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UCLA Magazine Winter 2004
From Murphy Hall
Dance in the Time of AIDS
Off the Wall
East Meets Westwood
Too Liberal?
Stemming the Nuclear Tide
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Acting Local to Think Global
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Winter 2004
Too Liberal?
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“The problem isn’t that the university is too liberal, the problem is it’s too one-sided. I call it an informal blacklist that excludes anybody from faculty who doesn’t have a left-wing perspective. There’s also a lot of indoctrination in the classroom. It reflects a very bad national phenomenon.”
—David Horowitz

Amid the outcry over liberal bias, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that certain social sciences have always been strongly conservative. Take economics, with its notions of supply and demand, free enterprise and a view of human nature that says we are motivated by the maximizing of personal gain. "We could just as well argue that young people's minds are being shaped by these theories as anything else," points out Astin.

Given that we are molded by our environments, what do scholarly institutions lose if they consist predominantly of like-minded people? "There is a danger that if an institution is politically homogenous, people have a tendency to think that a good thinker is someone who thinks like them, and then to say that we will only hire good thinkers," argues Eugene Volokh '83, J.D. '92, a conservative professor of law at UCLA. "It is not so much that institutions end up being politically lopsided, but that lopsidedness ends up perpetuating this kind of thinking."

When conservatives feel badly outnumbered, they tend not to speak their minds, says Timothy Groseclose, an associate professor of political science at UCLA. Even their research is sometimes rejected out of hand by liberal peers, as Groseclose says he has experienced. In several seminars, he says, he was frustrated to find that about half the liberal-minded faculty in the audience dismissed the results of his recent study on media bias, in which a Fox News show was found to be almost equally as far to the right of center as comparable shows on NBC and ABC were to the left of center. "They went with their intuition, disregarding the scientific evidence, that they just know Fox News is not as balanced as NBC," says Groseclose.

It could, of course, be argued that just as the military, with its emphasis on God, flag and country, tends to attract mostly conservative people, universities have a preponderance of liberals because professors tend to embrace certain classically liberal values that form academia's core: freedom of expression, freedom of inquiry, questioning of authority. But "if everyone is coming from the same direction, I daresay there will be a lot of things that are not going to be researched in all of the social sciences," says Stephen Hess, Distinguished Research Professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University and senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution. "It's very troubling, because at the same time we honor the freedom of the professoriate to teach what they want and research what they're interested in."

The trouble with the academy isn't just its liberal bias, adds Hess, but the fact that it has "a very strong anti-American bias." As it is, public universities feel squeezed economically, and that could get worse as conservative constituents pressure state legislatures to cut funds for political reasons, Hess warns, adding: "Irate parents say that not only are you teaching our children things we don't believe in, but that you're teaching them things the country doesn't believe in."

When conservative ideas on campuses are seen as beyond the pale, says Peter Pozessky, an associate professor of history at the College of Wooster in Ohio, "the most affected are liberal students who will come out of college convinced that their positions are so correct that they won't be able to defend their own views or values." A tenured professor who calls himself a "fairly thick-skinned" moderate conservative, Pozessky says his liberal colleagues are so unused to disagreement that "I've had people storm away from the table at lunch."


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