Why Are So Many College Professors Politically Liberal?

Over at Talking Philosophy, Mike LaBossiere takes up that question. Unfortunately, I think his answer is mostly wrong.

Here's his introduction:

One common conservative talking point is that academics is dominated by professors who are, if not outright communists, at least devout liberals. While there are obviously very conservative universities and conservative professors, this talking point has considerable truth behind it: professors in the United States do tend to be liberal.

Another common conservative talking point is that the academy is hostile to conservative ideas, conservative students and conservative professors. In support of this, people will point to vivid anecdotes or make vague assertions about the hostility of various allegedly dominant groups in academics, such as the feminists. There are also the usual vague claims about how professors are under the sway of Marxism.

This point does have some truth behind it in that there are anecdotes that are true, there are some groups that do consistently express hostility to certain conservative ideas, and some professors do embrace Marxism or, worse, analytical Marxism.

I basically agree, but that opening paragraph needs to be phrased more carefully. The data is clear that large majorities of college professors hold politically liberal views and generally vote for Democrats. But “devout” liberals (which implies a religious or fanatical zeal underlying their politics) or communists are pretty rare. The conservative talking point, as LaBossiere notes, is not simply that professors tend to vote for Democrats, but that professors are just a bunch of left-wing fanatics and radicals. There is not considerable truth behind that. The radicals exist, especially in the humanities, but it is simply wrong to pretend that they are the dominant force.

That is just a warm-up. The real trouble comes when LaBossiere serves up his explanations for this phenomenon. Drawing on work from sociologist Neil Gross, LaBossiere writes:

As to why professors are liberal, Gross expands on an idea developed earlier: typecasting. The general idea is that professors have been typecast as liberals and this has the effect of drawing liberals and deterring conservatives. A more common version of typecasting is gender based typecasting. For example, while men and women can serve equally well as nurses, the field of nursing is still dominated by women. One reason for this is the perception that nursing is a job for women. In the case of professors, the typecasting is that it is a job for liberals. The result is that 51% of professors are Democrats, 14% Republican and the rest independent (exact numbers will vary from year to year, but the proportions remain roughly the same).

It might be thought that the stereotyping is part of a liberal plot to keep the academy unappealing to conservatives. However, the lion’s share of the stereotyping has been done by conservative pundits—they are the ones who have been working hard to convince conservatives that professors are liberal and that conservatives are not welcome. Ironically, one reason that young conservatives do not go on to become professors is that conservative pundits have worked very hard to convey the message that professorships are for liberals.

“Typecasting” is not much of an explanation, it is mostly just a restatement of the problem. Why, exactly, have conservatives been so diligent in typecasting college professors as demented left-wingers? To use LaBossiere's analogy, it is certainly true that nursing tends to be dominated by women, and also true that nursing tends to be perceived as a job for women. But it is the former that explains the latter, not vice versa.

What else does LaBossiere suggest?

One factor worth considering is that professors have to go through graduate school in order to get the degrees they need to be professors. While there are some exceptions, being a graduate student gives a person a limited, but quite real, taste of what it is like to be poor even when one is working extremely hard.

While it was quite some time ago, I recall getting my meager paycheck and trying to budget out my money. As I recall, at one point I was making $631 a month. $305 went to rent and I went without a phone, cable, or a car. Most of the rest was spent on food (rice puffs and Raman noodles) and I had to save some each month so I could buy my books. I did make some extra money as a professional writer—enough so I could add a bit of meat to my diet.

While I was not, obviously, in true poverty I did experience what it is like to try to get by with an extremely limited income and to live in cheap housing in bad neighborhoods. Even though I now have a much better salary, that taste of poverty has stuck with me. As such, when I hear about such matters as minimum wage and actual poverty, these are not such theoretical abstractions—I know what it is like to dig through my pockets in the hope of finding a few missed coins so I can avoid the shame of having to return items at the grocery store checkout. I know what it is like to try to stretch a tiny income to cover the bills.

I don't buy it. I don't know if there is any research out there on the political attitudes of entering graduate students, but I'd bet that most of them were already liberals when they chose that route. Most of us didn't start graduate school as political blank slates, suddenly get a taste of living with very little money, and then discover our tremendous empathy for the poor. So I think we will have to keep looking for an answer to the question.

