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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Inside Higher Ed: Grading Edge for Conservative Students

Interesting article in today's Inside Higher Ed:  Grading Edge for Conservative Students, by Scott Jaschik:

Markus Kemmelmeier, a sociologist at the University of Nevada at Reno, has been watching the Academic Bill of Rights debate with growing frustration, because he thinks there is proof about the question about classroom bias that has been ignored. “I just don’t see evidence” of bias, says Kemmelmeier, one of three authors of an in-depth study on the topic that was published last year in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin [What's in a Grade?: Academic Success and Political Orientation, 31 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 1386 (2005).]

The research looked at the politics and grades, over a four-year period, of 3,890 students at a large public university. The students — most of whom entered as freshmen together and participated in the study by choice — were asked a series of questions about their politics, shared information about their educational backgrounds and SAT scores, and then had their college grades tracked. The students in this sample broke down as 20% conservative, 42% middle of the road, 35% liberal, and the rest scattered in various extreme categories. The research focused on grading patterns for which there was an enrollment pattern by students’ politics....

The more liberal students are, the more likely they are to take courses in fields like sociology and American studies where “questions of social justice” are a focus. Conservative students are more likely to enroll in departments like economics and business. This is a key fact, Kemmelmeir said, because the fields conservatives tend to study are fields where average grades are lower — across all political groups. So when conservative students complain that their grades are lower than their liberal friends, they might be right — but it has nothing to do with bias.

In disciplines that tend to attract more conservative students (economics and all of the disciplines in business schools), conservatives have a slight edge — the equivalent of 0.25 on a 4-point graduate point average scale.

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