2008 July 03 Thursday
Younger College Faculty Seen As More Moderate

The younger faculty in American universities and colleges think of themselves as more moderate than their predecessors.

In general, information on professors’ political and ideological leanings tends to be scarce. But a new study of the social and political views of American professors by Neil Gross at the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons at George Mason University found that the notion of a generational divide is more than a glancing impression. “Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s,” they wrote, making up just under 50 percent. At the same time, the youngest group, ages 26 to 35, contains the highest percentage of moderates, some 60 percent, and the lowest percentage of liberals, just under a third.

Keep in mind that they are labeling themselves as moderates based on a scale that is leftward shifted relative to the American population. Their idea of moderate still means voting for Democrats.

They aren't as activist. But tenure is a lot harder to get and the pursuit of tenure leaves little time for activism. Plus, more of the faculty are women who are less extreme and more practically oriented than men.

When it comes to those who consider themselves “liberal activists,” 17.2 percent of the 50-64 age group take up the banner compared with only 1.3 percent of professors 35 and younger.

“These findings with regard to age provide further support for the idea that, in recent years, the trend has been toward increasing moderatism,” the study says.

The authors are not talking about a political realignment. Democrats continue to overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans among faculty, young and old.

What is not said: Are the younger faculty in the social sciences and humanities any different in their positions on political issues? Are they just as likely to support, say, mandatory government-provided health care? Are they as likely to support Robin Hood taxes and social programs? My guess is yes.

But the New York Times, showing little sign of moderation, can not resist an opportunity to get in a plug for Barack Obama.

But as educators have noted, the generation coming up appears less interested in ideological confrontations, summoning Barack Obama’s statement about the elections of 2000 and 2004: “I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation — a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago — played out on the national stage.”

Obama wrote up a psychodrama of his own in a book centered around his race.

The growing fields in academia are more firmly grounded in science and technology and attract more realistic people.

Changes in institutions of higher education themselves are reinforcing the generational shuffle. Health sciences, computer science, engineering and business — fields that have tended to attract a somewhat greater proportion of moderates and conservatives — have grown in importance and size compared with the more liberal social sciences and humanities, where many of the bitterest fights over curriculum and theory occurred.

The harder sciences are producing results that undermine ideological positions. What is the nature of the human mind and how and why do humans differ from each other? Neuroscientists and geneticists can offer more insight than radical left wing sociologists. The younger sociologists know that they have lower status than physicists and neurobiologists because their field has been far less quantitative and rigorous. They'd like to get some of that higher status.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 July 03 08:33 AM  Education

John Bragg said at July 3, 2008 9:23 AM:

"Moderate" in this context essentially means the center of the Democratic Party. Republicans, Lieberman Democrats and Naderites are equally likely deviations from this norm.

They are moderate relative to their older compatriots, for whom McGovern and Carter were the moderate alternatives to Ho Chi Minh, the Black Panthers and the Weathermen.

black sea said at July 3, 2008 11:06 AM:

"moderatism . . ."

I believe that the study's authors have managaged to coin a new word. Would that make the adherents of moderatism "moderatists" as differentiated from good old fashioned moderates?

Perhaps we are witnessing the birth of a new political class.

Jake Jacobsen said at July 3, 2008 2:02 PM:

I'd say its easier to hold territory already won, rather than have to battle for it, hence the "moderation". The war is over on campuses, these folks are merely the follow on administrators of the successful coup.

Dragon Horse said at July 3, 2008 5:54 PM:

"The harder sciences are producing results that undermine ideological positions. What is the nature of the human mind and how and why do humans differ from each other? Neuroscientists and geneticists can offer more insight than radical left wing sociologists. The younger sociologists know that they have lower status than physicists and neurobiologists because their field has been far less quantitative and rigorous. They'd like to get some of that higher status."

LOL...talk about pop-psych. I think this is your wishful thinking, it is definately not reality, at least not on the coasts. You really don't understand academia. Professors in a Psych department or any other department are not concerned too much or even know much about other fields...this is not unusual...they are so highly focused on the little niche inside of their own fields. I seriously doubt social science professors feel inferiority to hard science professors or even think about them. That is so much another world, they likely don't even deal with these types in their social circles. Things are that segregated.

I am willing to bet good money that nearly 40% of these hard science types at any 2nd and 1st tier university are not even native born Americans. White American elites who go into academia rarely go into hard science.

Reality is hard science is not "sexy". Ever see what department most of the hot women are in? Ever notice at hipster house parties, art houses, tea houses, coffee houses, etc. who the pseudo-intellectuals are mindlessly rambling about some obscure subject and attracting a crowd (often of women)? It is usually not the "hard science type" it is more the artsy type.