LaBossiere's next suggestions comes much closer to the truth:

Another factor worth considering is that some (but obviously not all) professors are professors because they want to be educators. It is hardly shocking that such people would tend to accept views that are cast as liberal, such as being pro-education, being in favor of financial aid for students, being in favor of intellectual diversity and tolerance of ideas, favoring freedom of expression and thought, and so on. After all, these are views that mesh well with being an educator. This is not to say that there are no exceptions. After all, some people want to train others to be just like them—that is, to indoctrinate rather than educate. However, these people are not nearly as common as the conservative talking points would indicate. But, to be fair, they do exist and they perform a terrible disservice to the students and society. Even worse, they are sometimes considered great scholars by those who share their taste in Kool Aid.

Given that conservatism is often associated with cutting education spending, cutting student financial aid, opposing intellectual diversity and opposing the tolerance of divergent ideas, it is hardly surprising that professors tend to be liberals and opposed to these allegedly conservative ideas. After all, what rational person would knowingly support an ideology that is directly detrimental to her profession and livelihood?

Thus, what probably helps push professors (and educators) towards liberalism and against conservatism is the hostility expressed against professors and educators by certain very vocal pundits and politicians. Fox News, for example, is well known for its demonization of educators. This hostility also leads to direct action: education budgets have been cut by Tea Party and Republican legislatures and they have been actively hostile to public educational institutions (but rather friendly to the for-profits). As such, the conservative pundits who bash educators should not express shock our outrage when educators prefer liberalism over their conservatism. Naturally, if someone insults and attacks me repeatedly, they should hardly be surprised when I do not want to embrace their professed values.

This is exactly right, but there is more to be said. LaBossiere seems to have overlooked the most obvious explanation for the predominance of liberals in academe.

It is this: Modern conservatism is so shot through with anti-intellectualism that we should not be surprised that intellectuals generally want nothing to do with it.

This plays out in a number of ways.

In many cases, modern conservatism essentially forces you to hold views that are just contrary to fact. If you accept evolution or climate change then you have no future in conservative politics. Why would science professors find that appealing? There is likewise an utterly fantastical view of American history among much of the right, in which the country was founded by heroic evangelicals specifically as a Christian nation. Why should we be surprised when actual historians demur? Are sociologists familiar with the best available data going to be impressed by hateful rhetoric that blames only the poor for their situation? Are serious economists expected to be polite towards long-discredited notions of supply-side theorizing?

It is sometimes said that the facts have a liberal bias. Indeed they do, and that goes a long way to explaining why college professors tend to be liberal.

A closely related point involves the simple-mindedness of so many conservative arguments. So much of their argumentation revolves around catchy slogans that do not hold up to scrutiny. More guns less crime. Cutting taxes leads to economic growth. Life begins at conception. It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Negotiating with our enemies projects weakness. Now, if there is one thing you learn in graduate school, in any discipline, it is how to analyze things deeply. Nothing is obvious, everything is nuanced. The kind of person who finds it appealing to pursue a PhD is also the kind of person who is unlikely to be taken in by cheap sloganeering.

Still another variation on the theme is the prevalence of religion in conservative thought. More specifically, the prevalence of evangelical Christianity and the more right-wing forms of Catholicism. It is hardly a secret that higher-levels of education tend to correlate strongly with lower-levels of interest in conservative versions of religion. There is nothing mysterious in this. If your day job requires you endlessly to sharpen and refine your own original ideas and arguments, then you are unlikely to respond favorably to being told that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and that we must bow to what it says.

This is where LaBossiere's nursing analogy is inapt. The dearth of conservatives in academe is not the same kind of thing as the dearth of men in nursing. A better analogy would liken it to the dearth of astrologers among physicists, or the dearth of creationists among biologists, or the dearth of young-Earthers among paleontologists. But if you put it that way, then you can no longer pretend this is a difficult question.

Let me close with an anecdote. As a graduate student at Dartmouth in the late nineties, I had the chance to see William F. Buckley speak. He had come to Dartmouth to lambaste us all for the terrible things that were happening at the school. You see, the occasion for his talk was that the college's president, James Freedman, in speaking at the opening of a new campus Hillel, had discussed Dartmouth's sad history of anti-semitism and criticized a former president for describing the school's mission as being to “Christianize its students.” In Buckley's view, Freedman's statement represented an insidious secularization of the college. It was an attempt to “Judaize” Dartmouth's students (Click here for a short article about Buckley's visit, from the Dartmouth student newspaper.)

