Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?

Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?

Neil Gross
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?
    Book Description:

    Neil Gross shows that the U.S. academy's liberal reputation has exerted a self-selecting influence on young liberals, while deterring promising conservatives. His study sheds new light on both academic life and American politics, where the conservative movement was built in part around opposition to the "liberal elite" in higher education.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-07448-4
    Subjects: Education, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    When one of my research assistants interviewed her back in 2007, Lorena, then thirty-five, was an assistant professor in a department of sociology at a college in the South.¹ A specialist in economic development who focuses on Latin America, Lorena told us that her research interests stem in part from her political commitments. She grew up in California, in an upper-middle-class Mexican American family. Although her mother, a school counselor, was more politically progressive than her father, an attorney, she recalled that in her “bilingual, bicultural house hold . . . issues of tolerance and justice were . . ....

  4. Chapter 1 The Politics of American Professors
    (pp. 23-64)

    Colleges and universities are linchpin institutions in American society. In the United States today there are more than 4,400 schools offering postsecondary instruction to nearly 20 million students.¹ Seventy percent of young adults take college courses of some kind, and nearly a third earn bachelor’s degrees—three times the number that did so in the early 1970s.² Not just because of the large number of tuition-paying undergraduates but also because of the equally dramatic expansion of graduate and professional training, a growing emphasis within science and technology fields on producing research with commercial application, new expectations among student consumers that...

  5. Chapter 2 Why Are They Liberal? The Standard Explanations
    (pp. 65-103)

    Not long ago a story about some of my research ran on Inside Higher Ed, a higher education news website that is a competitor to the more established Chronicle of Higher Education. Like most web-based news sites, Inside Higher Ed allows readers to leave comments, and most readers who posted a comment that day offered their own views as to why professors tend to be on the left. “I always thought the reason for few conservative PhD holders was obvious,” wrote Warren M. “Liberals are more intelligent.” FK agreed: “The real answer . . . is simple, but not easy...

  6. Chapter 3 Political Self-Selection and the Academic Profession
    (pp. 104-140)

    Chapter 2 discussed several studies showing that liberals are more likely than conservatives to attend graduate school, pursuing the doctoral degrees that are the stepping-stones to academic careers. But how large is this difference? In their study of college student aspirations, Woessner and Kelly-Woessner found that twice as many liberals as conservatives say they plan to pursue doctorates.¹ More dramatically, Ethan Fosse, Jeremy Freese, and I discovered that in the sample of young American adults with which we were working, 49% of those currently enrolled in graduate programs with the aim of completing a PhD identified as liberal and just...

  7. Chapter 4 Political Differences among Professors
    (pp. 141-184)

    The theory of self-selection laid out in Chapter 3 helps make sense of the general tendency of academics to be more liberal than other Americans. In order to really work, however, the theory must also be able to account for political differences among professors. Chapter 1 showed that there is meaningful variation in political attitudes and identities across disciplinary fields and types of higher education institutions. What is more, American professorial politics has trended in a more liberal direction since the late 1960s. What explains these patterns? This chapter offers some answers while also considering the theory that conservative students...

  8. Chapter 5 The Knowledge-Politics Problem
    (pp. 185-219)

    A core argument of the preceding chapters has been that the liberalism of the American professoriate is not an extraneous feature of the occupation but a fundamental and more or less enduring social characteristic, one that has been built into our collective image of what professors are like. Despite the fact that this is so, little research by social scientists asks whether and how professors’ politics affect the work they do or its social outcomes.

    There are some exceptions. Sociologists of knowledge, for example, concerned to explain why particular ideas, perspectives, theories, and methods develop and become popular at particular...

  9. Chapter 6 The Campaign against “Liberal Bias”
    (pp. 220-251)

    In 1955 the effort to root out communists from government service, from America’s colleges and universities, and from the arts and other sectors of society, was in full swing. Although Joseph McCarthy had been censured by the Senate the year before and his popularity with the public was waning, dropping from a 50% favorable rating in January 1954 to 35% in November, investigations of disloyalty and communist sympathizing by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the FBI, state and local authorities, and private organizations continued.¹

    Lazarsfeld and Thielens’s study of social scientists was one effort by the academic community to come...

  10. Chapter 7 Why Conservatives Care
    (pp. 252-300)

    In 1994 historian Alan Brinkley could note, in an observation that applied as much to other disciplines as to his own, “The American right has [not] received anything like the amount of attention . . . that its role in twentieth-century politics and culture suggests it should.”¹ Times have changed. Today an enormous scholarly literature exists, spanning the fields of history, political science, and, to a lesser extent, sociology on the contemporary American conservative movement.²

    In this body of work, no concern has been more central than to explain the right’s ascendance in the second half of the twentieth century....

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 301-314)

    In Chapter 3 I mentioned research from the 1960s showing that high school aspirations toward college completion are an important predictor of educational success and that working-class kids are less likely to aim for bachelor’s degrees. To say that this research, spearheaded by University of Wisconsin sociologist William Sewell, has been influential among sociologists who study higher education would be a major understatement. Although many have found fault with the specifics of Sewell’s approach, the broader insight developed in his work—that in a credential-based society higher education institutions may play inadvertent roles in perpetuating social inequality—has become the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 315-381)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 382-384)
  14. Index
    (pp. 385-393)