Closed Minds?

Closed Minds?: Politics and Ideology in American Universities

Bruce L. R. Smith
Jeremy D. Mayer
A. Lee Fritschler
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 278
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7864/j.ctt127zd8
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Closed Minds?
    Book Description:

    Contrary to popular belief, the problem with U.S. higher education is not too much politics but too little. Far from being bastions of liberal bias, American universities have largely withdrawn from the world of politics. So conclude Bruce L. R. Smith, Jeremy Mayer, and Lee Fritschler in this illuminating book. Closed Minds? ddraws on data from interviews, focus groups, and a new national survey by the authors, as well as their decades of experience in higher education to paint the most comprehensive picture to date of campus political attitudes. It finds that while liberals outnumber conservatives within faculty ranks, even most conservatives believe that ideology has little impact on hiring and promotion. Today's students are somewhat more conservative than their professors, but few complain of political bias in the classroom. Similarly, a Pennsylvania legislative inquiry, which the authors explore as a case study of conservative activism in higher education, found that political bias was "rare" in the state's public colleges and universities. Yet this ideological peace on campus has been purchased at a high price. American universities are rarely hospitable to lively discussions of issues of public importance. They largely shun serious political debate, all but ignore what used to be called civics, and take little interest in educating students to be effective citizens. Smith, Mayer, and Fritschler contrast the current climate of disengagement with the original civic mission of American colleges and universities. In concluding, they suggest how universities can reclaim and strengthen their place in the nation's political and civic life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0186-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Our aim in this study is to examine whether there is political or ideological bias in American higher education. We want to evaluate the criticisms of universities for being too left or liberal and to undertake the task in a systematic, fair-minded, and nonpartisan fashion. We know that we cannot fully answer all of the questions surrounding this topic, but we hope at least to chart the terrain sensibly. By making a convincing start, we hope that other scholars can develop the subject further. More answers will emerge as colleagues (and citizens) debate the issues, and, of course, there will...

  5. 2 Higher Education and the “Culture Wars”
    (pp. 8-23)

    Have America’s universities shifted pervasively to the political (or to the cultural) left and become captive to a narrow ideology? In the past thirty years, critics, many of them conservatives, have thought so. The assertion is that the typical American university has been dominated by ideologues outside the mainstream or at any rate hostile to traditional values, with the corollary that faculty members and administrators tend to foster a “politically correct” campus environment.¹ At a time when the left in American politics apparently had lost its political moorings and the right seemed ascendant, the universities were said to be a...

  6. 3 Emergence of the U.S. Research University
    (pp. 24-43)

    In this chapter we look at how the universities were created in the country, their missions at the start and how those missions evolved, and how some of the past complexities foreshadow themes that we discuss in later chapters. This history is necessary because the past is always prologue and because we cannot understand the present ambivalence in the universities toward political education and civic engagement without seeing how the Progressive tradition promoted the values of expertise and scientific knowledge while disparaging politics. The Progressive movement was schizophrenic in that it both fostered the public service responsibilities of the newly...

  7. 4 Transformations of Academic Culture after World War II
    (pp. 44-70)

    The period after World War II, from 1945 to the student disturbances of 1968–72, has been called the golden age of higher education in the United States.¹ Not since the Civil War, after which the sixty-seven land grant colleges were created, and the last decades of the nineteenth century, when the American research university fully emerged, could one point to changes of such magnitude for higher education. The post–World War II changes included an enormous expansion of the student body and the strengthening of research capacities and of graduate education. There were dramatic increases in both public and...

  8. 5 Political Attitudes of American Professors: Results of a 2007 National Survey
    (pp. 71-91)

    Just how dominant are liberals and Democrats on American campuses today? Does the current tilt to the left among college professors affect the classroom experience of students and the tenure chances of conservative faculty members? The assumption among many conservative pundits in America today is that college professors as a class are dangerous radicals and left-wing ideologues. Numerous books portray America’s universities as havens for former hippies, who, having lost the battle for power in the America of today, have claimed the ivory tower as their exclusive fiefdom. Dinesh D’Souza, one of the cultural warriors of the 1990s, put it...

  9. 6 The Politics of Politics in the Classroom
    (pp. 92-116)

    In the preceding chapters we discuss the modest shift in faculty political attitudes that occurred in the 1980s. The traditional vocabulary of liberalism-conservatism has limitations when we seek to understand contemporary political reality.¹ So we do not rely on our survey findings alone, and in this chapter we broaden our focus to account for the political motives behind the higher education debate. Faculty political attitudes might appear more liberal because of contrasts with broader public attitudes on certain issues, such as gay rights, abortion, evolution, family values, and other matters.² The country has moved in what we could loosely call...

  10. 7 Conservative Activism in Higher Education: The Pennsylvania Hearings on Academic Freedom
    (pp. 117-137)

    Conservative activism on higher education issues has grown since the 1990s. Notable changes have occurred and some battles have been won, such as in the area of affirmative action in university admissions. California, Florida, and Texas curbed admissions policies relying on affirmative action in their public university systems. The California action came as a result of a referendum adopted by state voters, a ballot initiative backed by an African American member of the California Board of Regents, Ward Connelly. In Florida, gubernatorial and legislative action brought about significant change. The Texas developments came as a result of a federal appeals...

  11. 8 Much Ado about Little: Student Perspectives on Classroom Bias
    (pp. 138-162)

    In previous chapters, we discuss the political attitudes of professors and see how activists, education associations, and political figures view the issue of political bias in the universities. Now we shift the focus to what, in fact, is going on in the classrooms and on campuses across the country, looking in this chapter at how students view the issues we have been discussing.

    Although professors tend to be political liberals (as has been the case for many years), do these attitudes intrude on the classroom? What do students think? This is not an issue that has been researched as thoroughly...

  12. 9 Do Universities Discriminate in Hiring?
    (pp. 163-197)

    This chapter addresses the persistent criticism that universities discriminate against conservatives in hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions. Universities are most often said to discriminate in the humanities and social sciences (few contend that the sciences discriminate against conservatives, but conservatives are said to be hurt by affirmative action hiring requirements). Declaring that a leftist political culture has become self-perpetuating, a 2006 profile of American college faculty by Gary A. Tobin and Aryeh K. Weinberg of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco concludes its fairly representative analysis in the following terms:

    Some academic disciplines, especially in the...

  13. 10 Conclusions
    (pp. 198-212)

    This book has set out to explore political bias in the nation’s universities. We have reached conclusions that are in some ways reassuringly familiar and in other ways quite surprising to us. To use social science terms, we have confirmed some hypotheses but disconfirmed others, including some of the ideas that started us on the inquiry in the first place.

    The idea that the elite universities are rife with leftist politics, or any politics for that matter, is at odds with the evidence. Students, for the most part, do not feel that their professors have engaged in efforts to proselytize...

  14. Appendixes
    • Appendix A The Survey Instrument
      (pp. 213-223)
    • Appendix B Sampling Methodology
      (pp. 224-233)
    • Appendix C Focus Group Questions
      (pp. 234-235)
    • Appendix D American Council on Education Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities
      (pp. 236-238)
    • Appendix E House Resolution 177 of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
      (pp. 239-242)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 243-268)
  16. Index
    (pp. 269-278)