According to the Washington Post, the study was "funded by the Randolph Foundation, a right-leaning group that has given grants to such conservative organizations as the Independent Women's Forum and Americans for Tax Reform" (Howard Kurtz, "College Faculties A Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds," Washington Post, 29 Mar. 2005, C1). Caveat emptor.
What data did the study employ?
"The data come from the 1999 North American Academic Study Survey (NAASS) of students, faculty and administrators at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. This survey was conducted in 1999 by Angus Reid (now Ipsos-Reid), a survey research firm" (Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte, (2005, p. 3).
(The 1999 "North American Academic Study Survey" by Angus Reid? I've never heard of the study before. Has anyone? Can't find anything more about the "North American Academic Study Survey" through Google Scholar, LexisNexis, JSTOR, Project Muse, Social Science Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts, and Worldwide Political Science Abstracts. Has anyone other than Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte gained access to the survey's data and analyzed them? If not, why not? It's a survey presumably taken six years ago, and no one has made a peep about it till now?)
Based on the obscure survey, Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte claim that "a sharp shift to the left has taken place among college faculty in recent years" (2005, p. 4):
Table 1. Ideological self-description of college professors and general publicTo show the "sharp shift," Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte played a statistical trick. Their NAASS sample is far less representative than the Carnegie study that they use for the point of comparison: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, The Condition of the Professoriate: Attitudes and Trends (Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1989). The NAASS's American sample consisted of "1643 faculty members" from "183 universities and colleges," containing "responses from 81 doctoral, 59 comprehensive and 43 liberal arts institutions" (Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte, 2005, p. 3), whereas The Condition of the Professoriate obtained data from "over 5,000 faculty employed at a variety of institutions from Two-Year Community Colleges to Research Institutions" (Tony Palmeri, "The Engaged University: The Ideas of Ernest Boyer," 25 Jan. 2002). Research has shown that faculty and students at research institutions are more liberal than those at primarily teaching institutions (see, for instance, Gordon Shepherd and Gary Shepherd, "War and Dissent: The Political Values of the American Professoriate," The Journal of Higher Education 65.5 [September/October 1994], especially p. 586; and Richard F. Hamilton and Lowell L. Hargens, "The Politics of the Professors: Self-Identifications, 1969-1984," Social Forces 71.3 [March 1993], especially pp. 608-609, 613-614, 616), so the NAASS's exclusion of two-year colleges and overrepresentation of doctoral institutions is a recipe for accentuating the proportion of liberals. In short, comparing the Carnegie study and the NAASS sample is like comparing apples and oranges -- it is impossible to infer any shift over time from two incomparable samples.
(Stanley Rothman, S. Robert Lichter, and Neil Nevitte, "Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty," The Forum 3.1, 2005, p. 4)
Left/Liberal 39% 72% 18% 18% Right/Conservative 34% 15% 37% 33%
What if Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte turned out to have a point, despite their small and unrepresentative sample? They find that "academic achievement matters most" in predicting "the quality of schools in which faculty teach," but "ideology is the second most powerful predictor in Model I (beta=.09, p ≤.001), accounting for more than one-fifth as much variation in quality of institutional affiliation as does achievement (beta=.39, p ≤.001)" (Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte, 2005, p. 10). As you can see, though, the coefficient of correlation between ideology and institutional prestige is rather close to zero.
Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte still suspect that discrimination is at work, but a minuscule correlation between professors' politics and institutional prestige doesn't necessarily mean conservative scholars are discriminated against.
Here are two hypotheses for further research:
The first hypothesis is especially promising, in light of time to degree (extraordinarily long in the most liberal disciplines), attrition rates (higher in the humanities and social sciences than in science), employment opportunities (very poor for humanists and social scientists), and lifetime earnings (salaries barely keep up with inflation in academia). Take history, for instance. Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte find 77% of history faculty members are liberal, 10% conservative, 70% Democrats, and 4% Republicans (2005, p. 6). Would conservatives want to be in a history department?
- Considering academic and non-academic career prospects carefully, the best and brightest conservative young men and women, who would be qualified for academic careers at the most celebrated universities, prefer non-academic careers in business, politics, law, and medicine to academic careers, as tenure-track appointments are hard to come by and non-academic professional careers yield higher incomes on smaller investments of time and money than academic careers.
- Conservative young men and women who do choose academic careers prefer more conservative though less prestigious institutions to more prestigious but more liberal ones and seek out the former for study and employment.
