The Progressive University: Out of 6,000 Sociologists, Only 12 Are Conservatives

By Joe Setyon | June 14, 2016 | 10:51am EDT
Princeton University students. (AP photo)


( – Conservative professors in some disciplines are not only outnumbered on America’s college campuses, they are nearly extinct, said a panel of professors and education experts who discussed the lack of diverse ideas on campuses last week at an event sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

“There are about 6,000 sociologists in this country, and after looking for months, we found 12 conservative sociologists,” said Jon Shields, associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Shields is the co-author of a recent book (Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University) about the lack of conservatives in academia that he wrote with Joshua Dunn, an associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.

Assoc. Prof. Jon Shields. (Claremont McKenna College)

Shields noted that in some of the other social sciences, “conservatives are so scarce that they’re badly outnumbered by Marxists.” The authors found that 18 percent of professors identify as Marxists, but only five percent call themselves conservatives.

“I don’t actually see that the guardians of higher education have done a particularly good job of what I see as living up to its ideals.” commented AEI Director of Education Policy Studies Frederick Hess.

The panel was moderated by Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at the National Review and a visiting fellow at AEI. During the discussion, the participants touched on the difficulty of finding professors who are openly conservative.

Dunn and Shields found that in certain fields, such as economics and political science, that's not a big problem. However, they said that in other disciplines, it is much harder to find conseervative academics.

Hess pointed out that this ideological shift happened over the past few decades.

As board members and department chairs at the “power centers of universities” began to share a set of common liberal values, “you wind up with a relatively tilted playing field,"  he said.

However, Steven Teles, an associate professor of political science at John Hopkins University, explained that the “perception of discrimination is more important than the reality of it.”

Even without much actual discrimination, the fear that academia has a liberal agenda scares conservatives into “thinking they will be discriminated against.,” Teles pointed out.

Dunn echoed his comment, saying that there is usually “no overt intent” to discriminate against conservatives in academia.


But author and resident AEI scholar Christina Hoff Sommers disagreed, pointing out that liberals at universities who are trying to fight “racism, sexism, classism” often become just as guilty of promoting similar biases.

For example, “everything that the intersectional feminists say that the patriarchal oppressor does to them” is actually done to the “guilty, sinful, male privileged elite,” she said.

AEI resident scholar Christina Hoff Sommers. (American Enterprise Institute)

Hoff Summers also argued that recent efforts to control free speech at colleges stems from a 2011 warning from the U.S. Department of Education threatening to cut off federal funding to schools that did not make an effort to control harassment on their campuses.

As a result, the warning “empowered a small group of radicals on campus who have always been there,” she said.

The panelists also discussed the importance of having a conservative voice in academia.

Hess urged funders to "create a home" within universities for those whose viewpoints differ from the liberal mainstream, But he added that universities should also "be proactive in trying to seek out new people and stir them into the talent pool.”

Teles believes there’s a simpler solution, stating that “one person at an elite university” can “build institutions around themselves” and “attract graduate students.”

“Some of the prejudice against conservatives,” Shields added, is due to the fact that “there’s just not enough of us in the university to puncture these prejudices” or to explain to students what the conservative movement is all about.

"You need to have mentors to look up to, to tell you: ‘Here’s how you’re supposed to behave’,” he said.  Without such mentors, students are “picking up their cues” from “unscrupulous sources,” and then going around acting like “caricatures of conservatives".

Hess agreed, concluding that “you never want to be an ideology that’s unmoored from careful thought, from scrupulous analysis, from empirical testing of your assertions and assumptions.”

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