Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

NY Times: Political Views Of College Faculty

New York Times, Fox News for Universities:

Conservatives denounced left-wing bias among the news media and elite thinkers for decades before acting to alter the landscape. By founding Fox News and think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, they expanded the reach of conservative voices in America — and counterbalanced what was once a liberal tilt.

Now, some conservatives are following a similar playbook to change higher education. Hillsdale College, the small, conservative Christian school in southern Michigan, has expanded its Washington, D.C., campus to try to reach more students. Conservatives have also claimed victories over more established institutions: After the College Board altered its Advanced Placement course in African American studies this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested his administration had driven the changes.

But DeSantis has aimed broader than the College Board. He recently announced proposals to transform Florida’s public universities. He has called for an end to diversity programs and for weaker tenure protections for professors. And he installed conservatives as leaders of New College of Florida, a small public school in Sarasota. ...

Today’s newsletter will look at what DeSantis is doing — and why he may have a hard time succeeding.

Higher education faculty is predominantly liberal. On this point, there is not much debate among experts. About 60 percent of undergraduate teaching faculty identify as liberal or far left, compared with about 12 percent who identify as conservative or far right. The gap has grown over the past few decades.

NY Times

Why does it exist? There is less agreement on that question. It could be a self-fulfilling prophecy: Because colleges are viewed as liberal institutions, fewer conservatives strive to join their staff. Or it could be that faculty hiring boards discriminate against conservative applicants. And since college graduates are more likely to identify as liberal, the pipeline for conservative professors is narrower.

DeSantis is pursuing two paths. He is taking steps to change major tenets of higher education. His proposal to weaken tenure, which the legislature must approve, could make it easier for his appointees to fire liberal teachers. But those professors would have to be replaced. There may not be enough conservatives for all of those jobs, especially as the pool of potential hires — college graduates — has shifted further left over time.

The second part of DeSantis’s push is narrower: transforming New College of Florida, which has nearly 700 students. Its new leadership hopes to turn the school into a model for a conservative education by, for example, developing a new core curriculum. But scaling that model statewide or nationally would be a much bigger undertaking.

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