Why Are University Faculties Overwhelmingly Liberal??

Join the Executive Club and Cascade Policy Institute this Wednesday to hear Dr. Matt Manweller present “A Heretic’s Voice From the Ivory Tower: Understanding the Liberal Bias in American Academia.”

Matt Manweller is a professor of political science at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

Wednesday, May 7, 6-8 p.m. at the Portland Airport Shilo Inn
Free Admission, $20.00 for dinner

In his new book, A Heretic’s Voice From the Ivory Tower: Understanding the Liberal Bias in American Academia, Matt Manweller brings you a true “fish-out-of-water” narrative about the life and ideas of a conservative academic. University campuses have traditionally been the sanctuary of the left. But, every once in a while, a conservative slips through the cracks.

Dr. Manweller’s story takes you on a journey beginning with his days as a student at a liberal arts college and learning the ways of political correctness, followed by a five-year stint as the only Republican in his graduate school cohort, to being the only professor in the parking lot with a “Bush for President” bumper sticker on his car.

Manweller offers his insights on politics, economics, and foreign affairs from the perspective of a conservative academic perched in the ivory tower. Drawn from columns and editorials he has written over the years, he provides a conservative counterpoint to many of the debates that occupy the attention of American politics.

Humorous, controversial, and at times downright scary, Manweller gives you his opinions with double barrel force and a peek into a world most of us only see for four years of our life.

Dr. Mathew Manweller has spent 14 years walking the halls of academia, both as a student and teacher. He is currently a political science professor at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. He is the author of numerous books and articles on constitutional law, direct democracy, and judicial politics.


Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free market think tank.

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  • Jerry

    I would say some of the primary reasons college “professors” are liberal is that the work is easy, there is presumed status (although not real status), the hours are great, there is no accountability, one gets paid to be on a soapbox, one can have a sense of inflated importance, it is a sheltered envrionment, nothing is produced, everything is make-believe (except for the hard sciences), there are plenty of “feel-good” moments (although most are spurious), getting paid to “publish” things no one ever reads can be fun, one doesn’t have to dress well on the job, one gets free parking for one’s Saab or Volvo (owned by Ford – that really grates on them), one can work forever without fear of being fired, classes must be taken in order to meet grad requirements (so one doesn’t even have to excel at what one does to get full enrollment), and it is a great way to meet people. All of these things are attractive to liberals. Thus, rather than do, they teach.

    No mystery here, really. The above does not appy to all college teachers, obviously, just most in the soft courses, which abound on college campi throughout.

    • eagle eye

      Jerry, you are right, no mystery at all.

      With an attitude like yours, no conservative would ever have a prayer of getting hired at a university.

      • Jerry

        Exactly my point. Thanks!

        • eagle eye

          So, conservatives with views of academic life like yours should not be whining that there are no conservatives in American colleges and universities. To a very large extent, it’s a situation the conservatives have brought on themselves.

          • Jerry

            That is correct. Most conservatives would not be happy earning less than a high school teacher makes (see comments to this article) so they end up in real jobs making real money, not in some pathetic little office somewhere grading papers.

          • eagle eye

            I’m not sure the posts on this blog are necessarily the best source of data about what professors earn, I’ll bet you might get better data from the Chronicle of Higher Education or the AAUP. Just a hunch.

            But supposing your sources are correct and your suppositions about the motivations of conservatives are correct, that they shun academia for the sake of their happiness.

            If they are so happy, they sure spend a lot of time and ink wailing about the state of academia. Take a look at this month’s issue of The New Criterion. newcriterion.com.

  • devietro

    I think it has less to due with status and more to do with status quo. A liberal faculty set will attract liberal faculty either overtly or not. Also I think we need to limit this argument to public universities, the private education sector seems to have a much more conservative base than does the public one.

    • dean

      Reed College? Lewis and Clark? Private colleges run by the religous right may be “more conservative,” but I don’t think this represents private liberal arts colleges in general.

      Jerry…my experience as a part time, adjunct, non tenured university teacher is that by and large professors, even those with long tenure, are dedicated professionals, and most of them work very hard. Those who have yet to earn tenure work incredible hours for very low pay…much lower than what high school teachers make.

