. The sole focus was the expertise and potential success of the candidates to teach and do research as well as the specific needs of the department (based on objective criteria, not personal beliefs). So I’m skeptical of the claims you make about political bias, and I wonder where in the hiring process you think that this occurs.

          • Funny that you think systematic data is speculation. I could give you real world examples such as individuals looking at those from a Christian college and using that against them or another college weeding out faithful Mormons at job interviews by trying to offer them caffeine. However, I do not think any level of evidence will convince you as your mind is made up.

          • It’s not the data I disagree with but your interpretation that it’s all/mostly due to bias in hiring. Can you document that faculty applicant pools are swarming with conservatives? I’ll be very surprised if you can, but that would definitely cause me to rethink my position.

          • Bull. The Inbar and Lammer research documents bias in article acceptance, grant acceptance as well as hiring. We know that academics state that they are less likely to hire conservatives, conservatives are relegated to lower status position and if you want to look up the case of Mike Adams that we have case studies of academics discriminating against someone because he is a conservative. Replace conservative in that sentence with Jew, gay or Muslim and tell me that you would not be talking about discrimination. We do not need conservatives to be “swarming” application pools to prove the point. I know conservative grad students who want to go on the job market but know that they will face discrimination if they are found out. So unless you are prepared to argue that there are no conservatives facing bias, despite all the evidence to the contrary then my take on you was correct. You do not want to see progressive bias and all the evidence in the world will not matter.

          • You’re still missing my point and shooting at a straw man. So let me make it clear that I agree that the professorate is overwhelming progressive and that hiring committees can be biased in spite of legal efforts to prevent that. My point is that other factors are at play that would explain the disparity–factors that precede the hiring process. Here’s what’s typical of the many faculty hiring committees I’ve been on: we get 50 applicants, we sort through them and select ten for phone interviews and also call their references, then we invite three to campus. Nothing in this process involves any political bias or even mention. But of the three that come for interviews, all are progressive in their views. That’s the typical pattern. They are not a cross section of American society–not even close. So the faculty would be largely progressive even without hiring bias. Something is occurring in the education process, maybe bias in selection and mentoring of students, maybe conversion of students to more liberal views, maybe other factors. That seems like a productive area to further the research.

          • I am not missing your point. You are arguing that bias is not a major factor in the political imbalance in academia despite the evidence to the contrary. The Rothman chapter indicates that social conservatives wind up in jobs that are lower in status even after controlling for their productivity. This means that yes there are conservatives out there who do not get jobs that match their abilities. We study institutional factors to explain racism, sexism and classism but go straight to meritocracy when it comes to conservatives in academia. Do you honestly think that with the same fact pattern applying to Muslims that you would think that there is no problem with bias or discrimination? I don’t think so.

          • “You are arguing that bias is not a major factor in the political imbalance in academia despite the evidence to the contrary.” You can’t possibly have read my post if you think that. You won’t listen, so I give up.

        • If you think religious conservatives lack academic rigor, you apparently haven’t read anything written by Christian philosophers of religion over the last decades.

          Some food for thought: Here’s a quote by atheist philosopher of religion Quentin Smith:

          ‘If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.

          Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist… the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief. If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true. [“The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism,” Philo: A Journal of Philosophy (Fall-Winter 2001)’

          And atheist Jeremy Waldron says: ‘Secular theorists often assume they know what a religious argument is like: they present it as a crude prescription from God, backed up with threat of hellfire, derived from general or particular revelation, and they contrast it with the elegant complexity of a philosophical argument by Rawls (say) or Dworkin. With this image in mind, they think it obvious that religious argument should be excluded from public life… But those who have bothered to make themselves familiar with existing religious-based arguments in modern political theory know that this is mostly a travesty… (God, Locke, and Equality, p. 20)’

          Also, John Searle tells us that “materialism is the religion of our time,” that “like more traditional religions, it is accepted without question and… provides the framework within which other questions can be posed, addressed, and answered,” and that “materialists are convinced, with a quasi-religious faith, that their view must be right” (Mind: A Brief Introduction, p. 48)

    • Chris, you’re expressing perfectly the bias by which Progressive faculty with hiring authority are able to excuse their biased hiring decisions. They, like you, believe (irrationally) that conservatives are less open to new ideas, and on that basis when faced with otherwise equally qualified candidates, one conservative and the other progressive, they hire the progressive because their progressivism in itself strikes them as evidence of greater openness.