That's what he was worked up about. William F. Buckley represented the best of serious conservative thought, but even so much of his output was just preening, self-righteous, borderline bigoted nonsense. And he was a giant compared to the most prominent conservatives today.

So ask me again why so many college professors are not attracted to conservatism.


More like this

Note that the typecasting argument and the poverty argument are mutually exclusive. The first suggests that there are lots of (potential) conservative professors but that they don't feel attracted to a career at a university. LaBossiere fails to show where they go then. We know where all the men are who chose not to become a nurse. Where are all the (potential) conservative professors who do not work at a university? The second argument suggests that after their study only few students have remained conservative.

"Modern conservatism is so shot through with anti-intellectualism that we should not be surprised that intellectuals generally want nothing to do with it."
This is probably the correct one. Somewhere I read that 40, 50 years ago way more professors voted on the GOP than nowadays.

I think it is wrong to suggest that conservatives want to restrict free speech more than liberals. Conservatives may be more likely to want to restrict pornography and flag-burning but liberals are more likely to want to restrict hate speech and commercial speech. On core political speech, neither side wants to restrict much in the US. See, e g, here for the voting pattern of Supreme Court justices: http://www.volokh.com/2008/02/28/liberals-conservatives-and-free-speech/

As for the rest of your post, I think it says more about you, than the issue at hand. Of course you find conservatism anti-intellectual and stupid, you are a liberal. I do not deny that you have managed to cite some examples of stupid conservative rhetoric but I utterly deny that you have managed to show that it is more common for conservatives to engage in it than liberals.

MnP: That's an interesting point, but I'm not sure it's correct, even though I agree that the poverty argument is pretty weak (an additional problem with it being that the expense of school is often enough to entirely deter people who are already poor!). The two explanations don't each have to cover the entire population of liberal professors; they can be thought of as a pair of hurdles/filters. If a data point wishes to become a conservative professor, it must first confront the typecasting effect, and secondly get through grad school.

Like if there were something about years of nursing school that actually cause many male nurses to change their sex; this wouldn't contradict the typecasting hypothesis but simply add to it. (Although as Jason pointed out, typecasting isn't really an explanation. I suspect that with nursing, the root cause is simply that it is percieved as being "assistive" to someone more important, and many of those jobs were long ago agreed to be "women's work" thanks to patriarchy. Which is yet another thing for modern conservatism to frustrate us over.: Not only do they raol against feminism, but they incnsistently accept some of its achievements while rejecting others. It's all right if our daughter wears trousers, becomes a bank president, and never learns to cook, but heaven forbid our son comes into contact with a single doll.)

Jason's point about conservative slogans made me want to disagree, but the only liberal "slogan" I can think of right now is rather long by comparison: "It will be a great day for education when the schools have all the money they need and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomb." While I think neither side has a monopoly on dumb nicknames for the other, it does look like conservatism has cornered the market on those sorts of quick phrases. It's as if the average liberal is likely to feel insufficiently confident in their views to spout them so bluntly, with no context.

There are a couple of forms of science- and reason-denial that can be slightly more asssociated with the left, such as unfounded opposition to GMOs. But it's nowhere near as pervasive or as integrated with the liberal identity (especially since the whole left can still agree to oppose the practices of companies like Monsanto while disagreeing as to whether GMOs have some kind of "inherent" danger). Compare to the way in which the Republican Party has recently had an awkward conversation with itself over whether birtherism is utter baloney, an open question, or downright integral to any good conservative. (Which also shows you how the racism gets rolled right into the crazy.)

All that said, I stil feel uncomfortable with the vaguely inconsistent answer of "Academia is hostile to conservatives because they percieve reality without nuance, and also, conservatives happen to be completely wrong while liberals are entirely right." But I think these can be reconciled insofar as at least some of the "entirely right" stuff only becomes "liberal" by elimination (there's nothing inherently political about evolution).

Re Jr @ #2

Unfortunately, most evolution deniers are also politically conservative, as are most global warming deniers. Sure, counterexamples can be found but they are statistically insignificant.