      At U Oregon, I don’t think any professors get free parking, and few can afford a Saab or Volvo unless we mean an older one. Many bike to campus, as do the students. A typical full professor salary at U Oregon with many years experience is mid $50 to mid 60K per year. PSU professors make quite a bit less than that, yet live in a more expensive city.

      Its not true there is “no accountability.” Faculty are accountable to their peers, and there is a lot of peer pressure to “produce” (good teaching, original research, and yes….publications that put one’s ideas out there for review and criticism).

      My own theory is that college teachers tend to be “liberal” politically because they are more interested in ideas and the direction of society than they are in getting rich. Same goes for journalists by the way. I don’t say this to disparage those who want to get rich, but I do think it takes a different mind set and leads to different conclusions about life, the universe, and everything.

      • devietro

        Private universities are run like a business (as should the public ones be). So if you look at private universities in Portland yes you will find them to be more liberal BECAUSE THATS THE MARKET HERE. This in itself is a conservative idea. I am looking at the big picture, (just like you lefties always tell me to).

      • Rupert in Springfield

        I do have to second that. Both of my ex’s were university professors. Any thought that they do not work very hard to get to where they are is untrue.

        That said, I think one reason why no small number of University professors are liberal is the same reason many government employees are liberal. They know which side their bread is buttered on.

        Virtually all university professors are in one way or another government employees. Professors have to do research, you wont get tenure without it, and you wont advance ( professors are not either tenured or non tenured, there are different levels of professorship once tenure is granted ) unless you continue to do this research. A huge portion of this research is funded by the government through things such as the National Institutes of Health ( NIH ), which gives grants to things that are far removed from what most would consider health related projects. For a professor to go their entire career, or even a sizable portion of it without receiving such grants would be difficult.

        So, the government funds them. One would therefore be quite surprised to find many who favoured minimal government, or more laissez-faire politics.

        I don’t think a professors liberalism is due to being interested in ideas, or direction of society, at least not more than anyone else. If this were true then one would expect most evangelicals to be liberal, they certainly seem interested in ideas, as well as the direction of society, since that’s basically all they ever talk about. Likewise, most business owners would also tend to be liberal as well, since certainly starting a new business to invest in and create the new latest and greatest thing requires an incredible amount of ideas, as well as thinking about which direction society is going in.

        • dean

          Top tier private colleges and universities, like Reed, L&C, Stanford, Yale, and Harvard, have “national” markets. They don’t draw the majority of students from their local communities, and there are just as many red states as blue ones, or more last time I checked. There has to be a different explanation.

          Based only on personal experience, people who are successful in business, just about any business, have to be bottom line oriented, and have to be able to be hard hearted at times (i.e. firing or laying off employees who have families to feed). Plus, most do not have the time or luxury (or maybe interest) to think the great thoughts and write the great books. And since business people are front line recipients of “liberal” public policy (taxation, minimum wage, regulation, etc.) it is understandable they would be more “conservative” in general, even if they did not start out that way.

          (As an interesting side note, the “liberalism” of college profs cuts across all disciplines, from humanities to engineering to economics).

          There does not seem to be much difference in the politics of professors at private liberal arts colleges and universities versus public ones, and those at places like Reed and L&C are generally not researchers, so they are not on the public dollar.

          Maybe the reason (for prof liberalism) is more “tribal.” People tend to gravitate to like minded people, and work environments that are supportive for their ideas.

          Do we need “affirmative action” for conservatives at colleges and universities? An Interesting question for both sides to ponder.

      • Jerry

        You might have some valid points there – but I completely disagree that most of these “professors” work for less than high school teachers due to dedication. I think it has much more to do with the low hours, the many, many days off, the spurious status, and, most importantly, that many of them could not get jobs that would pay them more even if they wanted to.

  • Anonymous

    dean,
    Your “theories” sure are predictable.

    “teachers tend to be “liberal” politically because they are more interested in ideas and the direction of society”

    meaning (liberals) are good people who care more about society.

    “than they are in getting rich”

    meaning (conservatives) bad people who don’t care about society.

