by Eric Kaufmann
Monday, 17
January 2022
Chart
14:41

Political discrimination is fuelling a crisis of academic freedom

A preponderance of Left-wing academics is drowning out other voices
by Eric Kaufmann
Credit: Getty

Political bias is driving the free speech crisis on campus. A new report from Matthew Goodwin of the Legatum Institute confirms as much; namely, that academics in the social sciences and humanities (SSH) lean strongly Left, many are biased against conservatives, and the latter are massively self-censoring. This restricts academic freedom and the truth-seeking mission of the university, permitting confirmation bias to flourish.

While most academics support free speech, they simultaneously back politically discriminatory measures that restrict the freedom of political minorities such as conservatives and gender-critical feminists. In other words, the free speech crisis springs from the political discrimination that runs rampant on campus.

What we face is not Timur Kuran’s problem of the silent liberal majority too scared to speak, but rather that of a Left-wing academic majority taking an increasingly illiberal turn. The Legatum survey asked SSH academics from the top 12 universities in the US, Britain, Canada and Australia about their political beliefs, support for free speech, and attitudes to various political and policy questions. The answers confirmed many of the findings of my previous work on academic freedom in the UK, and other studies. Namely:

  1. Most academics lean Left. This study found a Left:Right ratio of 7.5 to 1. I found ratios of 9:1 in Britain and 14:1 in the US and Canada. Studies using voter registration data for the US, which are more comprehensive, show a ratio of around 12:1.
  2. Most Right-wing academics self-censor, and do so far more than the Left. Though mine was an open-text question and Legatum’s was multiple-choice, we both found that Right-wing academics self-censor far more than Left-wing ones. In all cases, across many different survey types, a majority of Right-wing academics say they self-censor their views in teaching, research and discussion. Figure 1 summarises the two studies.
  3. Most academics support free speech. I found that just 1 in 10 academics support hypothetical campaigns to fire a controversial scholar. The Legatum study found 1 in 10 academics support preventing speakers whose views might offend from speaking on campus and 17% thought those with extreme views should not feel free to express them openly. The authoritarian Left is in the minority among academics.
  4. But there is a high level of anti-conservative bias among Left academics. Several studies find that between 18 and 55% of academics would discriminate against a Right-wing applicant for a job or grant. I found that 40-45% of North American academics would not hire a Trump supporter and 1 in 3 in Britain would not hire a Leave supporter. The Legatum report reveals that 70% of Left-wing academics dislike Right voters but just 36% of Right-wing academics dislike Left voters.
  5. Academics’ cultural Leftism leads a majority to support illiberal policies. I found that more SSH academics supported than opposed the use of mandatory reading list quotas of 30% women and 20% nonwhites in the UK (44 in favour, 30 against), US (44-34) and Canada (48-29). Among Left-wing academics, a majority supported these ‘decolonizing the curriculum’ quotas. Similarly, 57% of all academics, including 65% of those on the Left, support mandatory equity and diversity statements.
Figure 1. Credit: Legatum

Another troubling feature of the growing illiberalism in academia is how many fall victim to the Myside Bias, where people process information in a manner biased toward their own prior beliefs, opinions. For example, 65% of Left-wing academics believe that applicants for faculty positions should submit statements demonstrating their commitment to equity and diversity before they can be considered for a job. 65% of Right-wing academics, on the other hand, see such statements to be an ideological litmus test.

These statements, which increasingly form part of application forms for academic jobs and grants, force those who dispute the idea that disparities are caused by systemic discrimination — or who believe in merit-based hiring, like University of Chicago’s Dorian Abbot — to endorse ideas they don’t believe in. This is a clear violation of freedom of conscience and a form of political discrimination that arguably contravenes EU, UK, and some US jurisdictions’ laws against discrimination on the basis of philosophical belief.

Figure 2. Credit: Legatum

The upshot of all this is a feedback loop in which political discrimination and bias lead political minorities like conservatives to self-censor, avoid, or exit the profession, purifying its ranks still further. The Left-wing skew in SSH academia has gone from around 3:1 in the US in the mid-1960s to 12:1 today. A similar trend has taken place in Britain.

