Faculty Politics and the Narrative of Liberal Bias

October 15, 2020 / PSU-AAUP

Academe Blog

by Charlie Tyson and Naomi Oreskes

October 15, 2020


A couple of years ago, we decided to look at the question of liberal bias in the American academy. Are American colleges and universities disproportionately liberal and biased against conservatives? For most conservatives, and even some liberals, the answer is obvious. We wanted to examine whether the claim was true, and if not, how so many people came to believe it.

The impression that higher education is crippled by political bias has damaged public support for intellectual life in this country. The accusation of liberal bias has weakened trust in the academy, in academic experts, and in scientific claims that emerge from the academy. In recent years, many states—especially those led by Republican governments—have continued to slash appropriations to public colleges and universities, and a slim majority of Republicans now say that they think colleges and universities are bad for the country.

What’s more: The university is an institution uniquely dedicated to contemplation, question-asking, and the search for truth. Material conditions and institutional choices, including widespread disinvestment in the humanities, already threaten these aspirations. As the AAUP has documented, roughly three-quarters of American faculty are adjuncts. But some commentators have argued that political bias, too, is distorting the pursuit of knowledge in the academic system. So we figured we should see whether the charge of liberal bias had much in the way of foundation.

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