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Gross and Simmons on the social and political views of professors

In 1955, Columbia University sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld received a grant from The Ford Foundation’s newly established Fund for the Republic – chaired by former University of Chicago President Robert M. Hutchins – to study how American social scientists were faring in the era of McCarthyism. … Analyzing the survey data on this score with Wagner Thielens in their 1958 book, The Academic Mind, Lazarsfeld observed that liberalism and Democratic Party affiliation were much more common among social scientists than within the general population of the United States, and that social scientists at research universities were more liberal than their peers at less prestigious institutions. … In the 1990s, a few sociologists continued to produce high quality work on the topic (e.g., Hamilton and Hargens 1993; Nakhaie and Brym 1999). But an unfortunate tendency became evident: increasingly, those social scientists who turned their attention to professors and their politics, and employed the tools of survey research, had as their goal simply to highlight the liberalism of the professoriate in order to provide support for conservatives urging the reform of American colleges and universities. … With this essay we take a step toward moving the study of professorial politics back into the domain of mainstream sociological inquiry. … Where other recent studies have characterized the American college and university faculty as not simply extremely liberal, but nearly uniformly so (Klein and Stern 2004-5; Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte 2005; Tobin and Weinberg 2006), we show that while conservatives, Republicans, and Republican voters are rare within the faculty ranks, on many issues there are as many professors who hold center/center-left views as there are those who cleave to more liberal positions, while the age distribution indicates that, in terms of their overall political orientation, professors are becoming more moderate over time, and less radical.

Neil Gross and Solon Simmons (2007), “The Social and Political Views of American Professors,” unpublished paper. Available here.

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