    Typical liberal dean, doling out the boiler plate jibbersih class warfare.

    Yeah you have a different mindset dean.
    Your liberal “conclusions about life, the universe, and everything”
    are forever misguided theories that rely upon perpetual widespread distortions to sustain them.
    But you care.

    • dean

      Did I write that? I thought I wrote that they merely have different motivations. I was avoiding a value judgement. Choosing a life that allows one to ponder the big questions versus seeking wealth is not necessarily more or less virtuous. A person can be a selfish pig who likes to ponder, while another person could be a very generous and creative builder of business who “shares” through wages paid, investments returned, and money donated.

  • Crawdude

    I think its genetic! Many liberals enrolled in college to avoid Vietnam and it is now inbred in them to stay in college to avoid all other of lifes pressures and realities. (sic)

    • Ethan

      Wouldn’t it be much more likely that the behavior (lifestyle, beliefs) was _learned_ from parents?

  • Anonymous

    No Mystery.

    Once Liberals infest any institution (educational or otherwise) they actively work to keep out anyone who does not share their views.

    My father was a university professor for almost forty years. He was an old-line FDR Democrat. Near the end of his career, in the 1980s, he was appalled at both the hiring practices and the academic review process for PhD candidates. The main hiring criteria was an extreme leftist viewpoint and the criteria for approval of a PhD thesis ceased to be “is it worthy?” and instead became “did they try.”

    It is no wonder our universities are full of incompetents and fascist leftists.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    >have to be bottom line oriented, and have to be able to be hard hearted at times (i.e. firing or laying off employees who have families to feed).

    Hmm, ok, I guess you went to some sort of university where students were never graded poorly, or all completed their chosen program. Should I assume a psych major here?

    The first class in engineering school, they will tell you to look front back left and right, only one of those people will be there at the end. The was my experience, and is the experience of most others I know of who graduated the program.

    Anyone who says business people have to be heard hearted at times, and professors don’t, probably does not have a lot of experience in a rigorous academic program.

    >Plus, most do not have the time or luxury (or maybe interest) to think the great thoughts and write the great books.

    What the hell are you talking about? Most of the great works were hardly written by professors, nor was most of the great music written by them, nor any real contribution to the cannon of great art works.

    >(As an interesting side note, the “liberalism” of college profs cuts across all disciplines, from humanities to engineering to economics).

    No, at most universities, one will find engineering professors tend to be more conservative than humanities professors. I say this as someone who is an electrical engineer, who was partnered with two University professors for close to a decade and got to travel fairly extensively to various academic conferences and in such circles. Sure, liberals will exist in all departments, but anyone who says liberalism in academics is at all evenly spread across disciplines simply has no idea what they are talking about.

    >and those at places like Reed and L&C are generally not researchers, so they are not on the public dollar.

    Wrong – In general most professors conduct research of some kind. I have never heard of a college or university that will grant tenure without it. Some might exist but I don’t know of one. In fact, I have never heard of a PhD being obtained without research both in grad school and in post doc work. Since research tends to be enabled by grant money, a large portion of which is public, it is ridiculous to say professors are not on the public dollar to some extent.

    As an example, go to the Reed College or Lewis and Clark websites. Type “Research” into the search box. Plenty of research going on there.

    In short, anyone who says professors are not engaged in research doesn’t know what they are talking about.

    Anyone who tries to claim that since they are not pure researchers, and that Rupert missed the point, simply misread Rupert’s initial point at the outset and is still wrong.

    Anyone who then goes on and tries to claim that if the research does not constitute the bulk of a professors time, or income, then therefore the public dollar they are on is insignificant, has no idea whatsoever about promotion within the academy.

  • Jack

    This is an easy one. If your a Conservative especially a Republican, you don’t get hired. Like #6 anonymous, my father to was a Prof at OSU from 1954-1980 (a Moderate Republican at that) and saw fellow Profs replaced with Liberals alot. He blamed Jimmy Carters Department of Education with the transformation and an un-written rule that you must be a Liberal and Especially a Democrat or no job.

