Are liberal college professors indoctrinating a generation of innocent college students? The perceived left-wing bias of the professoriate has inspired a push in state legislatures to enact an “Academic Bill of Rights” to protect students from being propagandized. Turns out, according to Mack D. Mariani and Gordon J. Hewitt, that students all along haven’t been buying it.
There is little question, write Mariani, a political scientist at Xavier University in Cincinnati, and Hewitt, assistant dean at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, that college faculties tilt liberal. In a survey by the Higher Education Research Institute, about 53 percent of professors identified themselves as liberal or far left, while only 16 percent said they are conservative or far right. By contrast, 25 percent of Americans surveyed in the 2004 American National Election Study said they were left of center, and 41 percent said they were to the right.
Mariani and Hewitt studied the responses of 6,807 students to questions about political orientation when they entered college as freshmen and three years later, when they were seniors. The researchers took the ideological temperature of faculties at different institutions using a similar political orientation question included in the Higher Education Research Institute survey. They reasoned that if the indoctrination problem were real, students at the institutions with the most liberal faculties would be more likely to switch their political allegiance from right to left. They saw “little evidence that this is the case.”
Overall, Mariani and Hewitt found that 57 percent of students didn’t budge in their political orientation during their four years. About 27 percent moved to the left and 16 percent to the right. That was a net swing of about 10 percent to the left, but the authors say this merely moved the students closer to the normal spectrum of views among 18-to-24-year-olds. They found that women were more likely to move left than men, but this too brought them in line with the national averages. Students from well-off families were more likely to move rightward.
The bottom line shouldn’t come as a surprise: Professors’ political notions don’t make a big impression on their students.
THE SOURCE: “Indoctrination U.? Faculty Ideology and Changes in Student Political Orientation” by Mack D. Mariani and Gordon J. Hewitt, in Political Science and Politics, Oct. 2008.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Jirka Matousek