      That the bias is irrational is proved by your explanation. In any other setting, you would regard the greater skepticism that you attributed to conservatives as a virtue, not a vice. Academics ought to be skeptical, and ought not to be immediately credulous of new approaches.

      Try this explanation on for size instead: Progressives with hiring authority tend to hire from within their own political circle. Conservatives with hiring authority tend to ignore the politics of their candidates, as they ought. Given that disparity alone and enough time, the result will necessarily be academia dominated by Progressives. I’m pretty confident that robust research untouched by the bias you expressed here will demonstrate that that phenomenon, and that alone, explains the leftward skew of academics.

      • You misread my statement completely. I didn’t say that progressives weren’t skeptical. In fact, I strongly emphasised that they were – I noted that academics must subject new ideas to the most academically rigorous scrutiny. But they must also subject the ideas they already hold to that same scrutiny.

        One could argue that progressives are slightly too quick to accept new ideas, while conservatives are slightly too slow to release old ones. However, in academia, the first flaw will get you ahead if you pick the right new ideas (new ideas = highly-cited publications), while the second flaw will leave you behind (old ideas = lowly-ranked journals).

        Don’t misread me: I’m not saying that one of these positions is right or that one is wrong, but one will certainly position you better to achieve the metrics that mark a successful academic, and one won’t. And when it comes to hiring panels, success metrics overwhelm every other factor.

        Let’s not forget that academia is very international. It’s not like Americans having anti-conservative bias would wipe out successful conservative ideas if they held up to academic scrutiny. Academically justifiable ideas will out, because bias within one nation will inevitably be mere white noise in the scheme of the international research academy.

  3. I wonder how much conversion takes place during graduate school and even among undergraduates. I’ve seen many people enter college as conservatives and graduate as progressives. I even underwent that shift to a large extent. This would skew the pool of potential professors. This conversion could be due to the perpetuation of an arbitrary initial bias or to some factors where education pushes people toward certain viewpoints (or a combination of the two). The vocal majority of progressive faculty and graduate students may also tend to discourage committed conservatives from pursuing academic careers. I think these factors are important and worth addressing.

  4. Has your research shown a difference in the level of bias among different academic fields? My experience in philosophy has been very positive, while friends in other disciplines feel a degree of hostility from their peers. If there is a difference, then what is the plausible explanation?

  5. Note that your reporting of the Inbar and Lammers study is misleading. You seem to imply most of the psychologists surveyed reported bias (“a survey of 800…psychologists finding that they are willing to discriminate…”), when the actual results indicate 14-38% of those surveyed indicated their willingness to discrimate against political conservatives in various scenarios. Clearly still concerning, but it’s incorrect to report this the way you do. You will win more supporters – including, yes, liberal university professors – if you don’t oversell your argument. I find the survey of others’ hypothetical discrimination to be a bit odd – and frankly meaningless as a way to assess bias – so I don’t include it here. Perhaps you are afraid those numbers are too small – but frankly those are still alarming figures, and they have greater credibility than the overwrought claim.
    My own experience is that of Tim Heston as noted above – starting out conservative, and then gradually changing, and I would agree that merits further investigation.

    • I never stated that most of the psychologists reported bias. But as you said 14-38% is too many and indicates that self-selection is not the sole major explanation for political discrepancy in academia.

  6. I’ve always found the whole “leftists dominate academia” claim to be a bit off myself. While it is true that the humanities – which include subjects like politics, anthropology, sociology, history, and so forth – tend to attract a more left audience, subjects like economics are predominantly conservative.

  7. While I did indeed enter academia along the way, I suppose you could say I self-selected away from biology because of the perception that evolution was one of the necessary fundamental beliefs. Instead I went to engineering–a field where issues or origins is almost totally absent. We never argue about where an electron came from–we just focus on getting it to be most useful to us and the world at large. I suppose that is why I found a high proportion of religious/Christian folks there who were quite free to express such views around the water cooler without any negative career consequences.

  8. All this makes me wonder which universities we’re talking about. I assume North American, but what about the dozens (or is it hundreds?) of Christian colleges, most of which require their faculty to (often literally) sign onto a more or less narrow set of beliefs?

