In a new book called “The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University,” Louis Menand shares some pretty interesting statistics about changing attitudes at major elite universities in America. In his last chapter, “Why Do Professors All Think Alike?” he tackles the perception that university professors are predominately liberal. Guess what? They are. (No surprise there.)
More than 95% of humanities professors at elite universities voted for John Kerry, and 0% for George Bush. More generally, only 19% of faculty identify themselves as conservative, and many would say they keep pretty quite about it. But the startling news is that the liberal faculty are generally the older professors. Menand sees a significant shift toward the center as younger colleagues join the faculty. So he predicts a strong move to the right in coming years, as older faculty – bred in the 60’s – retires.
Just as interesting was his premise about why so many faculty have similar political views. As Reviewer Michael Roth writes about the book in the LA Times: “But the real reason professors tend toward conformity is a training system that reinforces the status quo. It takes far longer to earn most doctorates than to get degrees in law or medicine, and Menand notes that the system of graduate education is designed to produce more low-paid ABDs (All-But-Dissertation) than PhDs.
If the graduate student finishes and is lucky enough to find full-time work, that young prof will be very invested in the models already used in what is likely to have been at least a 10-year apprenticeship. “The academic profession in some areas,” Menand notes, “is not reproducing itself so much as cloning itself.”
Anyone who’s received a Ph.D. understands that perspective. But as younger teachers arrive with the energy to change the system, maybe times are changing at universities after all.