It’s pretty well recognized that college professors as a group are more liberal than the population at large. The unexplored question was always “why?” People like David Horowitz would blindly speculate that it was hostility towards conservatives that drove them from academia, but nobody actually tried to learn why there weren’t more conservatives in academia. Until now.

Politically conservative professor Matthew Woessner – an Ohio State graduate and asst. professor of public policy at Penn State – has conducted a scientific study into political orientation and higher education with his wife (a liberal professor at Elizabethtown, and also an OSU grad), and the conclusions may be surprising to some people.

The Woessners have peered into the psyche of conservative undergraduates to find out why so few of them want to earn Ph.D.’s and become professors. Their paper on the topic, “Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don’t Get Doctorates,” is available online and will be published as part of a book published in August by the American Enterprise Institute.

The Woessners found that liberal students have values and interests that point them to careers in academe, while most conservative students do not.

“The personal priorities of those on the left,” the Woessners conclude, “are more compatible with pursuing a Ph.D.”

Basically, liberals are twice as likely to want to pursue a PhD. It’s not because of their undergraduate experience – in fact, conservatives are slightly more likely to be satisfied with their undergraduate experience than liberals. Conservatives in the university environment don’t experience widespread discrimination. Interestingly, politically moderate students did worse in college than liberals or conservatives; but those two groups performed reasonably similarly in grades. Essentially, what it boils down to is the fact that liberals are far more interested in the things a PhD provides than conservatives: less family oriented, more interest in writing original works, less focused on financial success, more interested in developing a meaningful philosophy of life, and more interested in contributing to scientific knowledge.

Horowitz is, as expected, full of it.

David Horowitz, the conservative activist, has staged a national campaign for colleges to hire more conservative professors, and he tells stories about right-wing students who have been turned off by hostile leftists in the classroom. He even proposed an “academic bill of rights,” which encourages colleges to foster a variety of political beliefs and become more intellectually diverse.

But Mr. Woessner says he never confronted intolerance in the classroom. Even some of his most liberal professors went out of their way to solicit his views.

So, what’s the key to increasing the percentage of conservatives pursuing PhDs (and thus potentially entering the workforce as professor material)? (Emphasis mine.)

The research led the Woessners to conclude that if higher education wants to attract more conservatives to the professoriate, it should smooth the way financially, offering subsidized health insurance and housing for graduate students, and adopting family-friendly policies for professors.

Become more socialist? Boy, that’s a surprise!

Here’s the real irony for me – I work in a university environment, and I’ve current got the most liberal benefits I’ve had over my entire career. The best health care plan I’ve seen. Tremendous leave plans, including paternity leave. Free (if hard to get due to popularity) child care. Adoption assistance. A flexible work environment that allows individuals to adjust their hours to whatever is in the best interests of their families. While I don’t think graduate students get quite the same benefits I do, it seems to me that the benefits provided while working at a major midwestern university are already quite good.

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