If I were to ask you to estimate the ratio of liberal to conservative professors on college campuses across the country, what would you guess? A 50/50 split? Two liberal professors to every one conservative? Three?
Nationwide there are six liberal professors for every conservative professor.
This data point was emphasized in a recent Boston Magazine article in which Chris Sweeny records stories of students and professors afraid to express their conservative viewpoints because of the threat of backlash. While there is no single cause behind this fear, the political composition of colleges’ faculties may be a significant factor.
The 6-to-1 ratio comes from the work of Dr. Samuel Abrams, professor at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Interestingly, this ratio was not uniform nationwide. Of all the factors he examined—religious affiliations, departmental differences, size of college, etc.—the region in which the college is located had the biggest impact.
The West Coast matched the national average of 6 to 1 and the Plains and Southeast had the most balanced ratio, at 3 to 1. Far surpassing other regions, however, was New England—where liberal professors outnumbered their conservative colleagues 28 to 1.
While it is not surprising that university faculty in New England are more liberal than their counterparts in the Plains region, such a large disparity is disturbing. Moreover, it should concern Missourians that the University of Missouri is currently facing some problems that we might expect to see in New England schools, given their apparent lack of intellectual diversity.
In November, Mike McShane wrote about Mizzou being tied for last place on Heterodox Academy’s ranking of the top 150 universities for their policies on free speech and acceptance of different viewpoints. Since then, Mizzou has “improved,” and is now second to last according to the updated rankings. The University of Oregon, scoring 0 out of 100, is in sole possession of last place. Mizzou scored an underwhelming 6.25 out of 100 points, tying them with Georgetown, Harvard, New York University, and Rutgers.
While it is unlikely the ratio between liberal and conservative professors will become more balanced any time soon, universities can implement policies to protect the viewpoints of students and faculty. The University of Chicago’s commitment to Freedom of Expression is one such policy Mizzou should adopt.
In their recent paper, Mike McShane and Michael Highsmith wrote:
Freedom of speech and debate is at risk and can be protected. It seems that not a week of the school year goes by without some story emerging about efforts by a student council, residence hall, professor, or school administrator to stifle the speech of students. If we do not impress upon our students the importance of free speech and defend it vigorously, we risk creating a citizenry that does not value one of the foundational values upon which our nation was built. Luckily, institutions like the University of Chicago offer a great blueprint for fostering debate and protecting speech. Mizzou would be wise to study that blueprint carefully.
Even in an environment where conservative students and faculty are in the minority, their rights and contributions can be respected.