Do “Liberal” Professors “Indoctrinate” Students?

 

They never seem to give up, these right-wing ideologues.  People like David Horowitz are constantly complaining about the “liberal bias” within our university system, arguing that, among other things, that most academics (especially in the social sciences and humanities) are predominantly liberal in their views and are registered democrats and, as a result, indoctrinate students with their own biases. If you have any doubts about what he and others are doing, Google his name and check out his book called “The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.” Then turn to the web site for “Free Exchange on Campus” that does some fact checking on his “Indoctrination Studies” (http://www.freeexchangeoncampus.org).

            This has been going on for several years now, but the subject comes and goes, perhaps depending upon what the media are interested in.  I was once again reminded of this madness by a “debate” in a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times on line called “Marxist Professors or Sensitive Students” (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-op-shermer-lukianoff14apr14,0,170548.story.  A few comments from Michael Shermer (the editor of Skeptic Magazine, supposedly devoted to promoting “critical thinking”) will give you an idea of the kind of bombast they engage in.  Shermer once again repeats the now familiar refrain that most college professors are liberal and vote with the democratic ticket, but then he jumps to the very illogical conclusion that “Their job is to teach the curriculum of their subject, not churn out a bunch of Marx-worshiping, Bush-hating, Che Guevara-loving, pinko graduates who will go out into the world woefully ignorant that most Americans think entirely differently from the way they do.”  How he arrived at this remarkable conclusion escapes me!  (Feel free to read the rest of his rather stupid remarks, during which he calls us “mamby-pamby professors” who are “like cloistered monks who spend their entire lives protected from the buffeting of the marketplace of ideas, where the rest of us work.”

            He is not alone in jumping to the conclusion that because most of us are liberal and vote democratic we therefore shove our own political and ideological views down the throats of passive students in a process they call “indoctrination.”   Where do they get their evidence of this outlandish claim?  They get it from poorly designed “research” that is based on mostly anecdotal evidence, non-representative sampling, and in general violates every standard rule of good scientific research.  For an excellent review of some of this research see “The ‘Faculty Bias’ Studies: Science or Propaganda?” posted on the aforementioned web site “Free Exchange on Campus.” 

            Much of this “research” merely reviews a few college course descriptions at a selected group of universities (with little attention paid to one of the most important components of research, random sampling).  Most colleges and universities are left out of the sampling (mostly they concentrate on so-called “elite” universities like UC Berkeley, Stanford, USC, etc.) as are part-time faculty and faculty at two-year colleges.  (For a thorough review see the “fact check” of the Free Exchange on Campus web site.) 

            Like I said before, this has been going on for several years now.  I have on file a story published in The Nation in 2006 called “UCLA's Dirty Thirty.”  According to this story, there was an organization calling itself the “Bruin Alumni Association” (which turned out to be one former student and a former employee of David Horowitz) that “offered students up to $100 for tapes of lectures that show how ‘radicals” on the faculty are “actively proselytizing their extreme views in the classroom.’” A list of the 30 professors appeared on its website. It turns out that there was only one report among the 30 claiming to document classroom misconduct and even this was a misunderstanding of the assignment given to students, which is a common mistake when relying upon anecdotal evidence.

            Many of these right-wing crusaders have claimed that these “liberal” professors base students' grades on their religious or political beliefs, but nowhere has this ever been documented.  Similarly, they claim that academic departments all over the country discriminate against conservatives in both hiring and promotion, but there is no evidence that this has occurred.

            A better explanation of the dominance of liberal thinkers among academics is that as one becomes more educated (after all, college professors are expected to have graduate degrees) they become more liberal.  Also, since research is a standard requirement, there is a tendency for much research to debunk a lot of conservative thought. 

© 2008 by Randall G. Shelden.All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced without permission from the author.