Wondering about Academic Culture

Many surveys of late have shown that teachers in higher ed tend to be overwhelmingly liberal (a prominent methodology is to compare political registration, which usually seems to run at least 10 to 1 toward the Democrats). K.C. Johnson at Inside Higher Ed examines this phenomenon, identifying three elements of the apologetic strategy offered by those who want to maintain the status quo (I only summarize – check the link for the whole piece).

1. The cultural left is, simply, more intelligent than anyone else.
2. A left-leaning tilt in the faculty is a pedagogical necessity, because professors must expose gender, racial, and class bias while promoting peace, diversity” and cultural competence.
3. A left-leaning professoriate is a structural necessity, because the liberal arts faculty must balance business school faculty and/or the general conservative political culture.


Nice to see humility at work, isn’t it?

All this is old news to any one of a conservative bent who has interacted with academia. What got me thinking was one of the comments under point 3:

“Professional schools reflect the mindset of their professions.”

This may be true when looking at law and business schools (I have no experience with either), but I doubt that it is generally true for seminaries, at least in the United Methodist tradition. From what I’ve seen, teachers at official United Methodist seminaries tend to track not with the overall profession (pastors), but with academia. Surveys come out every General Conference year showing that pastors tend to be more liberal than laity. From what I see there is also a tendency for seminary teachers to be more liberal yet.

Does anyone else see this or am I missing something?

Now it could be that pastors are inherently smarter than lay people, and seminary profs smarter than pastors, but I think that is an ad hominem, not an argument.

Another possibility is that our language is failing us here. We throw the terms “liberal” and “conservative” about as if we always know what they mean, and as if they always mean the same thing. They don’t. Considered theologically, United Methodist leaders tend to be more liberal than conservative (according to popular usage). Considered institutionally, however, our leaders sure look conservative to me – “we’ve always done it this way” is a pretty popular motto. So which is it? Are they liberal or conservative? I’m afraid our language is failing us here.

UPDATE: Here’s The New York Times’ latest on the subject. Also, Jim Lindgren at the Volokh Conspiracy has a word or two.

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