Even highly educated and productive conservative scientists who have not shaken off the brainwashing of fundamentalist religion can end up denying evolution. Case in point, my PhD thesis adviser, who was on the short list of physicists who contributed to the theory of what is known as the Higgs boson and who was a candidate for the Nobel prize in physics this year, was an evolution denier. He came from a very conservative religious background and was also politically very conservative.

By colnago80 (not verified) on 30 Dec 2013 #permalink

Academics' careers involve detailed and careful study of the facts and theories to explain and summarize them.

It is well known that the facts have a liberal bias.

Why is it a surprise that history professors who study our Founding Fathers, for example, don't agree with conservatives' claims that the United States is a Christian nation? Or that biology professors who study the origin of species don't agree with conservatives' claims that God did it by fiat. Or that economics, psychology, sociology, and anthropology professors who study human motivations and social organizations and processes don't agree with conservatives that cutting food stamps and unemployment benefits are good ideas?

Many apparent puzzles find their resolutions in the facts' liberal bias.

By Bernard Leikind (not verified) on 30 Dec 2013 #permalink

The motivating concept of higher education (other than for the professions) is that knowledge is valuable for its own sake. Another way to phrase this is that people can be, in some sense, "bettered" by learning. It's a small step from there to progressive political thought.

This is a strange post. You aren't defending liberalism. You aren't even really showing that conservatism (or other non-left-wing political positions) is false. You're merely pointing out that lots of conservatives are the sort of people that intellectuals would rather not be associated with.

Which is an odd reason to pick a political position.

By Steven Reilly (not verified) on 30 Dec 2013 #permalink

There are conservatives and conservatives, liberals and liberals. Social conservatives in my experience come from very religious backgrounds and rely on the Bible for guidance. Economic conservatives, on the other hand, are more inclined to rely on economic studies and theories. Liberals can be religiously inclined and find support in the teachings of Christ, or can be economically influenced by writers such as Marx and Engels.

Most liberals have a trust in government that is matched only by social conservatives trust in God.

By Sylvester B (not verified) on 30 Dec 2013 #permalink

...51% of professors are Democrats, 14% Republican and the rest independent ...

I find the 35% unaffiliated the most interesting number. I'll bet it has grown.

My understanding is that party affiliation is based on matching professors names with voter registration. That just says what you felt when you moved into the community. One has to be pretty antagonized to go to the trouble to change party affiliation. In some states with a dominant party, registering in that party at least gives one a chance to vote in a primary.

I wonder if there is a difference between state and private colleges in the ratios.

Sylvester B:

Most liberals have a trust in government that is matched only by social conservatives trust in God.

"Matched" is an extreme understatement; try "exceeded". Nobody thinks that government is actually omnibenevolent; you aren't going to see liberals writing gigantic papers to defend a proposition that government (a) exists and (b) does zero harm in the world. The US government has done enormous quantities of harm, although conservatives tend not to like the examples liberals pick for some reason. In fact, I would argue that in certain matters, conservtives are far likelier to display a religion-like faith in the US government — religion-like to the extent that it is not backed by arguments, other than a kind of "patriotic" equivalent to divine command theory (with various exceptions). If a liberal rails against the government's past as a sanctioner of genocide and slavery, or its present as an abuser of civil rights and over-user of military force, they'll be shot down by conservatives as unpatriotic, even when the conservatives themselves agree that, eg, slavery is bad and that government is often evil. Yet for some reason this principle doesn't apply to conservatives attacking the New Deal. I honestly can't figure out what the game's rules are.

Anyway, the whole spiel that liberals have some kind of special "trust in government" is absurd. We just don't reflexively assume it spoils everything it touches "because GOVERNMENT", and thus we appear "naive" by comparison to conservatives. (Though they sure do change their tune when it comes to being "tough on crime", or our military complex. And, yes, this hypocrisy doesn't cut both ways because liberals don't tend to talk about the evils of "government" in the abstract while pointing to the military; we focus more on the observed results, not the actors.)

To accuse liberals of wanting government to be a mommy and daddy that fix everything is like making the equivalent accusation against someone who is willing to sometimes reccomend computer-based solutions to problems. "Oh yeah, you think computers never break or experience errors, that they're infallible, and you always believe whatever the computer says!"

