24 May 2011

Why Academia Is Out Of Step With Most Americans

*Update: Be sure and read this follow up post.

A rather well known Civil War historian once took me to task here and on another blog for suggesting that many academics were "Ivory Tower elitists" who are largely out of step with the realities of American life and that leftist ideology was rampant on campus. I won't name him now. No need to embarrass him any more than he's already embarrassed himself--at least for the time being. Unfortunately for those academics still in denial, much of what goes on within the Ivory Towers of academia, along with other educational institutions, can no longer be covered in darkness and hidden from the rest of the world. The internet, Youtube, blogging, phone cameras, and all the other media options now available make it impossible to hide the truth. Nonetheless, some of these folks still act like it's 1970 and believe that "what happens in class, stays in class." Sorry, but those days are over. Case in point is a 2007 study by two credentialed scholars. The study is quite fascinating but simply confirms what most objective observers already knew. The late Dr. Gary A. Tobin and  Aryeh K. Weinberg introduce their research with these words (all emphasis is mine):

"The American university is often described with images of the 'ivory tower': an environment separated from the realities of everyday, ordinary life. Faculty who spend their professional lives within the walls of academia are sometimes characterized as isolated and apart, and by implication, different from the general population."

They then make this observation later in the introduction:

"Faculty, like other Americans, have their own religious stereotypes and prejudices. But the faculty and the public differ dramatically when looking at what prejudices each holds. One of the surprises of the study is the level of negativity faculty showed for Christian fundamentalists and Evangelicals. If not outright prejudice, faculty sentiment about the largest religious group in the American public borders dangerously close. How one chooses to characterize negative feelings among faculty about Evangelical Christians may be in question, but these feelings are indisputably documented in our research." 

And then this most salient point, which is one I make here all the time and which is often followed by some academic objecting and poo-pooing the very notion:

"It is vital to understand the religious identity and behavior of faculty. Their religious beliefs and behaviors are not only relevant to their own teachings and scholarship, but also affect those with whom they interact. 'Faculty attitudes and behaviors are known to have important implications for student development. The actions of faculty both within and outside the classroom impact the learning and development of future teachers, lawyers, physicians and policymakers, not to mention their very own academic successors and the thousands of others whose work affects our daily lives.'"

Here are a few of their rather damning findings:

"The Secular/Liberal Proportion of Faculty Is Much Higher Than the Religious/Conservative Among faculty, secular/liberal is clearly the dominant ideology as compared to religious/conservative."

"Faculty Are Much Less Christian Than the General Public: While 80% of the public self-identify as Christian, only 56% of faculty self-identify in the same way. The drop in Evangelicals among faculty, who are three times more numerous in the general public, largely accounts for the difference."

"Although Faculty Generally Oppose Religion in the Public Sphere, Many Endorse the Idea That Muslims Should Express Their Religious Beliefs in American Politics Faculty are far less likely to endorse Evangelical Christians expressing their beliefs in American politics."

That makes sense when understanding that:

"Faculty Hold the Most Unfavorable Feelings toward Evangelicals: Just one group elicited high negative feelings among faculty: Only 30% ranked their feelings toward Evangelical Christians as warm/favorable, with only 11% feeling very warm/favorable, the lowest raking among every other religious group, and 53% said that they have cool/unfavorable feelings toward Evangelical Christians. Faculty feelings about Evangelicals are significantly cooler than any other religious group, leading Mormons as the least liked religious group by 20%. These negative feelings are noted across academic disciplines and demographic factors."

"Math, Science and Social Sciences Faculty Are the Least Likely to Believe in God: By academic department, Health and Education had the strongest personal relationship with God, 64% and 62% respectively, followed by Business faculty at 52%. Oppositely, 28% of Science/Math faculty and 23% of Humanities and Social Science faculty each said they do not believe in God."

"Faculty Are Twice as Likely as the General Public to Identify as Liberal Overall, when asked to describe their position on most political issues, 48% of faculty said they are liberal, 31% said they are moderate/ middle of the road, and 17% said they are conservative. Five percent chose not to answer or did not know. Comparatively, 22% of the general population self-identified as liberal, 31% as conservative, and 38% as moderate, a significant difference from the faculty. "

On a separate occasion, another historian and Civil War blogger took me to task for suggesting that the Old Confederacy (region) was the last bastion of conservatism in the United States. I won't name him either at this time. No need to pile on. But even noted Civil War historian David Blight revealed his own frustration (disdain?) for this region of the country when he recently lamented, "the Confederacy is to this day the greatest conservative resistance to federal authority in American history." Could one also say "bastion of conservatism?"

Tobin and Aryeh also noted the following in their study: 

"Those Americans living in the Southern region of the United States claimed the strongest personal relationship with God, 75%."

Their research also reveals that there is a correlation between a "strong personal relationship with God" and conservatism. Follow these string of facts to their logical conclusions and think about what we see going on in public schools, government, the media, and popular culture.

