Why are so many professors politically liberal?

Op-ed: Academic system rewards radicalism

Political liberals and conservatives bring different approaches to their scholarly work, Damon Linker argues in The Week.

And unintentionally, the structure of academia ends up rewarding those with a liberal mindset, particularly in the humanities and social sciences.

Today's universities are based on historical models that adopted inspiration in part from the French Enlightenment and "defined the pursuit of knowledge in terms of a sharp break from the prejudices of the present and past." As such, Linker argues that the modern system pressures faculty to specialize ever-further and constantly seek the "interesting and fresh" approach to scholarship in their field.

According to Linker, a conservative-minded scholar can be easily left behind amid this push for the new and the next. For example, he says they tend to be drawn to what he calls the "Timeless Human Questions" and "Great Books of the past."

Conservative professors also tend to be more drawn to teaching responsibilities than to research, because they believe that to be more in line with the core mission of the university, Linker argues. But a focus on teaching will put faculty members at a disadvantage in their careers, as hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions tend to be based more on research.

Ultimately, Linker argues, the problem of ideological bias in the university has more to do with the complex structure of faculty responsibilities and modern research expectations than with mere hiring bias. "This complication makes it very unlikely that simple calls for hiring more conservatives on the grounds of fairness or diversity will make a meaningful difference in rectifying the ideological imbalance," he says (Linker, The Week, 11/4).

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