This blog seems to be comparing the far right with far left. Most people are in between.

Those that can’t do, teach. Those that do are not college professors – they work productively in producing goods for us. Those that can’t do must have government help for support. The more intelligent become professors. However, a few professors do actually contribute something against the odds.

Professors favor freedom of expression and thought – not that I’ve observed as instructor in 3 colleges. Professors are in a backbiting (lacking a profit motive), very competitive, very political world. Their support comes from more government. The politicians to get elected are spending more money to support disadvantaged and the infirm. This has been progressively increasing since the 60’s with the “great society”. The income inequality has been increasing since 1970 through both political parties. The “no child left behind” effort has resulted in the dummying down of the US. Government wasted billions in their “green” company investments that private venture funding refused (private venture funding has invested in “green” projects). The housing projects run by government failed. Conservatives (except the far right) want results. Government is an inefficient user of resources. Therefore, cutting taxes and government spending does result in better results because the free market is more efficient.

Conservatives want better education at least at the level before the government interfered. Conservatives want more choice and freedom for the parents to choose and control. Conservative wants contributors to decide how to spend their money (more freedom). The liberal want to take freedom and choice away for the citizens.

Look at the texts and tests. Education in the larger government supported programs is indoctrination.

Comparing cities, tough gun control results in more crime. More guns do cut crime. The first protection a citizen has against crime against him is his gun. The police arrive too late, usually after the criminal has escaped.

Personally, I find little difference between the far left and the far right in their methods and desires. Both want a group—think environment. Science publishing simply doesn’t publish or fund thinking outside the box (see H. Arp’s comments).

If I read the article again, I’m sure I’ll find more falsehoods from both.

Being a professor is a relatively low-paying job for the education and work hours involved. If making money has a higher priority than intellectual challenge, then many are going to seek other employment. I don't have the numbers, but a conservative could likely make much more money at a think tank than at a university.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 30 Dec 2013 #permalink

A number of studies of psychological studies have been done that have found a number of characteristics common among conservatives but significantly less so among liberals including dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty avoidance and need for cognitive closure. I would suggest that the first two are almost antithetical to doing research.

I would argue that typecasting is not a cause, but a positive feedback mechanism. It serves to amplify existing differences.

We have other amplifying factors at play. If a certain profession is known to vote strongly for one party, the other party becomes its enemy, which serves only to harden attitudes among that group. So we could easily start out with a slight preponderance one way or the other, and then see feedbacks kick in and increase it.

Its also true there is a certain resentment against intellectuals. I suspect it arises from school age resentments against "teachers pets", and students to which one was held up as in some way inferior to. Since only a small fraction of the population can become the intellectual elite, there is bound to be some reservoir of resentment. And politics thrives on the exploitation of resentments.

By Omega Centauri (not verified) on 30 Dec 2013 #permalink

I also think the attitude towards poverty is a probably not overwhelming) but is still real factor. Those who have gone through grad school, have usually experienced an extended period of youth poverty. And you were surrounded by others going through the same life experience. So you remember that period, and you also are more open to the idea, that poverty often isn't always the fault of the person, but of the person being caught in a system that doesn't allow them to overcome it. For grad students/ postdocs, it is a temporary period -but may approach a decade in some cases.

I also remember being treated as a sort of second class citizen. "I won't rent my house to a student!". Again the expectation is that one's period of low social stature will be limited helps somewhat. But, when the chance to change that status is still years away, it feels like an almost permanent condition.

By Omega Centauri (not verified) on 30 Dec 2013 #permalink

Lots of kids become more liberal when they go to college, not because of anything they learn there but because they have finally escaped the rigid ideological supervision of right-wing parents and traditional churches. The Conservative hatred for higher education may be based on the fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

By Jim Harrison (not verified) on 30 Dec 2013 #permalink

"[I]t is certainly true that nursing tends to be dominated by women, and also true that nursing tends to be perceived as a job for women. But it is the former that explains the latter, not vice versa."

