Gander at this picture:
This shows self-reported political affiliation of a group of academic social and personality psychologists (this included some graduate students and post docs). The graph is difficult to read on-screen, so download the original, from the peer-reviewed paper “Political Diversity in Social and Personality Psychology” forthcoming in Perspectives on Psychological Science by Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers.
Our authors asked, about Economics, Foreign Policy, and Social “issues,” this: “The following questions are about your OWN political attitudes. Please note: liberal is intended to mean ‘left/progressive’ and conservative is intended to mean ‘right/traditionalist.’”
Imagine our delight at finding more self-labeled moderates and conservatives than expected under Economics. Not every academic wants to take from them which have and then empower a government bureaucracy to dole back out a portion to support academic salaries. Celebrate this. And smile that the number of conservatives and moderates in Foreign Policy is not vanishingly small.
Matching the freshness of the headline “Pope Catholic”, however, is the finding of the near absence of conservatives, and even moderates!, on Social questions. In many Departments across the land, when traditional mores are mentioned we hear only the sound of one man clapping. Or no man. Especially if that man claps too vigorously.
For, can you imagine it?, academics preach tolerance and freedom, but they do not often practice it. The word you’re thinking of isn’t hypocrite, because the professor who professes “Tolerance!” has a theory which defines that word to mean something other than indicated in its dictionary entry.
Anyway, Inbar & Lammers also asked participants to self-report answers on these questions (they asked for participants’ own opinions and then for participants to judge the opinions of their departmental colleagues):
1. If you were reviewing a research grant application that seemed to you to take a politically conservative perspective, do you think this would negatively influence your decision on the grant application?
2. If you were reviewing a paper that seemed to you to take a politically conservative perspective, do you think this would negatively influence your decision on the paper?
3. If you were organizing a symposium, do you think you would be reluctant to invite a colleague who is generally known to be politically quite conservative?
4. If two job candidates (with equal qualifications) were to apply for an opening in your department, and you knew that one was politically quite conservative, do you think you would be inclined to vote for the more liberal one?
The proper answer to each, for those holding to academic freedom, open debate, intellectual honesty, and the like, is ‘No.’ We should expect, then, for the percentage saying no to be near 0, both for themselves and for their judgment of their colleagues.
But before we come to those numbers, recall that this survey is self-reported, and that human beings lie on self-reported surveys (to the questioner and to themselves), especially on topics which are contentious. Plus, the participants are sociologists and psychologists who use surveys continuously and know well how difficult it is to hide the intentions of the survey. Thus, we might expect, given our wide experience on the reporting of contentious questions, Inbar & Lammers’s results to underestimate the true propensities.
Let’s put the main finding in the words of our authors:
The more liberal respondents are, the more willing they are to discriminate.
Another Who Knew?: “We also found that women were more liberal than men in all domains” (this was in both of two datasets they used). This is academic women, dear reader, a population differing in many respects from civilian women.
For the four questions above, here are the percentages of those who answered being at least somewhat likely (I adapted this table from an Inside Higher Ed story, to align the answers with the same order of the questions):
|1. Grant application||23.8%||36.9%|
|2. Paper review||18.6%||34.2%|
|3. Invite conservative speaker||14.0%||29.6%|
|4. Vote for liberal over conservative||37.5%||44.1%|
About a one-fifth of academics admit they would hold a conservative’s views against him in the areas of grant applications, peer review, or in organizing symposia. This proportion doubles for voting for what an academic thinks his colleagues would do, and is therefore probably closer to the real percentage. Our authors put it this way:
The more conservative respondents were, the more they experienced a hostile climate, were reluctant to express their views to colleagues, and feared that they might be the victims of discrimination based on their political views. These fears are quite realistic: a sizeable [sic] portion of our respondents indicated at least some willingness to discriminate against conservatives professionally…
[W]e find that the more liberal participants are, the more likely they are to react negatively to work Political diversity taking a conservative perspective.
Obviously, quite obviously, these are “on average” results, with expected wide variability from institution to institution. Not much conservative discrimination, indeed probably its opposite, is expected at, say, Calvin College, where all professors must swear to the Nicene Creed. But lots and lots of discrimination is expected, and found, at places like Harvard—and there are many more Harvards than Calvins—where even a hint that one deviates (!) from the progressive line can send one packing. Buh bye, Larry.
Inbar and Lammers gave space for participants to write comments:
One participant described how a colleague was denied tenure because of his political beliefs. Another wrote that if the department “could figure out who was a conservative they would be sure not to hire them”. Various participants described how colleagues silenced them during political discussions because they had voted Republican. One participant wrote that “it causes me great stress to not be able to have an environment where open dialogue is acceptable. Although most colleagues talk about tolerance, and some are, there are a few vociferous voices that make for a closed environment.”
Even worse, one wrote “that (s)he once doubted that implicit measures really measure implicit racism, but felt too intimidated to openly ask that question.” In other words, don’t buck the consensus. If everybody uses a measure, it must therefore be right.
I gave this warning to junior faculty and graduate students a month or so back. I repeat it again today. As my old father says, Never pass up an opportunity to keep your mouth shut. If you don’t, you’ll end up with too much time on your hands, forced to take to something as low as blogging.