The time spent working toward the history PhD, for instance, grew longer and now surpasses every other discipline. Among the new cohort of history PhDs, the time spent registered for graduate courses increased, from an average of 9 (in 2001–02) to 9.3 years. In comparison, the average for all fields was 7.5 years. Given the extended time spent working toward the degree, it is hardly surprising that the average age of new history PhDs increased by two-tenths of a year, to 34.9 years—a year-and-a-half older than the average for new PhDs in all fields. . . .Keep in mind that the employment statistics above does not take high attrition rates into account:
Despite their years of effort, the new PhDs reported declining success in finding employment after they received the degree. The proportion of new history PhDs who reported "definite employment" fell from 52.9 percent to 51.3 percent—reversing three years of improvement. This is still well above the low point of 44.9 percent in 1998–99, but it does fit with our reporting on the declining number of jobs being advertised.2 Among the rest, 26.8 percent of the new history PhD recipients reported they were still seeking employment when they received the degree, while 14.3 percent planned to take or seek a postdoctoral fellowship, and 7.7 reported that they were uncertain about their future. (Robert B. Townsend, "Survey Shows Marked Drop in History PhDs," Perspectives 43:2, February 2005)
On the first day of graduate school, everyone is still a success. All of the students gunning for Ph.D.'s have lived an academic life of achievement: honor roll, summa cum laude, certificates, scholarships, and parents who praise their intellectual prowess. Yet as many as half of those bright students -- many of whom have never tasted failure -- will drop out before they can claim their prize.What is intriguing, dropouts, if anything, tend to have higher undergraduate GPAs and GRE analytical scores than those who complete Ph.D. programs!
In some humanities programs, only one of every three entering students goes on to earn a doctorate. No comprehensive national statistics are available, but studies suggest that the attrition rate for Ph.D. programs is 40 percent to 50 percent.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Institutions that make it [information about completion rates] easily accessible are in the minority. At the University of California at San Diego, a comprehensive table of completion statistics is included in the graduate school's annual report, easily found on the Web. Duke University's Graduate School includes links to a wealth of admissions, enrollment, and completion data for prospective students on its Web site. There you can learn very specific information about individual departments -- for instance, that the Ph.D. program in literature bucks the national trend. Of the 27 students who started from 1992 through 1995, 17 earned their degrees, and only 6 have withdrawn.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Even students who make it through the rigorous selection process to win National Science Foundation graduate-research fellowships finish their Ph.D.'s at a rate of only about 75 percent. That's just a bit higher than other doctoral students in the sciences.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . .[T]he pot of gold at the end of the Ph.D. rainbow may not be there for every candidate. For many of them, despite their love of the subject and their dreams of reveling in the life of the mind, the most logical decision may be to leave.
After a year in a Ph.D. program in history at City University of New York, Nicole Kalian left to take a job as a publicist with a book publisher. Hers was the sort of early attrition that almost everyone agrees is the best kind.
"I didn't see any prospects for when I graduated," says Ms. Kalian, who was shocked to read an article about new Ph.D.'s who couldn't find jobs as adjuncts on enough campuses to earn at least $25,000 a year. "It was frightening, and I could never really shake that thought from my head." (emphasis added, Scott Smallwood, "Doctor Dropout: High Attrition from Ph.D. Programs Is Sucking Away Time, Talent, and Money and Breaking Some Hearts, Too," Chronicle of Higher Education 50.19, 16 Jan. 2004, p. A10)
In conclusion, while Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte's research exaggerates the proportion of liberals and leftists in academia today, it is true that liberals (though not leftists) traditionally outnumber conservatives in the humanities and social sciences, particularly at research institutions that require a doctoral degree as a condition of employment. What should be conservatives' response to that? I submit that conservatives ought to congratulate themselves. Thinking like the proverbial Rational Economic Man weighing opportunity costs and maximizing utility, many conservatives made the economically correct choice of staying out of Ph.D. programs, especially academic sweatshops in the humanities and social sciences. Alternatively, conservatives might apply their favorite tool, neoclassical economics, to the issue: the problem is that salaries that the best and brightest conservatives demand are too high -- lower their prices, and there will be more demand for them in the academic labor market. Liberals and leftists, on the other hand, should proffer a left-wing remedy that addresses a right-wing grievance while solving at least some of the many problems that plague the life of the mind: increase tenure-track jobs massively, and raise faculty salaries as well as teaching assistant wages (especially in the humanities and social sciences) dramatically, in order to make academic compensation packages competitive with what plastic surgeons, corporate lawyers, business executives, and politicians turned lobbyists would expect. In short, give conservatives what they do not have today: financial incentives to become academics. Turn the ivory tower into a field of conservative dreams of big money: if you build it, they will come.
(Smallwood, 16 Jan. 2004)