Discrimination worsens as a direct function of a growing Left-Right skew. If each side discriminated similarly against each other, a 50:50 ratio would result in both sides benefiting from discrimination as much as suffering from it. At 90:10, however, a minority group like conservatives is many times more likely to suffer discrimination. Even if each individual is equally prejudiced against the other side, the effect of discrimination falls heavily on the minority.

As conservatives are squeezed out or avoid academia, a monoculture is created. The incentives, as John Ellis and Cass Sunstein note, switch from finding a middle ground between opposing views to outflanking at the extremes. Like fundamentalism in a pious society, the new climate comes to favour radicals who exemplify the beliefs that hold the community together. Those who answer back are shamed as infidels. This in turn magnifies discrimination against conservative dissenters, ramps up self-censorship, further abets left-wing radicalism, and on the spiral goes.

While the UK’s Higher Education Freedom Bill is a vital first step in checking institutional authoritarianism, it cannot begin to tackle political discrimination unless it bolsters policy in three areas. First, beefed-up provisions compelling universities to clarify that political discrimination is not permitted in any aspect of hiring, promotion or refereeing. Second, following the 1967 Kalven Report, a requirement for all those acting in the name of an institution to be politically neutral except where narrowly construed as in the interests of the university. Third, indexing any actions on race and gender equity and diversity to equivalent action on political equity and diversity.

Until institutions confront today’s rampant political discrimination, the crisis of academic freedom will continue to get worse.

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Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
8 months ago

A couple of years ago I had an exchange of views on this very subject with a University professor (in the Humanities, natch) on the Guardian comments pages. He was suggesting that it was his job “to teach students to adopt critical thinking and understand bias” and so, as a natural result of this, “the students, being reasonable and able to think critically, will be more inclined to have left leaning views”.
He felt obliged to do this as so many were watching “alt-right commentors / agitators on YouTube, where critical thinking goes out of the window”
I responded that the leftist bias in academia was well attested and asked whether he’d ever stopped to consider why his students might choose to search youtube for such “alt-right” content. Whether it might be reasonable to suppose they wanted to explore other ideas beyond the narrow approved consensus they were being fed by their places of learning, maybe? 
His measured, academic response? …. “Everything you’ve said is straight up nonsensical brain-fart material. There is no ‘leftist’ bias in Academia, and I doubt you even know what the word ‘leftist’ actually means. And no, I’m not one, to save you the embarrassment of expressing your belief it is everyone who doesn’t agree with you.”
As you can probably imagine, after such an erudite and learned refutation of my argument, I conceded the point having been immediately convinced by the logic and good sense of his position.

Last edited 8 months ago by Paddy Taylor
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
8 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Colleges and universities are so soaked in left-wing thinking that it’s like what water is to a fish. The professor you refer to doesn’t ‘know’ any different. People who work in Higher Education tend to be so sheltered from ‘outside’ ideas that they find anything that doesn’t conform to their ‘educated’ worldview an existential threat.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
8 months ago

Similarly, 57% of all academics, including 65% of those on the Left, support mandatory equity and diversity statements.

This makes it sound like at least some conservative academics agree with this. Given the 7.5:1 ratio of left-wing to conservative academics, however, that “65% of those on the Left” itself equals “57% of all academics”. 11.8% are conservative, 88.2% are left-wing, and 65% of 88.2 is the 57%.
The only answer, I think, is to start again. Universities that set people Marxist doctrinal purity tests as a condition of admission, matriculation or employment should be derecognised as universities, because they aren’t; they are simply leftist madrassas. They should be ineligible to award degrees and students who apply there should be ineligible to receive grant funding.
New universities that actually provide a worthwhile experience can then arise to replace them. Whether it’s countries, councils or colleges, anything dominated by the left is certain to fail.

