TaxProf Blog

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

NY Times Op-Ed: Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators

New York Times op-ed:  Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators, by Samuel J. Abrams (Sarah Lawrence College):

While considerable focus has been placed in recent decades on the impact of the ideological bent of college professors, when it comes to collegiate life — living in dorms, participating in extracurricular organizations — the ever growing ranks of administrators have the biggest influence on students and campus life across the country.

Today, many colleges and universities have moved to a model in which teaching and learning is seen as a 24/7 endeavor. Engagement with students is occurring as much — if not more — in residence halls and student centers as it is in classrooms. Schools have increased their hiring in areas such as residential life and student centers, offices of student life and success, and offices of inclusion and engagement. It’s not surprising that many of the free-speech controversies in the past few years at places like Yale, Stanford and the University of Delaware have concerned events that occurred not in classrooms but in student communal spaces and residence halls.

Intrigued by this phenomenon, I recently surveyed a nationally representative sample of roughly 900 “student-facing” administrators — those whose work concerns the quality and character of a student’s experience on campus. I found that liberal staff members outnumber their conservative counterparts by the astonishing ratio of 12-to-one. Only 6 percent of campus administrators identified as conservative to some degree, while 71 percent classified themselves as liberal or very liberal. It’s no wonder so much of the nonacademic programming on college campuses is politically one-sided.

The 12-to-one ratio of liberal to conservative college administrators makes them the most left-leaning group on campus. In previous research, I found that academic faculty report a six-to-one ratio of liberal to conservative professors. Incoming first-year students, by contrast, reported less than a two-to-one ratio of liberals to conservatives, according to a 2016 finding by the Higher Education Research Institute. It appears that a fairly liberal student body is being taught by a very liberal professoriate — and socialized by an incredibly liberal group of administrators. ...

This warped ideological distribution among college administrators should give our students and their families pause. To students who are in their first semester at school, I urge you not to accept unthinkingly what your campus administrators are telling you. Their ideological imbalance, coupled with their agenda-setting power, threatens the free and open exchange of ideas, which is precisely what we need to protect in higher education in these politically polarized times.

Legal Education | Permalink


There's a lot of evidence that administrators are not liberal or conservative but simply blow with the wind. Their goal is to mimic whatever they see other institutions doing and, in the case of private colleges and universities, to protect their contribution base. I doubt they "believe”in feminism or critical race today any more than they "believed” in white male Protestantism fifty years ago.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Oct 19, 2018 8:26:39 PM

The question arises as always as to (1) why the task of sorting the labor market is assigned to these smarmy creatures and (2) why so many more people are stewed through higher education than was thought necessary in 1980 (much less 1930) and (3) why they spend so much time there. Just eliminating distribution requirements would cut 25% off the man years expended in tertiary institutions.

Posted by: Art Deco | Oct 20, 2018 7:21:04 AM

If we were to examine this from a trust-busting POV, then you'd have to call this ideological vertical integration...

Posted by: MM | Oct 21, 2018 9:21:36 AM

Abrams takes money from AEI and Hoover to bash universities as bastions of liberalism and thereby justify taking money from and turning control over to right wing billionaires.

Yes, the liberalism of those college admins making $60K a year is a real threat to our democracy.

Now stop worrying about the billions the Kochs and the Waltons are pumping into media organizations and think tanks and political campaigns.

Posted by: Shill | Oct 21, 2018 6:29:48 PM

Sarah Lawrence is so "liberal" they gave this guy tenure so he could piss all over Sarah Lawrence in the NY Times.

If liberal administrators had a fraction of the power of managers in other industries, he wouldn't be able to do that and still have a job the next day.

The fact that he can suggests just how little the supposed ideology of administrators in colleges matters.

Posted by: Sarah Lawrence College | Oct 21, 2018 6:45:20 PM

"I received a disconcerting email this year from a senior staff member in the Office of Diversity and Campus Engagement at Sarah Lawrence College . . . soliciting ideas from the Sarah Lawrence community for a conference, open to all of us, titled “Our Liberation Summit.” The conference would touch on such progressive topics as . . . Black Lives Matter and justice for women as well as for . . . queer[s] . . .

As a conservative-leaning professor who has long promoted a diversity of viewpoints among my (very liberal) faculty colleagues and in my classes, I was taken aback by the college’s sponsorship of such a politically lopsided event."

For the sake of ideological balance, perhaps they should have had a liberal panel called "Black Lives Matter" and a conservative panel called "Black Lives Don't Matter"?

Posted by: ideological balance | Oct 22, 2018 4:27:38 PM

"For the sake of ideological balance, perhaps they should have had a liberal panel called "Black Lives Matter" and a conservative panel called "Black Lives Don't Matter"?"

How about for ideological neutrality, "#AllLivesMatter."
Followed by #ButNotVeryMuchIfYouBehaveLikeThugs.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Oct 24, 2018 4:28:36 AM