    Underlying the debate is the (perhaps polite) assumption that it would be wrong to discriminate on the basis of politics or religion. But suppose one were to write similar letters of enquiry, stating offhand that the applicant was active in the World Church of the Creator (a neo-Nazi group) or the Westboro Baptist Church (the anti-gay church founded by Fred Phelps)? Would it be wrong for a college administrator to reject such a person out of hand, on the assumption that they would be unwilling or unable to cooperate and treat fairly people of other races or sexual orientations? At what point does an identity group rise to the level of a census category, deserving of constitutional protections? Is it okay to discriminate against Muslim extremists? Communists? Flat-earthers?

    It may be that liberals and conservatives, or Christians and non-Christians, simply cannot work together in the long run–that each side regards the other as not only wicked but professionally unqualified, and the only solution is a system of separate universities (or a spectrum of liberal to conservative ones, which is what we have). We should also consider the indirect effects of “positive” discrimination or networking–e.g., when Jews deliberately recruit other Jews, or when professors form trans-institutional cliques which publish one another’s papers and hire one another’s students.

    • I’m a retired geology professor, and I’m friends with quite a few young-earth creationists because I write about creationism. All the ones I’ve talked to about employment never even applied for positions at public universities. They intended all along to work at Christian colleges and creationist organizations like ICR and AIG. I never had a creationist apply for a position in my department, either.

  9. I wonder whether there is a difference between white religious academics and African-American religious academics as to respect for their work. I suspect that progressive whites are more tolerant of African Americans who are conservative vs. whites who are religious. Has any research been done on this where race as a third factor (vs. left – right, religious – nonreligious) is added into the mix. I do realize adding in too many variables sometimes makes data look non-interpretable.

  10. I would be interested in knowing if progressives are more numerous in academia when the professors in the business department at the universities in the studies are included.

  11. The author conducts a very slanted article on research alleging that the research of others research in the field is slanted. To subsume political bias in research arenas is somewhat amusing on face value. The very dictionary definition of liberal is: tolerant, not narrow in opinion or judgment. The definition provided for conservative is: disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions. Now which of these general groups would one suppose might be more fitted to an academic life of objective research? And to further carry that argument it is amazing that to the author’s surprise that a low percentage of respondents would likely reject candidates who were NRA supporters. That amazement is laughable! I cannot conceive of an NRA apologist who would seemingly make a viable objective researcher (personal prejudice noted). And the author’s dubious research is further detected when he acknowledges that about half of the professors claimed they wouldn’t likely hire a conservative Protestant. That is hardly as remarkable as the fact that about half of them WOULD hire a conservative Protestant! This, like most of the author’s apologetic treatise, makes assertions about the research of others and attempts to provide his own prejudicial assertions as a viable rebuttal.

  12. As a part-time academic and full-time citizen, I’m tired to death of hearing the social conservative / Christian mantra about liberals discriminating in academia. It’s weary and does, indeed, wreak of whining & self-pity.

    Why is it “academic bias” to choose reason & common sense & data over revelation & political nonsense? Seriously.

    The important study of race & ethnicity can certainly be done with plenty of empirical information. But believing out loud in burning bushes & virgin births & walking on water without any supporting evidence except “faith” simply isn’t credible.

    One’s belief systems are respected under the law, and that’s fine & important. But please don’t expect everybody to not take those unsupportable beliefs into account when weighing credibility in academic or scientific situations. I know, I know, “God says.” But if God has somehow weighed in, then almost by definition all further discussion must cease. God says. In a sacred text. Must be true. It’s a child plugging her ears. That’s not academia.

    Likewise, as one conservative example among plenty, the purposeful misreading of the 2nd Amendment, willfully leaving out the critical first phrase in order to arm the entire nation with military-style weapons in the name of “personal liberty” or whatever. Aside from a cheap political trick, it defies the common sense and experience of most people, including most regular hunters like me.

    On economic and social policy, too, conservatives are proven wrong, empirically, again & again. But they still demand respect & credibility in academia? Look who defeated 16 prominent Republican elected officials for the GOP nomination last year — not because he was a good or capable man, but because present-day conservative dogma was resoundingly rejected by the voters.

    Guaranteed: there does not exist some biased liberal plan, organized or not, to pack the faculties with progressives and to “convert” entering conservative students to reject their upbringings. Au contraire (French used purposely,) its the nonsensical world view and lack of credibility of too many cultural conservatives and conservative Christians that gives thinking people the creeps and sends them looking for other answers.

