+ Professors’ Liberalism Contagious? Maybe Not

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An article by Patricia Cohen in the NY Times reports that, contra many conservatives’ worries that liberal professors indoctrinate students, new reports suggest that it does not happen.

If there is a liberal conspiracy among faculty members “they’ve done a pretty bad job,” says A. Lee Fritschler, professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of “Closed Minds?  Politics and Ideology in American Universities.” (Brookings Institution Press)

A study of nearly 7000 students at 38 institutions published in the current issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, the journal of the American Political Science Association, reaches the same conclusion as a second study that will run in the journal next April.

“There is no evidence than an instructor’s views instigate political change among students,” say Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner, a husband and wife team who wrote that second study.  The two are  often cited by people on both sides of the debate, and Mr. Woessner describes himself as politically conservative.

Jeremy D. Mayer, another author of the “Closed Minds” book, feels that the notion that students are induced to move leftward is a fantasy.  “It is really hard to change the mind of anyone over 15,” he says.  Mayer has done extensive research on faculty and students.

While it seems indisputable that academia in the US is decidedly more liberal than the rest of the population, “parents and family are the most important influence,” says Mayer.  “Professors are the least influential.”

Both studies in the peer-reviewed PS found that changes in political ideology could not be attributed to proselytizing professors.  Rather, they say, the reason is general trends among that age group. 

Mack D. Mariani at Xavier University and Gordon J. Hewitt at Hamilton College write in the current issue, “Student political orientation does not change for a majority of students while in college, and for those that do change there is evidence that other factors have an effect on that change, such as gender and socioeconomic status.”

sole source: Paricia Cohen’s article in the NY Times on 11/3/08.   www.nytimes.com

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