Conservatives Just Aren’t Into Academe, Study Finds

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article covering the findings of a survey that was conducted to explain why there is such a dearth of conservative minded professors and PhDs. The study was conducted by a husband and wife team that is described as a “bipartisan household” with the husband being a Rush Limbuagh -istening conservative and the wife a woman studies liberal—both of whom met and fell in love in grad school.

For example, liberal students reported valuing intellectual freedom, creativity, and the chance to write original work and make a theoretical contribution to science. They outnumbered conservative students two to one in the humanities and social sciences — which are among the fields most likely to produce interest in doctoral study. Conservative students, however, put more value on personal achievement and orderliness, and on practical professions, like accounting and computer science, that could earn them lots of money.

The Woessners also found that conservative students put a higher priority than liberal ones on raising a family. That does not always fit well with a career in academe, where people often delay childbearing until after they earn tenure.

It seems as though family values and earning power are pitted against theoretical creativity and intellectual discipline. There is something in the conservative ethos that is anti-intellectual, though it certainly isn’t anti-education. I have often wondered if this is because they find so many intellectuals hostile to their values in the university, which seems natural enough. Yet, I do think the idea of grad school, which trains students to contribute to a field of expertise, is ideal for liberal-minded individuals since there is such an emphasis on progress. Innovation is highly valued in academic studies and the idea of mastering and preserving tradition—something that is intrinsic to conservative thinking—just isn’t suitable in such a context. Nevertheless, it isn’t all that clear why there dearth remains.

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5 thoughts on “Conservatives Just Aren’t Into Academe, Study Finds

  1. gpok says:

    There are many factors, but I think one of the biggest reasons is the foundation of fiscal conservatism. Conservatives don’t like to spend money they don’t have on something with a low ROI.

  2. There are opportunity costs to be considered. Even if you get a $14k per year stipend to pick up a few degrees, your earnings over the course of 6 years are going to be making $84k vs. $250k+. Add to that 5 years of low-level teaching gigs, which means you lose out on another $100k+, and it’s a half million dollar investment.

    I hadn’t considered the family issue before, but that is certainly a part of it. Being a college professor requires you to be mobile until you are at least 40.

    I think both sides of the aisle are interested in achievement. However, liberals tend to attach a sense of altruism to the idea of teaching, whereas conservatives are content to contribute to the economy.

    Immature answer:

    Grad school girls are tough on the eyes, which means more dudes have to be into each other, which draws more liberals.

  3. I also think that much of the rationale can be explained by economics — it really doesn’t pay to pursue the academic lifestyle. Even if one does earn an advanced degree, you can earn more money with it in almost any other sector than the academic.

    All that said, I agree with the last sentiment that you share, Adam, that there is an anti-intellectual ethos that most conservatives buy into. I don’t know where this comes from. There is probably some “us against them” element that re-enforces the partitioning of conservatives and liberals with respect to academic careers, though this re-enforcement does not explain how things came to be. My guess is that the conservative mind just doesn’t value the academic agenda as much as, say, the private sector’s. For instance, when I tell people that the work I do probably will not make a difference in the “real world” for at least a decade, if ever, most conservatives’ eyes glass over — and they then proceed to ask me about something that’s more likely to affect their lives. And perhaps that’s some of the difference — the vast majority of academics work on things that are either so esoteric, far-sighted, or just plain impossible, that they have almost zero impact in the “real world”. I think that the conservative mind has a hard time valuing that.

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