Just the reverse, I think. Care of the sick, which requires both nurturing and scutwork involving bodily fluids, was, like care of children, considered women's work since long before it was a paid professional function. For a long time, women were encouraged to pursue only a limited number of "appropriate" careers, among them nursing (but not doctoring). When women are able to choose from only a few economic roles that are perceived as suitable for women, women who need incomes will flood into those roles, hence "dominating" them. And, of course, men will tend to avoid jobs that are thought of as "women's work", both because they seem unmasculine and because they are usually poorly paid, further reducing the percentage of men in those roles.

I couldn't agree more with this post. I often tell my conservative family, who laments my recent shift in political opinions, that I'm still a conservative, but I'm just on the conservative side of those debatable positions that remain after eliminating everything that flies in the face of reality.

By Science Avenger (not verified) on 30 Dec 2013 #permalink

@ JR#2 "I do not deny that you have managed to cite some examples of stupid conservative rhetoric but I utterly deny that you have managed to show that it is more common for conservatives to engage in it than liberals."

What he did do was list several positions that are practically part and parcel of what it MEANS today to be a conservative, that are held by some of the most powerful and prominent conservatives, that run completely counter to all the best science we have on the issues: denying evolution, and global warming, pretending there is a "moment" of conception, and that tax revenue can go up as a result of tax rates going down. and all the idiotic arguments against gay marriage.

Now if you are claiming (I don't want to put words in your mouth) that the sins of liberals are just as bad, then lets see your list. What are the great intellectual sins of liberalism that are equivalent, held by as many and as prominent members of the group, and run just as afoul of the science as those listed above?

Show us. Show us a Democratic candidate for Vice President that has said anything as stupid as Sarah Palin's rejection of evolution, or Paul Ryan's derision of our modern navy because the number of ships was less than we had in WWI. Not slips of the tongue (57 states), not things that are matters of opinion, not something that merely runs afoul of GOP dogma - something that 95% of the world's experts would just laugh at. I've issued this challenge on blogs before, and no one could do it.

By Science Avenger (not verified) on 30 Dec 2013 #permalink


Those that can’t do, teach. Those that do are not college professors – they work productively in producing goods for us. Those that can’t do must have government help for support.

If we are to take this logically, one necessary conclusion is that private schools (colleges or otherwise) simply don't exist, or aren't useful; in the absence of government support, private schools would melt away for lack of market utility. After all, you said "must", a strong word.

Still, that does raise a point which has been just lightly touched on here — most professors have a personal financial reason to be in favor of government investment in various projects. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if that was the "other" great cause, simultaneous to the fact that various tenets of conservatism are indeed at odds with established "academic" beliefs like "demons don't cause disease" (okay, I'm picking on the low-hanging fruit there, but there's just so much of it…).

Lenoxus @20
You may be correct. I suppose the private school is a response to the lack of parental influence of government schools. Either way, the general education level was higher before federal intervention. I wonder if the “child left behind” rate has been improved or worsened in the last 20 years.

As I read the comments, we are assigning the words “conservative” and “liberal” too broadly. I would suggest we are using these words to mean the extremes of the spectrum.

By John (not verified) on 30 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by Lenoxus (not verified)

Clearly there will be contributions by many factors, but I think the bulk of the divide in academia can be explained fairly simply.

First, there are two completely different types of "conservatism" at issue, which are often conflated.

Social conservatism is centered on received answers, held as true with a certainty that is as complete as it is unwarranted. Having a tightly closed mind plays a big role here. Closed-mindedness and absolute certainty, of course, don't mix well with pretty much any academic subjects.

Fiscal conservatism is about being selfish. No doubt that sounds flippant, but it's accurate. It is not necessary to be socially conservative as well (see Libertarians). Filling the role of an educator, however, is a largely selfless act. Note that there's a risk that the very good pay that comes with high end tenured positions can push some towards fiscal conservatism. Few people who find themselves making good money can escape the feeling that they absolutely deserve it and certainly earned it ("So why can't everyone else do the same so I don't have to pay so much in taxes?").

There's a similar story with politics itself. Often you hear the the Democrats are rubbish compared to Republicans when it comes to playing hardball, manipulating news to their advantage, and other such things. Which is quite true, but for a very good reason - the types of people who can undertake such activities (which are often dishonest and brutal in the end result) are rarely going to be Democrats.

It's just a different mindset.

Re John @ #11

Here's a poll that shows that there is a large divide between Rethuglicans and Democrats on acceptance of human evolution.