    • dean

      Rupert, your experience sounds harsh. Harvard and Yale (not considered shabby schools) apparetnly manage to graduate 87-88% of their students within 4 years of enrollment.

      https://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/usnews/edu/college/rankings/brief/webex/higrad_brief.php

      I know profs who have had to fail students, and have had to do so myself now and then. But it is rare. Students are not “employees” of the university….quite the opposite. They are paying customers, so “laying them off” is a very last resort.

      Yes, some fields like engineering and economics are not as dominated by “politically liberal” professors, but surprisingly (to me,) even these fields have large majorities that are liberals. So the conspiracy must be working.

      My own field is not very research oriented. Very few PhDs in landscape architecture, so my direct experience may be too limited. But since there are not a lot of research funds to be had, I only know of a handfull who are more busy at research than at teaching and other academic responsibilities.

      I have colleagues who teach at Reed. They do research and publish (or make art in one’s case,) but it is not a significant part of their incomes.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    >Rupert, your experience sounds harsh. Harvard and Yale (not considered shabby schools) apparetnly manage to graduate 87-88% of their students within 4 years of enrollment.

    Who cares. I never said anything relevant to that statement. Harvard, to my knowledge, does not have an undergraduate engineering school. I was speaking to the fact that professors do quite regularly make harsh decisions, particularly in difficult areas of study such as engineering.

    You chose to speak to something entirely different, Lord knows what your point is here.

    By the way, Harvard is widely known as an incredibly shabby school at the undergraduate level in a lot of areas. Most students I knew there were physics majors, they could expect to be taught by a TA virtually their entire undergraduate career. It was pathetic. Harvard is more known for its graduate program, not its undergrad.

    >I know profs who have had to fail students, and have had to do so myself now and then.

    Who cares, you are not a professor. You are or were an adjunct teacher. That is entirely different. I was speaking to the decisions professors have to make, not adjunct teachers. You don’t have experience with that.

    >But it is rare.

    No its not. Try enrolling in a rigorous discipline, pre law, pre med or engineering at the undergrad level. You will have professors tell you to your face that their job is to weed people out of the program. Failing that, watch the movie “The Paper Chase” it is quite clearly shown there, although that is law school, not undergrad. Failure, or being forced out of the program is most definitely the norm, not the exception, in the more rigorous disciplines.

    >Yes, some fields like engineering and economics are not as dominated by “politically liberal” professors, but surprisingly (to me,) even these fields have large majorities that are liberals. So the conspiracy must be working.

    What in the world are you saying here? In one sentence you say some fields are not as dominated by, the in the next sentence you say large majorities exist.

    What-choo sain here Willis?

    I think I am beginning to understand in just what sort of manner that organic garden of yours is “weedy”

    Are you smoking dope?

    I think you are smoking dope.

    You know, Mary Jane, reefer, loco weed.

    >I have colleagues who teach at Reed. They do research and publish (or make art in one’s case,) but it is not a significant part of their incomes.

    Yes, and thus you have fulfilled the last criteria in my post.

    “Anyone who then goes on and tries to claim that if the research does not constitute the bulk of a professors time, or income, then therefore the public dollar they are on is insignificant, has no idea whatsoever about promotion within the academy.”

    You simply don’t know what you are talking about. Research is quite often not a large portion of any given professors income. It is however very significant to promotion within the academy.

    You will not get a PhD without research.
    You will not complete any sort of post doc work without research.
    Once hired, you will not make tenure without research.
    Once tenured, you will not make full professor without research.
    Once a full professor, you will not make dean without research.
    and, if you get sick of where you are teaching,
    You will find it much harder to move, and if you do, you will be much less sought after, without an ability to show you bring in grant money for what?
    Research

    I have never seen a more clear cut case of someone who hasn’t the foggiest idea what they are talking about spouting off on something. I mean this is really astonishing.

    • dean

      Rupert…stop hyper-ventilating.

      A frequently cited (in the media) study on faculty politics is from Robert Lichter, Grorge Mason University. A small bit of his findings below, from a Washington Post article:

      “The most liberal faculties are those devoted to the humanities (81 percent) and social sciences (75 percent), according to the study. But liberals outnumbered conservatives even among engineering faculty (51 percent to 19 percent) and business faculty (49 percent to 39 percent). ”

      (Dominated by? Large majorities? We report. You decide).

