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More Liberal Academics Dismissed for Political Speech Than Conservatives

Board of Regents president Kevin Schieffer has made clear that, contrary to the contrived whinings of certain Republican legislators and their out-of-state influencers, there is no crisis of “intellectual diversity” at South Dakota’s university campuses. But even Schieffer erred during the GOP leadership’s attempted shakedown of the Regental system in granting that maybe conservatives suffer some oppression elsewhere.

Just last week, the University of Alabama pushed a black VP/dean of students out the door for old tweets pointing out America’s “systemic history of racism for my people.” This politically motivated dismissal is part of a larger pattern identified in research by Acadia University political scientist Jeffrey Adam Sachs: universities have been terminating faculty and administrators more frequently for liberal political speech than for conservative political speech:

What remains are 45 cases from 2015 to 2017 where a faculty member was fired, resigned, or demoted/denied promotion due to speech deemed by critics as political. Of these, more than half (26) occurred in 2017, the clear majority (19) being over liberal speech. This disparity persists even after removing terminations occurring in private religious institutions [Jeffrey Adam Sachs, “There Is No Campus Free Speech Crisis: A Close Look at the Evidence,” Niskanen Center: Defending the Open Society, 2018.04.27].

One small reason for the more frequent roasting of liberals is the more avid mobilization of conservative groups like Turning Point USA seeking to lynch liberal academics:

There are many ways to think about this data. The most straight-forwardly partisan one is to focus on the large disparity between terminations due to criticism from the right versus the left. Certainly there exists a vast infrastructure of organizations on the political right designed to monitor the academy and publicize disagreeable speech. No equivalent infrastructure exists on the left, perhaps explaining the disparity [Sachs, 2018.04.27].

That surge in stifling of liberal academics’ speech appears to have abated last year as universities may be recovering from the shock of Trumpism and getting tired of his anti-liberal minions:

Trump’s campaign and victory generated enormous consternation among many students and faculty, leading some to embrace confrontational forms of activism. In this, they were no different from activists off campus. But as that initial surge of panic has receded, so has the combative sense of urgency and alarm that drove campus activists when it was vivid and fresh. In other words, it is probably not that students are suddenly being won over by Mill’s On Liberty. Nor is it that they now see the value of what Charlie Kirk or Ben Shapiro bring to campus. Rather, it is just that they are beginning to find them boring [Jeffrey Sachs, “The ‘Campus Free Speech’ Crisis Ended Last Year,” Niskanen Center: Defending the Open Society, 2019.01.25].

So not only did South Dakota’s Republican legislators get bass-ackwards the more frequent targets of political intimidation on campuses nationwide, they responded too late to a “crisis” that, if it existed at all elsewhere in the nation, was rectifying itself.


  1. bearcreekbat 2019-09-09 10:50

    Wayne makes a good point. Statistics indicate that people with advanced education are much more likely to express liberal ideas after the changes the Republican party has made since the 1950’s Eisenhauer years, and the gradual shift to the Reagan political outlook.

    According to exit polls, 61 percent of non-college-educated white voters cast their ballots for Republicans while just 45 percent of college-educated white voters did so. Meanwhile 53 percent of college-educated white voters cast their votes for Democrats compared with 37 percent of those without a degree.

    . . . Non-college-educated white voters used to solidly belong to Democrats, and college-educated white voters to Republicans. Several events over the past six decades have caused these allegiances to switch, the most recent being the candidacy, election, and presidency of Donald Trump.

    . . .

    . . . “The shift in whites without a college degree away from the Democratic Party begins as the Democratic Party becomes identified as the party of civil rights,” starting in the 1960s, Robert P. Jones, the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, told me. Disaffected white southern Democrats, in particular, fled in droves. . . .

    In the 2016 election, 48 percent of college-educated white voters voted for Trump, compared with 66 percent of non-college-educated white voters. A Marist poll in October of this year found that 55 percent of non-college-educated white voters approved of the job Trump was doing, compared with just 39 percent of college-educated white voters. When Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh squeaked through a Senate confirmation hearing with a sexual assault allegation in tow, 54 percent of non-college-educated white voters supported him, compared with 38 percent who had gone to college. . . .

  2. Porter Lansing 2019-09-09 12:47

    I wouldn’t point it out, Wayne but you brought up the subject. Your source Econ Journal Watch is a publication of the Fraser Institute. Fraser Institute is a strongly biased, conservative source.
    – “Overall, we rate Fraser Institute strongly Right-Center biased based on policy positions that favors business and Mixed for factual reporting due to false and misleading claims regarding global warming.” – The Institute has received donations of hundreds of thousands of dollars from foundations controlled by Charles and David Koch, with total donations estimated to be approximately $765,000 from 2006 to 2016.

  3. mike from iowa 2019-09-09 12:56

    Non educated whites are getting an earful of racist bullcrap from Drumpf and selected wingnuts, telling them their problems are caused by minorities taking their jobs, healthcare and women.

    The FBI recently released a statement claiming immigrants are violent and dangerous, without a shred of evidence to back the claims up. Drumpf and the John Dales of the world have politicized the FBI, NOAC, IRS, and Justice Departments.

  4. Porter Lansing 2019-09-09 13:02

    Well said, MFI. That group (Drumpf, Neal Tapio, and the John Dales of the world) are making “false victimhood” into a daily duty towards a lifelong career.

  5. Wayne 2019-09-09 14:54

    Porter, You may not like the venue, but Bloomberg (left center bias) didn’t blink at the study’s veracity, and argue the findings are a problem for academia:

    If it helps ease your angst over the bias of the publisher, the Higher Education Research Institute from UCLA corroborates the findings of the more recent study.