Those that can’t do, teach. Those that do are not college professors – they work productively in producing goods for us. Those that can’t do must have government help for support. The more intelligent become professors.

That include Ken Miller?

By colnago80 (not verified) on 31 Dec 2013 #permalink

John: " Those that do are not college professors – they work productively in producing goods for us."

Is this really true? Don't professors investigate a lot of different ideas and try to understand what's going on in the world, for the better advantage of society? How is that NOT a service for which we should want to pay?

Here's an example: SE US states are the site of yet another economically-devastating invasive species, the so-called "crazy ant".

People & governments have been slow to respond to this threat partly because there aren't experts available to identify the problem and its causes in a way that makes sense to governments. Why? Because we keep cutting funding for universities and research into a whole range of issues, often for ideological reasons. According to the article, "The Cornell University ecologist David Pimentel and his colleagues have estimated that invasive species cost the nation $120 billion a year." (Of course - they would say that.) A practical knowledge of biology, combined with well thought out regulation and disciplined enforcement could have saved billions here. Who cares whether the people gathering knowledge are liberal or conservative?

I think this issue is the result of Conservatives simply using the strategy that's worked so well over the last 50 years of labelling ideas and people they don't like as Liberal/Socialist/Marxist as a way of silencing any opposition to their agenda.

Anyway, to answer the question, I think the obsessive labelling of ideas and people Conservatives don't like, or that represents a threat to their self-proclaimed authority in various fields, has succeeded in shifting the Overton window. What might have been seen as a healthy range of viewpoints 30 years ago is now a caricature they've created, allowing Conservatives to rail against the oppression of a majority of "Liberal" professors.

"Either way, the general education level was higher before federal intervention. "

That seems like a totally unsubstantiated claim.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 31 Dec 2013 #permalink

After federal intervention, the “dummying down of America” has been reported on the news. Further, other news reports suggest the US is slipping in international relative rank on tests. To go down is to proceed from a higher place that existed before federal intervention. Its logic. I’ve not seen a report that links the decline to Federal intervention other than the timing. I understand that to liberals this link is counterintuitive and is, therefore, not reported directly.

After having said that, I note these results are a determined by tests. The tests in states have been made simpler to get more federal funding. So, state test results look better. FOX (but not CNN that I’m aware of) has reported this - at least.

Let me offer some opinions. The nature of these tests is essentially a regurgitation of textbook material. Sometime some comparison of figures is added. The point I’d like to make is these tests do not test creativity. The creativity of a society is what drives technology. Technology drives military and economic power. The goal of regurgitation of textbook material stifles creativity. So, we see China advancing. But they are copying not creating. So too are other nations with higher test scores. Thus, we see the apparent paradox the US is very technology advanced and powerful (arguably most powerful) yet its tests scores are lower than many other nations.

In my opinion, the federal funding initiative is stressing tests and the looser is creativity. I think this is the real problem in the US.

By John (not verified) on 31 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by Michael Fugate (not verified)

I had a professor sum this up quite succinctly, one of my fellow students (a complete ditto-head BTW) started blabbering about liberals and conservatives. The professor pointed out that the terms "liberal" and "conservative" had been redefined in recent years. They didn't mean more government or less government. They described "desire of change." Liberals wanted change, conservatives didn't.

I agree tests are not the answer, but this is not a liberal plot. No Child was a republican scheme and it killed education for the brightest. Privatization of education will only lead to more teaching to the test. What we need is teachers controlling curriculum, but teachers who know how to think and reason and be creative, but this means we need to pay them as much as we pay medical doctors. Privatization will drive education to hell like it did manufacturing in the US. We need unions to protect teacher salaries and pensions.

The other problem is every decade we have tried to educate more and more people - we also have a more diverse society. To try to document cause and effect is very hard.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 31 Dec 2013 #permalink

Michael Fugate
Tests have been around for a very long time. You seem to agree the No child initiative killed education for the brightest. Would you go farther and say it is harming the average student or the student interested more in trade training rather than academic indoctrination?
Measuring the progress of students is a part of indoctrination.
In my opinion, republican or democrat makes little difference. They both cater to the voter. Both have the solution of more federal control and standardizing.

We do need people who can think, reason, and know the demands of the social and technological environment to set the curriculum. That is NOT teachers. It is the people who are demonstrating success in the real world such as local business leaders and, with some reservation, parents.

