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Liberal bias? Faculty at Four discusses

April 10, 2011


Have liberal-leaning faculty taken over American colleges and universities? Are they pushing left-of-center values onto students and colleagues? 

These questions were the subject of discussion at Beloit when “The Liberal Professoriate” became the topic of a Faculty at Four held last Thursday. Professors Larry White (psychology) and Beatrice McKenzie (history) hosted the monthly discussion for faculty and staff.

White and McKenzie led a discussion of literature and surveys about academics’ political views, before circling back to Beloit. They shared data on students’ self-reported political views and political involvement of full-time, first-year Beloit students from 1971 to 2010, as well as a survey, begun in 2004 by the college’s Office of Institutional Research, that asks all students whether Beloit College is “a place where my political views are accepted.”

Of students polled in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010, an average of 77 percent either agreed or strongly agreed that their political views were accepted on campus; 13.9 percent said they were neutral; and 8.9 percent said they disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement. Between 1971-2010, the number of first-year students self-identifying as far right and conservative never exceeded 20 percent, and during most of that time—including from 2004-2010—the number fell closer to 10 percent. White and McKenzie wanted to see how closely the percentage of students who said they were conservative or far right correlated with the percentage who felt their views were not accepted.

“We’re really liberal on this campus until it comes to examining liberal beliefs,” said McKenzie.

Several faculty members said that students with conservative political views often don’t voice those views in the classroom, though many do share them with individual faculty members, suggesting that student peers may be the most powerful force in silencing conservative views.

“I’m less concerned about who’s politically left or right,” Emily Chamlee-Wright, Neese Professor of Economics, said of the faculty.  “I think the question is whether we as teachers are cultivating the habits of mind in which students will bring strong counter-arguments forward.”