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
8 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

“The only answer, I think, is to start again.”
Yup. Shut them down, and start again.
Scholarship pre-dated academia (universities only got started in the late Middle Ages), it will survive their passing – or, should I say, the passing of the ideological indoctrination camps that pass for academia these days.

Noel


Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
8 months ago

Basically, the lefties support free speech, as long as the speaker agree with them.
And that, children, is how authoritarian societies are born.

Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
8 months ago

An interesting set of statistics, but I note that the surveys were limited to academics in the social sciences and humanities. What worries me more is that the political bias has already crept out to affect the physical sciences, both in academia and industry. Whereas the social sciences influence things like Government policy and the wider culture, the physical sciences influence things that we accept to be demonstratively true. When the physical scientists go down that rabbit hole of political correctness, we end up in that dystopian world described by Orwell where truth is turned on its head; for example, accepting that sex is non binary. When the truth can be turned on its head, Government policy will never serve the people.
We have just gone through two years of unprecedented social lockdowns and economic devastation due to the Government’s response to Covid-19. The Government claims its response is based on “the science”, but is seems to have drawn on the social / behavioural sciences (e.g. the “nudge unit”) more than the physical sciences. I have nothing against the behavioural scientists; they can provide invaluable guidance on how the public will react to unusual situations like a pandemic. But it is notable that those scientists that have expressed an alternative view to Government / WHO policy – and have been demonised and ostracised for their efforts and shadow-cancelled on social media – tend to come from the physical sciences. It seems that the message of political conformity had not got through to them, as it seems to have done more effectively in the social sciences. But I suspect that they are the outliers – even most physical scientists know what to say in public. And their treatment will certainly dissuade any physical scientists from speaking out in the future (even if does turn out, for example, that the Great Barrington Declaration was good advice that was not taken at the time).
I don’t hold out much hope for the next few years, when the net-zero agenda is likely to take centre stage. The climate change agenda has long ago been dominated by activists rather than scientists, and the pressure on scientists to accept the tenets of the climate change lobby is almost insurmountable if you want to keep your job. Sadly, a teenager who has been skipping school for the last few years has more influence over Government policy than any physical scientist, however well qualified.
The activists have the power to turn truth on its head because scientists acquiesce to political pressure. This has to be stopped.

James Joyce
James Joyce
8 months ago

More tosh from this academic! Complete crap. Allow me to assist him:

  1.  Most academics lean so far to the left that they are almost horizontal. To say that they lean left implies that they are a bit left of center, the pendulum has swung a bit. Tosh!
  1. Most right wing academics are forced into silence at the risk of being cancelled, while left wing academics—99.9% of the uni in ALL departments—use their positions to keep right wing academics on the back foot. Self-explanatory.
  1. Most academics DO NOT support free speech. Most academics support only their extreme left dogma, and use the heckler’s veto, cancellation, hiring, promotion, to essentially abolish free speech on campus. The concept of “hate speech,” a creation of the extreme left, is anathema to free speech. If I say something and you’re offended—fair play—be offended. Tough. See Aussie comedian Steve Huges on this.  
  1. There is a high level of hatred, discrimination in hiring/firing/promotion among academics. No need to describe them as “Left” academics. Jimmy Carr is instructive: what’s the collective noun for gay priests? Priests. Same thing with academics.
  1. Academics extreme leftism/Marxism/hatred of white people means that the vast majority of academics support dangerous authoritarian policies that restrict freedom (and science) and the few who don’t support this remain on the sidelines and allow it to happen.  

Can the author please stop with the labels—“left wing, right wing, conservative…” what do these labels even mean any more? Nothing. I favor gay rights, a woman’s right to choose an abortion, legalization of all drugs, free speech, legalizing sex work, no racial discrimination—including so-called “positive discrimination,” tolerance of differences, but I also favor extremely restricted immigration, fiscal responsibility, low taxes, no moronic wars, America first, I also believe that China is the enemy of the West, and I don’t care much if Afghan girls go to school—none of my business. I make no apologies for Western culture. Am I a liberal? Am I conservative? Explain your answer.
One side is for freedom, free inquiry, let the chips fall where they may, even if the science says that cloth masks don’t work. The other side is for government control of everything, with ALL dissent squashed.  
People reading this tosh who have not set foot on a uni in some time might come away somewhat hopeful—the fancy charts and graphs may suggest that it’s not as bad as it seems. 
It’s worse!

