It’s no secret that academia is overwhelmingly liberal; so much so that many conservative professors may feel like they are in enemy territory. But a new study suggests that conservatives may have good reason to feel uneasy. Between a quarter and a third of liberal social psychologists indicated in survey responses that they would discriminate against conservatives in hiring decisions and grant proposals.
“They [conservatives] may be accurately worried that they’re going to suffer adverse consequences if people know their truth beliefs,” said Yoel Inbar, an assistant professor of social psychology and co-author of the study, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Inbar and co-author Joris Lammers — also an assistant professor of social psychology at Tilburg University — surveyed social psychologists and asked them ho w likely they would be to hire a liberal professor over an equally-qualified conservative, or evaluate a grant proposal positively if they knew its recipient was right-leaning.
The findings confirmed what many conservative faculty members already suspect: A steady minority of respondents — between a quarter and a third on average–thought they or their colleagues would discriminate against conservatives. The more liberal the respondents, the more likely they were to admit to bias.
Inbar worries that this hostile climate discourages conservatives from joining traditional academic environments.
“People who hold more conservative views may actually be feeling pushed out of our field,” he said.
The result? Universities that are self-segregated by ideology.
“If conservative people don’t feel comfortable in the mainstream academic environment, they are probably more likely to go to schools that focus on a socially conservative or libertarian perspective,” he said. “We end up with very polarized institutions where all the conservatives are in one place and all the liberals are in another, and we just don’t have any opportunity to interact with each other and talk to each other.”
For Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, the study reflects the fact that people tend to associate with their ideological allies.
“This isn’t a conspiracy, but it is problematic from the standpoint of producing good science,” he wrote in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We want academics to question conventional wisdom and consider new ideas and perspectives. That’s going to happen less when they are ideologically homogenous.”
Inbar advises people to take the study with a grain of salt. The sample size was small, and respondents were being asked to evaluate whether they thought they would be susceptible to bias, which isn’t the same thing as actually acting on bias.
But according to KC Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College, the danger lies in not taking the study seriously enough.
“The reaction to the study showed — yet again — how defenders of the academic status quo make the critics’ case, through preposterous rationalizations that would lead any neutral observer to see how serious a problem ideological bias in personnel matters remains,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The study also found a range of ideological views among non-liberals in academia. Respondents were more conservative on economics than foreign policy, and even fewer held socially conservative views. But according to Inbar, even moderate non-liberals indicated in the survey that the academic environment was hostile to them.
“I don’t think you have to be an outright social conservative, and as a matter of fact there are just very few of those people,” he said.
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