What should be done with teachers that are performing below acceptable limits? Should they be asked to find other employment or should they be kept in teaching occupying a position another may be better at filling?

By John (not verified) on 31 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by Michael Fugate (not verified)

No child is a disaster for everyone. Look greed has killed good jobs in this country that did not need a college education. The idea that everyone should go to college is silly - it is now destroying colleges as well.

The idea that teachers are not professionals is just bullshit. You obviously have never been a teacher nor even bothered to find out what they do. Only in a fairy-tale land are business leaders better equipped to educate than teachers. None of your vaunted business leaders would even come near education because it doesn't pay enough for their greedy little minds.
We need to treat teachers like professionals, we need to pay teachers more, we need to have higher standards for credential programs, we need to give them time to develop curriculum. Then we need to figure out how to evaluate teachers and it is not test results - at least not as currently structured. The problem is that a teacher's influence may not be felt for years - everything in the business world is based on short-term, but education is for the long-term. The business model is crap - which is why business leaders almost always fail as educators - no patience.


By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 31 Dec 2013 #permalink

Michael F.
You read it all wrong. Where do you get this stuff?

Did I say teachers were not professional? NO
Did I say business leaders should teach? NO. They should set the curriculum not teach.
I have been a teacher. Or rather a university and college instructor. I’ve seen the incompetent teaches continue to be incompetent. I’ve also known some good teachers. Are you saying incompetent teaches should be allowed to continue teaching?

“Then we need to figure out how to evaluate teachers and it is not test results – at least not as currently structured.” I agree. Where did you get the idea I didn’t agree with this part?

“everything in the business world is based on short-term,” Where did you get this false notion. The mediocre, soon to fail businesses may be. But, the senior executives don’t. Investing in plants and people requires payback over many years. In some industries the planning is measured in decades. Do you think businesses invest in say a steel mill with a 20 –30 year payback based on short—term thinking? It is the politicians that think short—term. The politicians pass this thinking onto businesses that is very difficult for business to respond. Even the newscasters note the short—term view of politicians is hurting investment because executives are very hesitant to invest in uncertain political environments.

What makes you think business leasers are not concerned with education? Many companies have and pay for further education for their employees. They have to because the traditional system under teachers setting the curriculum has failed to meet the circumstances. Look at the current educational incentives for unemployed people. They programs are next to useless – This was on the news 2-3 days ago.

Where do you get such a warped view of the world?

By John (not verified) on 31 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by Michael Fugate (not verified)

All other factors equal, people gravitate toward environments that _they perceive_ will be socially "friendly" to themselves. QED.

Let us not forget libertarians, who range from "conservative" to "liberal" on various issues, and tend to be highly scientifically literate and intellectually capable (plus or minus certain inherent contradictions, that parallel those found in any ideological grouping). They are concentrated in the high tech industries, where they have an absolutely enormous effect on our culture through the very architecture of the technology we use, most notably the internet.

John - not worth my time continuing. Business leaders not the answer - I am sorry. Maybe if they paid taxes - they wouldn't need to pay for education. Greed won't save education.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 31 Dec 2013 #permalink

The book _The Republican Brain_ answers this question nicely.

Did I say business leaders should teach? NO. They should set the curriculum not teach.
Looks to me to be a really bad idea - What makes you think that a business *leader* is qualified in setting the curriculum? As a programmer I'd be horrified if the CEO or CTO or CIO of my company was deciding the curriculum for computer programming.

By deepak shetty (not verified) on 02 Jan 2014 #permalink

The business leaders have been tested in the competitive world. Unlike employees, they have had to face the realities of life and have prevailed.

I was an executive and CEO of a small company. The hourly workers were semiskilled. The problem the company faced was the new hires were unprepared for our technical environment. For example, one of the jobs was soldering. We tried hiring people that had completed government-sponsored class in soldering. They were taught wrong. We had to untrain them and retrain. It was easier to hire people with no training and train ourselves. Even the techs had academic type training. They were unprepared for the task they faced.

This experience comes for a high tech company and it could be unique. But, I don’t think so.

By John (not verified) on 02 Jan 2014 #permalink

In reply to by deepak shetty (not verified)

the short answer is because they are smart.