Studies fail to prove professors have biases

By Jonathan Wroble

For more than 20 years, studies of college faculty have tried to determine whether or not professors have a right to be left.

On Jan. 22, education researcher John B. Lee released an assessment of eight such studies titled “The ‘Faculty Bias’ Studies: Science or Propaganda.” His report is sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers.

“These studies (are) put forth as research when in fact (they are) not,” Lee said. “They purport that political bias in faculty exists and effects what is taught.”

The eight studies that Lee reviewed are diverse in research strategies and reported statistics. One 2003 study examined the voting histories of 1,531 humanities and social sciences professors from 32 elite schools and found a Democrat-to-Republican ratio of more than 10 to one. A different study from the same year estimated an overall ratio of eight to one.

Another study named a University course, Anthropology 268, “Images of the Other,” as one of 65 courses from 48 institutions with an “ideological slant.”

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“Based on the research in these studies, you can’t come to any conclusion one way or another,” Lee said.

To conduct his own work, Lee evaluated each study on five parameters such as researcher bias and the ability to replicate results.

None of the eight studies met all five of his standards, and just three studies met at least two.

For American Federation of Teachers advocates, Lee’s report discredits data that can be used as support for legal hearings, newspaper editorials and even lawmaking.

“These studies are deeply flawed,” said Sue Kaufman, president of the University Professionals of Illinois and member of an advisory council for the American Federation of Teachers. “(But they) are very effective in putting up before the public an accusation that really does not have basis.”

Still, some authors of the reviewed studies contend that their mission in research had nothing to do with swaying the public.

Daniel Klein, professor of economics at George Mason University and co-author of two of the studies, referred to his own work as “awareness” and explained that he is only against ideology among professors when it is concealed.

“Disclosure (of ideology) is respectful,” he said. “You’re saying, ‘Look, I have certain commitments and you should watch me on this.'”

Similarly, Stanley Rothman, Mary H. Gamble professor emeritus of government at Smith College and co-author of a 2005 study entitled “Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty,” explained that Lee criticized the “less important” elements of his study.

Rothman, like Klein, views political ideologies as secondary to other professorial attributes.

“The most important way to get promoted is not to be conservative or liberal,” he said. “The most important thing is merit.”

Despite confronting only a handful of the many studies related to politics and professors, Lee maintained that the eight studies in question are statements “more of (the researchers’) concerns than of logical scientific proof.”

“I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative,” he said.

“You don’t want policy to be shaped around erroneous research,” he added.