    “Overall in 2016–2017, 0.4% of faculty identify as far right, 11.7% as conservative, 28.1% as middle-of-the-road, 48.3% as liberal, and 11.6% as far left.”

    Even if you reject the original study I point to (without actually refuting the methodology, I would add), the long-standing HERI survey shows a definite liberal over-representation in academia, and illustrates voiced conservative political viewpoints are being over-represented in terminations.

  6. Porter Lansing 2019-09-09 16:02

    Your source has strong conservative bias and my opinion of that means nothing. It is what it is. Strong, right wing, bias.
    Studies do say professors lean left but challenge the idea that this results in indoctrination or harms conservatives. Much of the research says conservative students and faculty members are not only surviving but thriving in academe — free of indoctrination if not the periodic frustrations. Further, the research casts doubt on the idea that the ideological tilt of faculty members is because of discrimination. Notably, some of this research has been produced by conservative scholars.
    Also, Bloomberg didn’t say that. A writer (Cass R. Sunstein) has that opinion and that opinion was reprinted in Bloomberg.

  7. Donald Pay 2019-09-09 16:19

    South Dakota had a sorry era of punishing and suppressing professors who questioned the Oahe Irrigation Project. Most of the targeted professors were scientists or economists who were bringing forward concerns with the assumptions and studies of state and federal governments about that project. This occurred under Kneip and Janklow, so it was a bi-partisan attack on academic freedom by the political and business elites.

    The efforts at suppressing academic freedom were weakening by the time of the nuclear waste fight. A study on shale by Bangsund provided some good information that bolstered the opponent’s arguments, but that was finished after we had won that issue.

  8. David Newquist 2019-09-09 16:29

    The study associates the 45 fired professors with their political party registrations, but there is no information that they were fired for political speech. Most universities subscribe to the American Association of University Professors statement on academic freedom and freedom of speech, which protects political speech, unless it somehow is involved in a just cause reason for termination. If a professor is fired for political speech, he/she can file a complaint with the AAUP, which will investigate and put the university on censure if the professor’s academic freedom and right to due process was violated. AAUP lists none of the professors as having filed a complaint

    In all the years I taught college, I was seldom aware of my colleagues’ political alliances nor did partisan discussion often take place. Professors are too busy with the controversies of their disciplines and academic policies. Most professors who get fired are involved in some serious infraction, such as plagiarism or false information, or some irreconcilable dispute with their administrations. The studies identify the political affiliations of the fired professors, but they do not indicate that their affiliations were the reasons for their firings.

  9. Robin Friday 2019-09-09 16:43

    bcb translation: people smart enough to make it through advanced education tend to be politically and socially liberal. The smart and the liberal go together. (And yes, I know that’s biased–but also true.)

  10. Robin Friday 2019-09-09 16:50

    If they were smart but not liberal before college, they will be liberal upon completion, except that liberals tend to be lifetime learners. And it won’t be because some professor “turned” them, it will be because they’ve had a chance to think for themselves.

  11. mike from iowa 2019-09-09 17:26

    Wayne, that opinion piece from Bloomberg does not necessarily reflect Bloomberg’s philosophies. The views most likely belong to the writer. Just saying.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-09 19:02

    Wayne raises a reasonable argument about proportion… but is it relevant here? The proportion argument assumes that a population would have a certain percentage of individuals who would make unacceptable political statements warranting termination. That presumes universities have any business terminating anyone for any political speech of any flavor. I’m not sure that is the case.

    Sachs links to a list of the speech acts that led to termination of academics. You may read and judge them for termination-worthiness yourself.

    One could just as easily make a proportionality argument that says that, since more universities are controlled by liberals, we should expect to see more conservatives terminated for saying conservative things, even if those conservative statements are outnumbered by liberal statements. The reverse facts suggest that either liberals don’t dominate the universities, that they are more honest brokers of acceptable speech without regard to ideology of the speakers, or that maybe the terminations come disporportionately from conservative-leaning institutions.

    If proportionality does matter, might the numbers above be read to say that, even though liberal terminations are greater in number that conservative terminations, conservatives are more likely to say crazy stupid radical harmful things and thus make up a larger percentage of terminations than their percentage of academia?

  13. Debbo 2019-09-10 00:11

    When I was a student at NSC in the early to mid 70s I had no idea what the political inclinations of my profs were. Grad school in the mid 90s was an entirely different story. It was pretty clear where most of them stood, but I don’t think they “turned” many students because we were adults, used to gathering information and making our own assessments. The average age of my class was 40.

    Nonetheless, I don’t think profs should be disciplined for opinions.

  14. mike from iowa 2019-09-10 08:10

    But wingnuts are a different breed of cat. Their idea of perfect academics is the same litmus test applied to lifetime judicial appointments. They bitch about liberal bias and go out of their way to ensure their conservative beliefs are the driving force behind applicants for teachers/professors and judges.

  15. Benjamin David Steele 2021-03-21 19:17

    Whether or not Wayne is making a good point is dependent on the larger context. Is there actually a disproportionate number of liberals and leftists in academia? Compared to what? Data from polls and surveys show that the majority of Americans are to the left of the elites in media and politics.

    So, one could easily argue that academics aren’t overall further left than the general public. But it is quite telling the fact that the Amercan majority has been so canceled, censored, and silenced that they don’t even realize they are a majority. This fact is rarely even acknowledged in the corporate meda that supposedly has a left-wing bias.

    This seems extremely signficant. More academics on the political left have their civil rights infringed at the same time that most Americans are being disenfranchised. This could be taken as evidence that the US is now a banana republic where the political left has no special privileges and advantages, quite the opposite.

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