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Psychologists: "We’re Tolerant, Unless You’re Conservative"

October 17, 2017

Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reminded the nation that “[t]olerance is a two-way street.”  But a new study suggests that academics—particularly psychologists—have yet to get the message.  Not only do they overwhelmingly tilt towards the left end of the political spectrum, but they also admittedly discriminate against conservatives. 

In this study, two researchers from Tilburg University asked psychology faculty and graduate students to describe their own political beliefs.  In fact, they did so twice, and they asked participants to describe their views on economic, foreign policy, and social issues.  The results from both surveys resoundingly confirmed that psychology faculty tilt way left. 

The tilt is so pronounced that the researchers concluded conservatives are a “substantial minority” among psychologists because 30–40% are not liberal on economic or foreign policy issues.  Only in a world where over 90% describe themselves as leftists on social issues and 85% rate themselves as leftists overall could 70% leftist domination be considered “diverse.”

Of course, some might respond to this by saying, “So what.  This has no real impact on the day-to-day life of professors.”  But the research tells a different story.  In reality, conservative faculty members face a hostile environment on campus.  To quote the researchers:

The more conservative respondents were, the more they had personally experienced a hostile climate. . . .  The more liberal respondents were, the less they believed that conservatives faced a hostile climate. 

What accounts for this difference? 

This was driven entirely by more conservative respondents’ greater personal experience of a hostile climate. . . .  This suggests that the hostile climate reported by conservatives is invisible to those who do not experience it themselves. 

But what created this leftist imbalance and the hostility towards conservatives?  Could it be, as Dr. Haidt suspected in 2011, that the profession engages in rampant discrimination?  Or could it be, as some have suggested, that “liberals may be more interested in new ideas, more willing to work for peanuts, or just more intelligent, all of which may push them to pursue the academic life while deterring their conservative peers”?  Or could it be that “the field of social psychology self-selects for liberals and might even create them?”  The research points to discrimination.

The researchers asked participants “how likely they would be to discriminate against conservatives” when evaluating papers, grants, symposium invitations, and job applicants.  They also asked participants how likely their colleagues would be to discriminate against conservatives in the same areas.  The results were disturbing.  Almost 20% admitted they would at least be somewhat inclined to discriminate against conservatives when reviewing papers.  Almost 25% would discriminate in reviewing grants and almost 40% would when making hiring decisions.  And they consistently thought their colleagues were even more likely to discriminate.

As the researchers concluded:

Thus, willingness to discriminate is not limited to small decisions.  In fact, it is strongest when it comes to the most important decisions, such as grant proposals and hiring.  And the more liberal respondents were, the more willing they were to discriminate. 

Of course, the results of this study will not come as news to students who have experienced professors that inject their political views into class or to students who feel pressured agree with those views to get a good grade.  Nor will they surprise conservative professors like Dr. Mike Adams (who was denied a promotion because his colleagues vociferously disliked his conservative beliefs), Kenneth Howell (who was fired for teaching Catholic theology in a class about Catholic theology), June Sheldon (who was terminated for answering questions about homosexuality in a genetics class), and Theresa Wagner (who was not hired because of her pro-life views).  But they should come as a disappointment to those who think that we should—in the words of Thomas Jefferson—“follow the truth wherever it may lead.”  For as the researchers noted, “as offensive as it may seem to many social psychologists, believing that abortion is murder does not mean that one cannot do excellent research.”  And these results should also disturb the millions of Americans who think that universities should serve as a “marketplace of ideas,” where all perspectives are welcome and addressed on their merits.