    (To wit: You realize that some Christian group says the world is ending on Saturday — it was on Fox News.)

    Our politics is horribly divided and ugly these days. But that’s due to TV & internet, fake news & alternative facts, gerrymandering and huge money in politics — all strategically manipulated.

    Fascinatingly, however, academia is not at all divided in the same way. It isn’t perfect, never has been, “safe spaces” are stupid, free speech is important, etc.

    But academia is surviving these divisive times as a progressive voice because… reality. The real world exists. Just because something shows up in somebody’s holy book or on Fox & Friends doesn’t mean it’s actually true.

    BTW, great & interesting comments from all. Amen.

      • Is it at all possible that you’re going into this with the assumption that all ideas should be treated equally, despite how well or not well-supported they are?

        What harvey wrote is not bigotry. At worst, the author is making the claim that several important conservative ideas do not hold up to academic scrutiny. This is a fair claim to make, although it is at this point just a claim. Not all ideas are equal, and some don’t hold up. If his claim is right, then it’s a logical explanation for why conservative voices are underrepresented: not institutional bias, but rather just poor ideas.

        I also think the fact that academia is highly international. US conservatism is generally considered the fringe far right by global standards, which means mainstream US conservative ideas haven’t really taken hold in global academia. This is always going to affect citation metrics, and other measures of academic influence. But possibly, it may be a reflection of the quality of the ideas as well.

        I’m not saying this is or is not the case, but you seem quite determined to treat conservatism as academically on par with other ideas, however that is a position that needs to be demonstrated, I think. Because if it isn’t true, most of what you’ve seen and documented would follow without any malice or bigotry, as it would affect the numbers that determine your academic success (publications, citations, etc.). I think you have to at least consider it as a hypothesis.

        • On re-reading that paragraph, I really want to emphasize that I’m not saying that harvey was right or wrong – I’m not qualified to make that claim. But I don’t think the hypothesis is bigoted to propose that certain ideas lack academic merit, either.

          Furthermore, even if it transpires that certain ideas do lack academic rigour, this alone is not reason to reject proponents of those ideas out of hand. But it will affect academic success indicators – citations, publications, journal rankings – which will in turn affect employability.

          • Chris states the issue much more succinctly and civilly than I did — that many ideas do lack academic merit. (Thanks, Chris.)

            And the fact that academia does not readily or equally accept social conservative & conservative Christian ideas is plain proof of that lack of merit. Those ideas too often fail any rigorous academic testing, or common sense testing, or they already have failed in real life.

            Conservatives have loudly lined up on the wrong side of history for too many decades of just our recent memory. Can anybody today defend their grandfathers’ votes against civil rights legislation? Or their fathers’ votes against anti-apartheid divestment in the 80s? Or more & more tax cuts for our wealthiest in spite of all empirical evidence against their benefits?

            Or maybe demanding “personal liberty” while telling people what to do in their bedrooms? Or lowering environmental standards, or financial deregulation, ad infinitum… ? Geesh.

            The list of proven conservative historical missteps is shockingly long (and, admittedly, easy & fun to cherry pick.) But the point is clear: They don’t listen & learn, or they just choose not to learn. That’s not academia.

            That’s not to say that liberal ideas are all perfect; far from it. But this whole discussion is about academic bias against conservatives. And it really needs to take a long look in a mirror.

            It’s not bigoted to say that someone’s holy book, or a disproved economic idea, or an intrusive & discriminatory social plan are NOT things to be embraced as equal & legit by higher education. It’s simply academic.

            It’s Darwinian survival of the fittest ideas. But — ooops — conservatives assure us that’s “only a theory.”

            (ICYMI, the world didn’t end yesterday as had been predicted by some conservative Christian sect. Keep the faith!)