Trust me...if I took you to were some the "intellectuals" hang out in Washington D.C. they would be social science types (especially art, English majors, international stuff, psych, sociology, MPHs) law types...the people who would usually NOT be there are hard science types, engineers, or even a lot of doctors...maybe some architects. You start talking about the latest math or science thing and people will quickly walk away from you. LOL These same social science types are always on CNN, MSNBC rambling about the latest social trend, elections, etc. Randall, get out more...seriously. :-) I'm going to a hipster 4th of July party tomorrow...I will survey the types there.

"Plus, more of the faculty are women who are less extreme and more practically oriented than men."

Yes, but if you go to any social nonprofit or such organization you will see the vast majority of the staff is female, so although women aren't going to be combating police at a G8 summit in many ways they are more active than men, and women (including white women) have long voted majority Democrat.

Randall Parker said at July 3, 2008 6:11 PM:

Dragon Horse,

The first person I heard tell me that social scientists feel inferior to hard science types was a sociology prof. Heck, he told me that the social science practitioners are inferior and that the people in the hard sciences are smarter. You can see that looking at GRE scores per discipline.

Granted, an economist at Harvard has a very high IQ. So does a sociologist at Harvard. But the average sociologist is less bright than the average economist who is less bright than the average physicist.

As for who gets the babes: That's another subject.

Washington DC social science think tankers mostly do not seem impressive to me. Not sure which DC people you are referring to. Top lawyers are very very smart. But they are lawyers, not social science academics.

White American elites: A lot of them do not go into academia because they go for the money.

Dragon Horse said at July 3, 2008 6:50 PM:


"White American elites: A lot of them do not go into academia because they go for the money."

This is true, but my point is in academia itself there are far more native born whites (often from upper middle to wealthy backgrounds) in social science than hard science.

I also agree that the average IQ of a physicist is among the top of all academic fields, but I honestly don't think that is how the average person judges status by GRE or SAT scores in a academic setting. In fact "artsy types" tend to look down on number crunches and there are many negative stereotypes about these type of people in the media and in society in general as being "nerds", anti-social, etc. BTW, I mentioned lawyers because they usually come from social science backgrounds, not number crunchers (usually)...most lawyers were not engineering or science majors undergrad.

This goes to my point about what I have observed in social settings. Academics or intellectuals focused on arts and social sciences tend to be more socially accepted and respected in elitist crowds. Any talk of status has to take into account how society views your field. Who has higher status in society? Dr. Brian Greene (Columbia), writer of "The Fabric of the Cosmos" or Dr. Francis Fukuyama at SAIS (Johns Hopkins)? Who is more known? Who gets more play in elite social circles in DC, NY, Tokyo, London, etc? Why would Fukuyama feel inferior to Green again? GRE score?

This same thing can be seen in Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect magazine top 100 intellectuals list. What do you see? What don't you see?

Hard Science folks are smart but I would not say being smart gives you status in and of itself or makes others naturally feel inferior to you or insecure about their field.

black sea said at July 3, 2008 9:17 PM:

When it comes to status, the issue can - as always - be explored in terms of wealth. In the realm of the university, that should include departmental and research funding as well, since people the 'soft sciences' and humaiaties perennially complain about about being underfunded. As regarding two fields in particular, sociology and phyiscs, I was surprised by how well the sociologists did. The salary for full professors (25th to 75th percentiles) is $67,277 to 124,955. The equivalent range for professors of physics is $68,194 to 146,194. Where the salaries really fall off the cliff is in the humanities. The range for English professors is $48,385 to 75,879.

Please note that all of these ranges are for full professors, and that the majority of people teaching in universities not only aren't full professors, they aren't on track ever to become such. Most universities staff the majority of their classes with grad students' part-times' and adjuncts. Particularly in the "softer" fields' most PhD's are doing pretty well to secure full-time, non-tenure track positions. I don't have any data on the percentages of non-TT sociology vs. physics faculty, but I'd guess that the percentage is higher in sociology, and I've no doubt that it's higher in English.

Speaking of tenure, part of the generational divide in attitudes among academics may stem from the point made above. Younger faculty members see themselves doing twice as much work as their older colleagues for half as much pay, knowing that their prospects of ever rising to an equivalent position of leisure are slim. They then have to endure being lectured by their more senior colleagues on how young people today are so materialistics and career oriented, and don't make sacrifices for "the cause" the way the oldsters in their golden youth.

It's enough to bring out the fascist in anybody.

black sea said at July 3, 2008 10:30 PM:

Sorry about the sloppiness of the post above, but I was trying to get my comment up before my aging, and wheezing, laptop shut down, and I couldn't afford the luxury of proofing. Also, I use an English keyboard at home, and a Turkish keyboard at work, which explains why what should be commas are typed as apostrophes. It's problematic to switch back and forth every day. I realize that nobody may care, but I had to explain the typos, or I'd throw myself off a building. Or something . . . .

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