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Features | Harvard @375

Political Diversity?

September-October 2011

The University’s faculty are increasingly diverse demographically—but are they diverse politically as well? “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University,” the late William F. Buckley is said to have quipped in 1963. The Yale-educated conservative writer said he was concerned with “conformity among intellectual cliques,” particularly in education and the arts.

Buckley would no doubt be disheartened to know that the Harvard faculty is probably slightly more liberal than in the past. A rigorous study of the political attitudes of U.S. professors (Harvard faculty members were among the study subjects, but in numbers too small to draw reasonable inferences specific to the University) by Neil Gross, then an assistant professor of sociology, and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, found that although the academy is still dominated by liberals, as it was 25 years ago, traditional attitudes among conservative faculty members have subsequently given way to more centrist views among the younger generation. Gross’s work went on to posit a reason: conservative labeling of universities as liberal has led to typecasting—more liberals than conservatives, in other words, grow up wanting to be professors, just as more women than men grow up wanting to be nurses. “The irony is that the more conservatives complain about academia’s liberalism,” Gross told the New York Times in 2010, “the more likely it’s going to remain a bastion of liberalism.”