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
8 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

You’re obviuosly not a Liberal because they are definitely NOT. If you were a Brit I’d say you were a Tory-Wet. When I was in my early 20s I was somewhere to the right of Ghengis Khan but 50+ years has softened my stance except for drug-lib. Now I think I ‘hang-out’ amongst the Tory-Wets but, of course, I’m Britain first except when I’m watching (Rugby) football and then it’s Wales first. How about Libertarian?

James Joyce
James Joyce
8 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

That’s how I see it… Libertarian. But that embodies many “liberal” principals. Generally, I want to be left alone, leave others alone. But if you preach wokeness to me, I’m entitled to rip your face off….

Matt M
Matt M
8 months ago

 First, beefed-up provisions compelling universities to clarify that political discrimination is not permitted in any aspect of hiring, promotion or refereeing. Second, following the 1967 Kalven Report, a requirement for all those acting in the name of an institution to be politically neutral except where narrowly construed as in the interests of the university. Third, indexing any actions on race and gender equity and diversity to equivalent action on political equity and diversity.

Excellent practical steps! Very good. Hope government are listening.

Last edited 8 months ago by Matt M
Gordon Black
Gordon Black
8 months ago

Your graph is a bit confusing – blue is right wing and red is left wing, … y’know – better dead than red, keep the red flag flying here, Tory party logo, etc.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
8 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

I assumed that the Legatum Institute must be American and that was why the colours were used but it isn’t, so it is a stange colour scheme

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
8 months ago

Well, well, well, don’t they like to be ‘different’: also with their Imperial weights and measures: with their short ‘gallon’. And with other colours: I know that entering any port at night, the channel lights are red/port and green/starboard … but … USA is green/port and red/starboard!

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
8 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

Is it just the US that has the different port lights? If so, wouldn’t that be dangerous?

Mike Wylde
Mike Wylde
8 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

Never mind an inability to write a date properly!
I was once told – during the cold war era that only 2 countries in the world used mm-dd-yy and that was the USA and the USSR. Don’t know whether that’s true though?

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
8 months ago

I assumed that the Legatum Institute must be American and that was why the colours were used”
I’m not sure that the US conservatives chose red, my suspicion is that it was foisted on them because the foisters didn’t want to give red to the left – to prevent it being used in ‘the left are ‘red’ – i.e. ‘Commies”.
Noel

Sienna Combs
Sienna Combs
8 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

in the US though it’s the opposite, given the graphs were based on polls from other countries as well there may not be a good way to do it out with using different colours altogether

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
8 months ago

The late Roger Scruton once said that if he gathered together enough academics of an even slightly conservative stance to staff a new university teaching what all universities taught until last Tuesday, he’d never get a warrant to award degrees because the same corrupt baskets who were “educated” in the university system now control the civil service and political establishments. I’m paraphrasing, of course. He said it much more eloquently.

Howard Ahmanson
Howard Ahmanson
8 months ago

The UATX people (God bless them) should worry.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
8 months ago

Post Modernism, the philosophy of Satan, has captured the academics.

The issue is no longer political, it is good-evil. The Devil’s main strength is his ability to make people not believe in him, he has been very successful as the Secular Society no longer has instruction on Good/Evil, and so no defense against evil.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
8 months ago

Universities which promote political bias should be prohibited from using academic titles such as vice-chancellor or professor and from awarding academic degrees. Graduates from such universities would be guilty of misrepresentation if they held themselves out as holding a degree.

William Cameron
William Cameron
8 months ago

Many years ago when I studied economics any essay which was not left leaning got poor marks .

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
8 months ago

You are about 50 years too late

William Cameron
William Cameron
8 months ago

No university can claim to support diversity if it denies access to anyone who isnt left wing.