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Winter 2004
Too Liberal?
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Fogarty Fellows The gulf between conservatives and liberals in America has never been greater. Is this national divide reflected in the environment of today's academy?

by Ajay Singh
Illustration by Juliette Borda

VINAY LAL WAS PREPARING to leave his office in Bunche Hall one recent evening when a young man stepped into the doorway. “I’m looking for some Republican students,” he told the associate professor of history. “Do you know any?” Lal was so startled by the question that he let out a short laugh. “Republicans are not part of my life,” he responded. “You knocked on the wrong door.”

Had the visitor cast so much as a casual glance at the cartoons, postcards and clippings on Lal’s office door, he probably wouldn’t have knocked in the first place. Lal’s work is widely viewed as firmly grounded in the liberal worldview. In fact, many of his students see him as a radical — a label Lal himself doesn’t disown because a radical, he says, is “someone who goes to the root of things.”

It is no secret that liberals abound in academia, especially in the humanities, and generally outnumber conservative scholars. In a recent study of more than 1,000 faculty nationwide, professors supporting the Democratic Party outnumbered their Republican peers by at least seven to one. The study, co-authored by Daniel Klein, an associate professor of economics at Santa Clara University, comes at a time when liberal-minded professors and administrators have been facing two key charges from conservative critics.

The first is that they tend to use the classroom to politically indoctrinate students; the second, that conservatives are discriminated against in matters of hiring and tenure, and thus discouraged from pursuing academic careers. This bias, the critics say, has created a lopsided university education that sorely lacks viewpoints that counterbalance the liberal standard.


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