Monday, January 18, 2010

Left behind

In the Arts section of today's Times, of all places, an account of new research on the evident elective affinity between academia and politically liberal ideas. The new analysis by Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse offers a plausible explanation of something hitherto interpreted in pretty ideological ways. It's not - as liberals believe - that the life of the mind naturally makes a person progressive. Nor is it - as conservatives allege - that universities discriminate against conservative applicants. Rather, sociologists Gross and Fosse note that many professions exhibit a political lopsidedness to one degree or another, and suggest that being liberal and secular are part of the public image of the professor, the way this, like every other profession, is "typecast." This leads more liberals and fewer conservatives to aspire to become academics in the first place. (The conservative diatribe against pinko academics is as much a cause of the phenomenon as a reaction to it.) Typecasting's not all of it, of course:

Nearly half of the political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular, share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between education and income.

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