    • Let’s see how Harvey characterizes conservatives
      He argues that conservatives only look at what God says and that all conservatives need (Seriously have you talked to a conservative academic. They use the same methods as other academics)
      He argues that they are purposefully misreading the second amendment. That is fine if he wants to have that political position. Plenty of conservatives have made arguments that progressives misread the right of privacy to support abortion. Do not think we would discriminate against each other based on political differences but Harvey does.
      Thinks that conservative academics get all their news from Fox and thought the world was going to end tomorrow. Seriously do you want me to find some loony liberal who says that we should use violence against Republicans and say all liberal academics believe the same way. This is the level of “academic” thought Harvey gives the idea of bias.
      And Harvey is the person who says progressives deal with realty unlike conservatives. Yet I pointed to a study showing that social conservatives are in lower status position even controlling for their academic output. In other words they get published using secular methods but do not get the positions they deserve to get. That seems to be a bit of reality Harvey likes to ignore.
      I call bigots as I see them. I call out racial bigots who hold on to dehumanizing stereotypes and not I am calling out a religious bigot who provides evidence of bias. If you want to take Harvey seriously Chris then go right ahead. But this is my last message on this subject as I know from the past that one cannot easily correct the musing of religious bigotry.

  13. Wow, did this author really need 2,179 words to convince anyone that such a well-known phenomenon was factually-based? Would it require another 2,000 + words to confirm our sneaking suspicion that Mississippi sheriff’s departments run by the KKK seldom hired Black deputies? :(

  14. Excellent article, which I will share.

    I have experience of a more subtle form of discrimination, or perhaps the result of such discrimination.

    I got my BA and MA at the University of Washington in Seattle. I worked with the head of the Anthropology Department on the field research that led to my MA — he was an atheist (still is, probably), but totally cool with anyone who did good work, even from a Christian perspective.

    However, when I applied to do PhD work in a vital and unexplored arena of the History of Christianity (how what I call “fulfillment” thinkers including some of the most important thinkers in history relate Christianity to indigenous beliefs), I was told there simply wasn’t anyone who would be interested in my topic. I suspect (based on prof profiles) I would have more luck if I had wanted to study, say, transgendered Arab migrant workers who belonged to the Socialist Hemp-Smoking Society in 19th Century Kirgikistan.

    I finished the PhD in the UK instead, and am sometimes accused by skeptics of getting my doctorate from a “faith-based school” in consequence. (The degree is actually from a secular university, the University of Wales, which I would admit is a step down from the UW, but I got to work at the Oxford Centre for Missions Studies, which was great, if also perhaps a roadblock to any career in secular academia.)

    One caveat on George’s article, though. If you were to say, “Women are more likely to wish to choose to take care of the little ones than men,” I wouldn’t call you a bigot, I’d ascribe to you a shameless ability to state what ought to be among the most obvious facts in the world. So I don’t think that analogy works particularly well.

  15. In other areas, disparate impact, or merely unrepresentative numbers are prima facie evidence of evil doing and are even sometimes actionable.
    See Griggs v. Duke.
    But here it’s perfectly reasonable.
    Try to look at it from the outside: Sometimes it’s proof of perfidy and, when convenient, perfectly reasonable.
    Try to look at it from the outside.

  16. I don’t recognize my experiences (in conservative, Christian, secular and liberal universities) in your descriptions, and I see a lot of defining assumptions in your arguments that seem too rigid or possibly just inaccurate. The way you frame your inquiry via increasingly polarized conflict categories dictates that you will find polarization and conflict. Framed another way, you’d probably find many “secular” and “liberal” academics are religious in ways conservative Christians reject, and they are conservative of their own traditions of secular, liberal humanism to which political and religious conservatives have a very big and mixed bag of feelings and responses. A great deal of it is mediated by class and regional cultural identities.

    It is not as if people enter college, graduate school, and academic professions as “religious” or “secular” and “conservative” or “liberal” as static categories. Inevitably there is change that may be away from or toward one category, or a deepening or broadening of views, or a complete rejection or reframing of these categories.

    There are non-religious institutions and regions of the country where the academic culture is more or less religious and conservative, and these categories are regarded differently in different places. If, on the whole, secular and liberal institutions select for and generate secular and/or liberal academics, why is that bad or surprising, and why must it be due to some nefarious application of pressure, bias, and discrimination? The most open practitioners of academic pressure cookers and gatekeepers are Christian and conservative colleges that screen out most or all faculty and often students who don’t fit their ideological litmus tests. The cultures that practice this for the express purpose of propagating and extending their influence and cultural power are the ones that claim anything remotely similar from secular institutions is unjust and a dire threat.

