Gross (Sociology/Univ. of British Columbia; Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher, 2008, etc.) examines the facts behind the conservative movement’s oft-heard criticism of higher education: that American universities are, as presidential candidate Rick Santorum famously said, little more than “indoctrination mills” for the political left.
Relying on years of research, the author confirms that conservatives are correct in their belief that many professors align themselves on the liberal spectrum, though he notes also that academia has far fewer radical professors in its midst than generally thought. While a mere 8 percent of professors self-identify as “radical,” a recent study revealed that 62 percent of students believed the term accurately described their professors—proof of the conservative movement’s ability to perpetuate the myth of the radical professor. Gross readily acknowledges that some conservative scholars may feel outnumbered in a university’s social science department but that the professor’s marginalized status is hardly any different than “progressives at some elite law firms.” More interesting than academia’s demographics, however, are the causes of these demographics. In short: What is at the root of liberalism in academia? Do liberal academics share a different value system than their conservative counterparts? Does self-selection play a role? To what extent does one’s politics affect one’s career path? And a related question: How can professors protect their academic freedoms in an environment so closely tied to the politicians who hold the purse strings? Gross examines all of these questions and more, often overwhelming readers with facts and figures that lead to somewhat nebulous conclusions. Its academic tone—while appropriate given the subject matter—reminds readers that an academic in academia produced it. While Gross’ neutrality is admirable, his work’s inability to open itself up to a wider audience risks confining a valuable debate to the primary players within it.
A dense sociological report on the facts and falsehoods of the political leanings of professors.