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Conformity on campus

Education | Raucous students and ideologically identical professors set the tone at America's colleges and universities, but some student movements provide hope for change

Issue: "UN: Kofi's crisis," Dec. 18, 2004

This fall four new studies of professors' political attitudes showed a large tilt to the left:

•Daniel Klein, an economics professor and researcher at Santa Clara University and Stockholm University, surveyed more than 1,000 professors around the United States and found Democrats outnumbering Republicans at least 7-1 in the humanities and social sciences, with departments such as anthropology and sociology coming in at about 30-1.

•In a separate study of voter registration records, Mr. Klein found professors at Stanford and the University of California-Berkeley tilted Democratic 9-1. Among younger professors at those two universities the imbalance was even greater: 183 Democrats, six Republicans.

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•The American Council of Trustees and Alumni polled 658 students at 50 top colleges concerning their perception of faculty. Almost half agreed with these statements: "Professors use the classroom to present their personal political views . . . presentations on political issues seem totally one-sided . . . [professors] frequently comment on politics in class even though it has nothing to do with the course." ACTA president Anne Neal said, "If this were a survey of students reporting widespread sexual harassment, there would be an uproar."

•The Center for Responsive Politics ranked organizations by per capita employee contributions to presidential candidates. The University of California system and Harvard finished first and second, with both backing John Kerry over George Bush 19-1. (The next three institutions: Time Warner, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft.)

The evidence provided by these new studies paralleled data from some older ones:

•The Center for the Study of Popular Culture measured voting by Ivy League professors in 2000 and found a 9-1 ratio for Al Gore over Mr. Bush. The Center also asked professors to describe themselves politically: The ratio there was 11-1 liberal over conservative.

•The American Enterprise Institute in 2002 published results of research into voter registration by humanities and social science instructors at 19 universities. To pick a few in alphabetical order: Colorado was 116-7 left (Democrat or Green) over right (Republican or Libertarian); Cornell was 166-6; San Diego State was 80-11; Stanford was 151-17; the State University of New York-Binghamton was 35-1; UCLA was 141-9.

The critical question is how alumni will react to such information. One wealthy Vanderbilt alum sent me this note: "I have recently begun the following when approached for financial support from the several colleges represented within my family and to which I have given generous support in the past. I listen patiently to the dialogue and in a very chummy manner I ask if they are promoting diversity which I believe is a good thing. The response is always a gushing affirmative answer. I reply that I am happy about this but I have realized that the professors are 90+ percent liberal which certainly is anything but diverse; but I would like to pledge $100,000 dollars as soon as this imbalance is corrected and there is true diversity of thought and speech without reprisal. I ask that they call me back when this is accomplished and I will gladly make good on my promise. If every conservative would adopt this policy there would be swift changes."

Two recent college graduates published this year book-length discussions of campus problems: Ben Shapiro's Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth and Brendan Steinhauser's The Conservative Revolution: How to Win the Battle for College Campuses contain useful specific detail. Here are four brief looks at campus problems and responses to them: Jamie Dean reports on discrimination against Christian students, Gene Edward Veith reviews Tom Wolfe's new fictional portrayal of campus life, and Priya Abraham and Max Goss report on conservative student journalists and activists who are fighting back.

Intolerant tolerance

When University of North Carolina student Timothy Mertes during a "Literature and Diversity" class discussion identified himself as a Christian and said he felt "disgusted, not threatened" by homosexual behavior, Professor Elyse Crystall was appalled. She sent an e-mail to the class, calling Mr. Mertes's comments "hate speech," and saying, "That a white, heterosexual, Christian male . . . can feel entitled to make violent, heterosexist comments and not feel marked or threatened or vulnerable is what privilege makes possible."

The comments garnered attention from the U.S. Department of Education, which ruled last month that Ms. Crystall's e-mail amounted to "intentional discrimination and harassment." The agency has promised to protect college students from religious discrimination, but according to David French, president of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the agency will have its work cut out for it.

"We are consistently seeing that conservative, Christian organizations are not exactly the darlings of university administrations," Mr. French says. "A host of injustices are being visited against these groups."

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