Conservatives 'Give' Lower Grades? Nonsense!

Today, on Inside Higher Ed, I read the following nonsense disguised as a meaningful study:
Red Grader, Blue Grader
May 20, 2011
Republican professors and Democratic professors presumably produce different outcomes when they enter the ballot box, but what about when they record grades?

A forthcoming study finds that there may be notable differences. Democratic professors appear to be "more egalitarian" than their Republican counterparts when it comes to grading, meaning that more of the Democratic grades are in the middle. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to award very high grades and very low grades.

Another key difference is that black students tend to fare better with Democrats than with Republicans.
This is utter and complete nonsense for a simple reason: the professors do not teach the same types of subjects. Numerous studies, including the one reporting these results, have found that self-identified "liberals" dominate the humanities, while "conservatives" and "libertarians" are more likely to teach in business, health care, and engineering fields.

As Inside Higher Ed acknowledges:
Party registrations were used to identify professors' political inclinations, and the faculty at this university leaned Democratic, especially among humanities professors.
I'm sorry, but grading in the humanities is not the same as grading in the sciences or business courses. Business, science, and engineering majors are more likely to take "objective" tests -- math exams are not essays about your feelings. Imagine a computer science teacher considering the "difficult background" (as one of my colleagues describes it) of minority students. Oh, wait, computer science is all about math and understanding empirical test results when executing code or a chip design. Computers don't care about your family history, no matter how inspiring your story might be.

From a 2007 post, I wrote:

I'm sick of being told I'm not a liberal because I'm somehow from an inferior background. Even if that's not how it is intended, that is precisely the sense one gets reading "The Social and Political Views of American Professors," a draft paper by Neil Gross (Harvard) and Solon Simmons (George Mason). The paper is an example of why a libertarian, who does not fit neatly into a stupid five-point scale, is left feeling like a rebel.

On page 26 of this paper, we have the following table:

Political orientation (percentages)
Extremely Liberal9.4
Slightly Liberal18.1
Middle of the Road18.0
Slightly Conservative10.5
Very Conservative1.2

This scale alone tells me nothing. And the authors' assertions that there are more "moderates" in academia than radicals doesn't account for the many professors I know who imagine themselves "centrists" but are liberal by my standards. Self-identification is, to be blunt, generally useless unless you are only concerned with self-perceptions and not actual societal implications.
Only 19.7 percent of respondents identify themselves as any shade of conservative, as compared to 62.2 percent who identify themselves as any shade of liberal. By contrast, the last time this question was asked on the ANES survey, 31.9 percent of respondents in the general population identified themselves as any shade of conservative, while 23.3 percent identified themselves as any shade of liberal.
Then again, the authors argue that professors are somehow better at self-identity. Sure enough, on page 34 of the report we read a quote from a 1976 study, "[P]rofessors' opinions should be more highly structured and interrelated than those of most groups outside the university" (Ladd and Lipset).

Give me a break! Professors are not better at self-observation and self-awareness. You can find studies revealing just how poor everyone is at self-evaluation, regardless of social class, education, and other factors. I recall a great article I read in Scientific American on the "Egocentric Myths" we create about ourselves. We image everyone is just like us and views the world through our eyes. It's human nature, and I don't think professors are above human nature -- they just think they are.

Where do I fit in the above scale? Nowhere? And I already know that I'm a minority in education, even if I never complete my doctorate.

My anger become more pronounced when I reached page 38 of the study. Using the 2004 elections to measure political views isn't smart: look at the choices. Already, I think using 2004 as a metric is flawed. I know I voted against someone, not for anybody in the last two presidential elections. Here, I quote, with full credit going to these researchers:
What are the social characteristics of those professor who voted for Bush in 2004? Evidencing the fact that the "what's the matter with Kansas" phenomenon (Frank 2005) may be at work inside the university as well as outside of it, the most distinguishing characteristic of academic Bush voters is that they come from lower social class backgrounds on average than do non-Bush voters. [...] But leaving race and ethnicity aside, we find that 39.5 percent of academic Bush voters described their families as having below average incomes when they were 16 years old.... What's more, only 35.9 percent of professors who voted for Bush had fathers who completed a BA degree or higher, as compared to 51.1 percent of professors who did not vote for Bush.
My reading of this: Professors who didn't have to overcome as many barriers are liberal, while those of us who struggled from poverty are more likely to think people should learn to work hard and not depend on the government. Sure, my parents couldn't afford to buy me an Ivy League prep education, with test-preps and tutors. I ended up attending a great private university and two public universities, working hard to do well. I think other people can and should work just as hard.

The reference to Frank's book, What's the Matter with Kansas, is also a bit of liberal nonsense. I won't critique Frank here, but suffice it to say, following his "reasoning" the only logical choice is liberalism. Rich liberals? They have an interest in helping others. Poor conservatives? They need the help. See? Liberalism is the only "reasonable" philosophy. Frank's argument excludes any potential defense of conservative or libertarian values. Sorry, but many of us do believe there are logical and defensible explanations for libertarianism. But, we must not be "smart" according to the elites.

As for the fact few professors are conservative at "Elite, PhD Granting" universities (9.8 percent of faculty), maybe this reflects the biases of these institutions? Maybe people like me don't feel comfortable on the campus of an elite school where we would have few like-minded colleagues. Our views are certainly not going to be popular, so we'd have to prove ourselves several times over to gain acceptance.

On page 40 of this report we read:
The table indicates that self-identified Marxists are rare in academe today. The highest proportion of Marxist academics can be found in the social sciences, and there they represent less than 18 percent of all professors (among the social science fields for which we can issue discipline-specific estimates, sociology contains the most Marxists, at 25.5 percent). In the humanities and social sciences, about one quarter of professors consider themselves radicals or activists.
Wait, let me emphasize this: "Marxists are rare… less than 18 percent" in one discipline — and up to 25 percent of sociologists at elite schools! I'm sorry, but when nearly 1 out of 5 are Marxists, they aren't rare. You won't find a libertarian teaching "Marxist-feminist critical theories of media." Not going to happen.

But then why are there more conservatives at community colleges and non-elite schools? Because we can survive in those places where the basics still reign supreme, where Marxism isn't dominant in the humanities. We find ourselves at universities and colleges where we can teach and not try to deal with political atmospheres that are, by their nature, fighting our very core beliefs.

Of course, academic research continues to insult "Republicans" because that's one way to prove you belong among the elite. Group think wins again.


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