Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why Universities Are So Liberal

It has often been noted that the professors who inhabit our colleges and universities tend to be liberal on political issues. Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason University have prepared a report that tallies the political tendencies of the professor class: The Social and Political Views of Professors. Their document was provided in 2007. Consequently, it may have missed more recent trends.

The authors provide this chart of political orientation of the professors surveyed.

Only 19.7% are willing to be associated in any way with conservative beliefs, and most of those chose the "slightly" modifier. On the other hand 62.2% felt comfortable with a liberal association. That is more than a three-to-one ratio in favor of liberalism. Gross and Simmons also breakdown political views by academic discipline; that provides some rather interesting data we will return to later.

Conservatives might view this table and worry that colleges are places where professors lie in wait to indoctrinate impressionable young students with their false beliefs. Liberals might use this table to confirm an intellectual and educational superiority associated with their views. Both sides would be wrong according to Chris Mooney, author of The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality.

Strict alignment with liberal or conservative views is not a matter of intelligence or education; it is more fundamental than that. Rather, it is more a function of personality according to Mooney’s interpretation of psychological research.

Psychologists use a number of descriptors to categorize personality traits. Mooney suggests that the ones most distinctive in determining political traits are termed "Openness" and "Conscientiousness."

Liberals are much more likely than conservatives to be characterized as possessing Openness.

"Openness is a broad personality trait that covers everything from intellectual flexibility and curiosity to an enjoyment of the arts and creativity. It denotes being experimental, a risk taker in one’s way of living and one’s choices, and wanting to sample variety across the range of life’s experiences. People who are open tend to enjoy travel, reading lots of books, listening to many different types of music, dining out, and going to art and theater openings. They’re very self-expressive and creative—and very inclined to distinguish themselves, to show that they’re unique and different from everyone else."

Conservatives are much more likely than liberals to be characterized as possessing Conscientiousness.

"….conservatives have an admirable trait of their own—a characteristic where they best liberals by a good margin. It’s called Conscientiousness, and those who rate high on this trait tend to prize orderliness and having a lot of structure in their lives—being on time, working hard, sticking to a predictable schedule, and keeping one’s home or office neat and clean. Think of a lawn that’s highly manicured, shoes that are perfectly shined….Think, in short, of corporate America or the military. The conscientious are highly goal oriented, competent, and organized—and, on average, politically conservative."

A characteristic associated with Conscientiousness is the need for cognitive closure. It is this need, or lack thereof, that will send liberals to universities in search of satisfaction, and send conservatives to the military or to a church.

"….the need for cognitive closure….describes the state of being uncomfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, and wanting these to be resolved into a firm belief….Sometimes—more pejoratively—people with a high need for closure are called ‘closed minded.’ Having a high need for closure tends to mean that one will seize on a piece of information that dispels doubt and uncertainty, and then freeze, refusing to admit or consider new information."

Liberals seem to have more of a need for cognitive openness than cognitive closure.

"….liberals tend to have much less need for closure than conservatives. At the same time, liberals often have more need for cognition. They like to think, in an effortful and self-challenging way, and take pride in doing a good job of it. They enjoy complex problems and trying to solve them."

It should be clear now why liberals tend to congregate at universities and colleges.

"The university is kind of like a playground for people who score high on Openness to Experience. They get to indulge their thoughts and their tastes, sample a smorgasbord of ideas and artistic creations—and of course they get to experience a lot of difference."

Liberals probably will sense that they are the winners in this duel of personality characteristics. They should perhaps pause and ask themselves if they would want a bunch of "seeing all sides of all problems" liberals waging a war. They should also explain why, if they are so smart, they can’t win an argument with a conservative.

These relevant personality traits are to some degree inherited and to some degree culturally induced. Since they are roughly equal in distribution, one might conclude that neither was deemed deficient by natural selection. Since we evolved to produce a roughly equal split, perhaps the lesson to be learned is that humanity is better off when liberal and conservative mind sets compete for dominance on issues. Perhaps better understanding of where each side is coming from will allow us to contend more effectively.

Gross and Simmons provided another chart that is of interest. They recorded the votes for Bush or Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and divided the professors up by discipline.

Professors as a whole voted almost four-to-one for the Democratic candidate. That is not too surprising. However, note that not all professors are created equal. While those in the physical and biosciences were about average, those in the social sciences and humanities were much more liberal than average. Note that engineers were considerably less liberal than average. Anyone who has had to deal with both scientists and engineers will recognize that engineers tend to have a much greater need for cognitive closure. It is not a surprise that business professors were also more conservative than average.

What is most curious is the fact that those professors in the health sciences voted preferentially for the conservative candidate. Given what we have just learned, does that mean that those responsible for training those who provide our healthcare suffer from this trait:

"Having a high need for closure tends to mean that one will seize on a piece of information that dispels doubt and uncertainty, and then freeze, refusing to admit or consider new information."

That’s a bit scary.

1 comment:

  1. you do know the technology exists to fabricate dreams and visions.


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