      “The most left-leaning departments are English literature, philosophy, political science and *religious studies*, where at least 80 percent of the faculty say they are liberal and no more than 5 percent call themselves conservative, the study says. ”

      I’m particularly surprised by the religous studies bit, aren’t you?

      US News 2008 has Harvard’s undergrad program ranked number 2 in the nation, Yale number 3 (Princeton is 1st). 95% of entering freshman at Harvard ranked in the top 10% of their graduating class. 69% of their classes have fewer than 20 students. “Incredibly shabby school at the undergraduate level”?

      So…you have now been presented with fresh evidence of “someone who hasn’t the foggiest idea what they are talking about spouting off on something.” Only that someone turns out to be Rupert.

      Who has been lighting up doobies around here?. You prefer Liberty or Bob Jones Universities perhaps?

  • Rupert in Springfield

    >Dominated by? Large majorities? We report. You decide

    Big whoop, you have a study. The interesting thing is even if we go with your study, and even if we somehow figure out the self contradicting language of what you said, 51% aint a large majority. Sorry about that.

    >US News 2008 has Harvard’s undergrad program ranked number 2 in the nation, Yale number 3 (Princeton is 1st).

    And was the criteria for that rank based solely on classes being taught by professors vs. TA’s?

    No, I didn’t think so.

    That was my criteria, and that was abundantly clear in my post. Frankly I think any undergrad taking classes taught mostly by TA’s is being ripped off thus I think Harvard is something of a shabby school, at the undergraduate level. You were obviously unfamiliar with that. It is somewhat legendary however, and my complaint about Harvard in this regard is hardly singular.

    >So…you have now been presented with fresh evidence of “someone who hasn’t the foggiest idea what they are talking about spouting off on something.”

    Not really, I have been presented by a weak argument about the majority issue, and a failed argument about the Harvard/shabby issue. Both are side issues because you couldn’t address the main point. Namely that you have absolutely no clue as to how academic life works with regard to professors being linked to government funding through research grants thus their tendency towards liberal big government ideology. That was clearly what I was saying you had not the foggiest notion about.

    I frankly don’t really think your lack of knowledge about this is at all that big a deal, most lay people have no idea how professors are hired, promoted, or paid. I only have some insight into it because of my personal relationships. You don’t go through a decade with a couple of University professors, finishing their post doc work, applying for tenure track positions, making tenure, going to endless faculty events and conferences without gaining a fairly intimate knowledge of how the system works. You, like most people, clearly don’t have that level of familiarity with academia, hence your ignorance on the issue. That’s not a big deal. Insisting on arguing something you plainly know nothing about is just simple foolishness however.

    • dean

      Rupert…for the record, I have in the past applied for a tenure track position but was not selected. I have taught adjunct on and off for about 12 years at 2 universities and one community college (a 3rd university beginning next year). I have co-authored papers and book chapters with profs, and have edited them within my own book. I work closely with a prof at UO who does get a fair amount of federal research funding, though the funds go to his non-profit institue, not to him personally. (And by the way, the university takes 65% off the top from most research grants for overhead & support). I don’t really know his politics since we have not discussed this, but I suspect he is more liberal than conservative. Point is, I know a lot more than “nothing” about academia, but am much less than an expert. Maybe I am a 5 on a 10 scale.

      51% liberal to only 19% conservative is a large majority. If it was 51% to 49% I would agree with you.

      You said it was “widely known” that Harvard was a shabby school for undergrads. Now you say it is just your opinion, based on your TA criteria. I can accept that. Personally I agree with you that Harvard is way overrated, at least within my field, but then maybe I am just jealous….me with my banjo and weedy garden

  • Jared Prophet

    Liberal = Intelligent – So it follows that Teachers would be liberal.

    Conservative = Moron – So it follows cousin-marring backwoods hicks vote Republican.

    No Mystery what-so-ever.

    • Jerry

      The only mystery is how to spell marrying evidently…

    • Anonymous

      You’re off your meds.