    My experience of the mainstream academic world is that it generally reflects and increasingly talks about these conflicts while being the most plural and accommodating intellectual-cultural scene we have. The only major conflicts come when conservatives and religious believers who make it clear they are there for a fight because their norms and values are in direct conflict with those of secularism, liberalism, and pluralism. The same thing could theoertically happen in reverse, but since the late 1980s the explicit game plan of movement conservatism and evangelicalism has been to prosecute a culture war via wedge strategies like this in academe. Naturally this can result in a generalized fear of and antipathy for perceived religious/conservative members of the academy when people fear they will again be subjected to McCarthyesque baiting and witch hunts. The more that conservative and Christian are identified as co-extensive, allied, anti-liberal positions that strive to include radically illiberal views and defund public institutions, you can bet there will be negative perceptions and defensive reactions.

    • I will favor systematic research over your experience or even mine. Also interesting that you ended your statement with justification of bias while talking about the pluralistic nature of academia.

  17. At least before the trashing of our American vocabulary, intelligent people discriminated on the basis of experience, data, personal standards, and such. Ignorant people were prejudicial on the basis of their ignorance, bad data, rumor, and such.

    Reading this thread, it is not immediately apparent if the participants are discussing prejudice or discrimination. Does anyone think it is improper to discriminate on the basis of personal experience and statistical records? For example, if anyone of you was transferring to a new city, would you not use crime statistics and other local knowledge to narrow your hunt for a new residence?

    It has been my personal experience that neighborhood safety and civility is directly related to neighborhood relative cost of living. Have any of you lived in a city where the poorest neighborhood was safer than the richest neighborhood?

  18. Teaching is a most important career. Where would I be without it? I had a lot to learn about engineering. Teachers provided that training and encouragement. As an engineer I often had to fill-in or outright conduct training for days or months at a time. I enjoyed it beyond what I expected.

    Young adults tend to relate their life-thoughts to their parents and high school. School at this young adult age is very fresh and understood. Young adults are comfortable with the State teaching system. As a teacher, they feel they will be in command during class. This is a safe-course to “venture”.

    Other young adults may be more adventurous and more willing to step out of their comfort zone (an early-life decision).

    Its the young adult mind-set. A person who is accustom to challenge and enjoys the challenges most likely will not become teachers.

    My early experience with college enrollment was that if you had low scholastic results in high school it was suggested to you to take Elementary Education.

    Fortunately I spent the past 47 years as an engineer. I was eager for the challenge.

    The baseline debate is not about liberal or conservative. It is about urban or rural. Cities lend public provided systems. Fewer percentage own their own homes in cities, but they do have public transportation negating the need to own an automobile and upkeep and insurance. Very few own a lawn mower. Its a life of low ownership. Low responsibility but lots of schools. More than half the education population in a fraction of the area-space.

    Different mindsets live in cities versus small towns or rural road areas. City life is a bit like living at home versus on you own. Being a teacher is a safer course. Thus more likely chosen by many. Those many don’t like the unknown or unexperienced – its their mindset.

  19. Good article, but a few questions.

    1) Is it just Christians being discriminated against? What if you’re a conservative atheist, Muslim or Jew? I would guess not since it’s not politically correct to discriminate against Muslims (for example) even if you view them as closed minded.

    2) Conservatives tend toward engineering and economics and against gender studies and sociology. Doesn’t this mean that conservatives end up in the higher paying and more prestigious jobs on average despite any discrimination?

    3) In the lowest of the occupations, say like roofing, you find almost no Christian conservatives. As you move up the trades to drywallers to plumbers to electricians, you find more Christian conservatives as you move up the ladder (at least that’s my experience). Perhaps the trades operate on the different dimension than academics.

    4) When I graph electoral districts in here Canada, there’s a positive relationship to the percentage of “religiously unaffiliated” and the propensity to vote Conservative. It seems to me that some of the least religious areas of Canada (the interior of British Columbia and most of Alberta) are the most likely to embrace conservative politics in country, but this is outside of just the university bubble. The most Christian province, Newfoundland & Labrador, didn’t even elect a single Conservative last federal election.

    5) Is there ever an appropriate time to discriminate? If people who hold view X are very likely to hold view Y, and even though view X is not related to the job, holding view Y could be a hindrance.

    • To answer your main question the evidence is that there is stronger religious bias than political bias. But I am certain that a conservative atheist could face some degree of prejudice as well.

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