Moreover, their research further reveals this leftist bias "is especially true for social sciences and humanities faculty, and even more so for particular disciplines such as sociology." Of course, this includes historians. Given this known bias and the South's history and current political climate, is this part of the reason why many "mainstream" historians like to bash the Confederacy? Is there any possibility, given the information revealed in this study, that there is political motivation behind their incessant bashing, their juvenile "moonlight and magnolia" jokes, their opposition to any honoring of Confederate heroes or heritage? Again, just follow the facts and apply some logic.

This information, as well as these questions, should always be in one's mind when reading history; particularly Civil War history. Perspectives and biases are things we all deal with when we are evaluating information - to one degree or another. I believe most people at least make some attempt to set biases aside. Yet everyone approaches information with a certain worldview, a certain perspective, and what they have already established in their own minds as "truth." This study is, again, just more proof that academia's worldview and perspective is skewed left. I would further add that is often professional historians and academics who have the most difficulty in setting aside their biases. I would also add that since many of these folks have a superiority complex (due to their level of "education"), they are also the ones most blinded of their own biases, i.e., "I'm too smart to be biased."

This study also reveals that historians, academics, educators, and bloggers who continue to deny that anti-American Exceptionalism is not itself a bias and impacting (negatively, I believe) our nation, that leftist ideology is not a problem at all levels of education, and that academia does not have an "elephant in the room" type of problem are quickly losing what little credibility they had remaining. They should be laughed at.

I would recommend readers take the time to read this research. There is much more revealed in it than I can go into here. I will be giving it a "must read" permanent and prominent link here.


13thBama said...

Nice work! Of course, not being an academic, I am probably not smart enough to understand what it means :)

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks - just stating the obvious.

David Rhoads said...


Do you think that the distribution of political & religious leanings among faculties at academic institutions should necessarily reflect the distribution that exists among the public at large? If so, why? And how would you go about establishing that balance?

Also, would you characterize any right-leaning and/or evangelical faculty members as being "out of step with the realities of American life"? In your post below about Herman Cain, you offer President Obama as the "quintessential example" of "a self-absorbed academic". Nevertheless, a majority of voters, including here in Virginia, elected him to the office he now holds. I'm not convinced that things are always quite as sharply delineated as you tend to present them.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello David.

"And how would you go about establishing that balance?"

How did they go about establishing the current "balance?"

"Also, would you characterize any right-leaning and/or evangelical faculty members as being "out of step with the realities of American life"?"

Actually, no. Since I reject relativism and believe in absolutes, I believe there is a correct worldview and an incorrect one. I believe mine is correct, particularly since I once embraced the opposite one and know the underlying philosophies which support that worldview. I've been on the other side, so to speak. Moreover, poll after poll prove this is a center-right country, i.e., "right leaning."

"Nevertheless, a majority of voters, including here in Virginia, elected him to the office he now holds."

True, but then after Mr. Obama's agenda became apparent 2 years later, a majority of Virginia voters (as well as others across the nation) elected those opposed to that agenda.

The whole point of my post was simply to point out that despite what some say, there is a definite bias and perspective prevalent in much of academia which is left of center while most Americans remain right of center and that their bias does impact how and what they teach and write and how they interpret and approach history.

Would you deny that?

David Rhoads said...

"How did they go about establishing the current "balance?"

I imagine that the current makeup of academic faculties is largely self-selected, at least as far as those who choose to try teaching as a career at the primary and secondary levels. I wouldn't deny that perceptions about likely teaching environments probably play a significant role in helping to determine such career choices.

Neither would I deny that there is a tendency among academics to be more liberal than the public at large, but I wouldn't paint academia with quite as broad a brush as you do. There is plenty of nuance there, as the paper your post derives from attests. I do agree that bias is a constant in any human intellectual endeavor and that the honest scholar will acknowledge his own biases and attempt to take them into account. I wouldn't say, however, that only one end of the political/religious spectrum is susceptible to being undermined by bias.

"Actually no. Since I reject relativism and believe in absolutes, I believe there is a correct worldview and an incorrect one. I believe mine is correct"

This is a clearcut stance, certainly, and no doubt most of us believe our own conclusions--political, religious or otherwise--are correct. From there, though, I can't take that next step of characterizing everyone who thinks differently than I do as being "out of step with the realities of American life". If that were true, then anywhere from upwards of a third to almost a half of all Americans (depending on which polls you choose to believe)--and indeed probably well over half if evangelical beliefs constitute the benchmark--are out of step with the American way of life. That seems nonsensical to me by definition.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"There is plenty of nuance there"

I agree.

"I wouldn't say, however, that only one end of the political/religious spectrum is susceptible to being undermined by bias."

I wouldn't either.

"most of us believe our own conclusions"

Of course, but somebody's wrong.

"I can't take that next step of characterizing everyone who thinks differently than I do as being "out of step with the realities of American life".

Of course not. But I think if one reads the study carefully, the argument regarding academia's left leaning biases, and the implications on teaching as well as society in general, is quite clear.

Thank you for taking the time to disagree in a civil manner. I appreciate your comments.

MetMom said...

You forgot to blame evolution and old earth teachings all of which are against the Bible.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

MM - I think certain things are assumed. My post and the research aren't really about "blame" but about why many academics are out of touch with most Americans. One may draw their own conclusions from there. Thanks for the comment.