Musa al-Gharbi is a Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in Sociology at Columbia University, and the Director of Communications at Heterodox Academy.
Heterodox Academy strives to promote open inquiry, constructive disagreement, and viewpoint diversity in institutions of higher learning – and especially within social research fields.
This mission includes promoting diversity in terms of the oft-discussed categories of race, gender and sexuality – as well as the less-discussed (but also pressing) lack of diversity along the lines of class and geography — and of course, the intersections between these categories.
However, up to now many of our efforts have concentrated on the issue of ideological diversity in institutions of higher learning. There are a few reasons for this.
First, there is general social agreement that discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality or race is wrong. However, many in the academy believe it is acceptable or even desirable to exclude non-progressive perspectives. In fact, while noteworthy progress has been made since the 90’s in terms of representation for women and ethnic or racial minority groups, the ideological underrepresentation problem is actually growing worse.
We were concerned about these trends primarily because the lack of ideological diversity seemed to be undermining the quality and impact of social research. Therefore, much of our initial labor was to help our colleagues recognize that the lack of ideological diversity is a real problem, and to commit themselves to being part of the solution.
However, a question has come up time and again regarding the relative scale of these challenges: how does the lack of, say, political diversity measure up when compared to underrepresentation by race, gender or sexuality? To get at this question, we can compare rates of faculty identification across different identity measures.
- With regards to race, research has shown that whites and Asians are overrepresented among tenured faculty.
- In terms of gender, men are overrepresented among full-time tenured faculty, while women tend to be concentrated in adjunct or otherwise non-tenured positions.
- Lesbians and gays are also overrepresented among faculty, especially in social research fields.
- Non-Christian faiths (particularly Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus) tend to be overrepresented among faculty, but amount to relatively small numbers for both faculty and the general population. The religiously unaffiliated (atheists, agnostics, religious “nones”) represent a much larger share and are significantly overrepresented as well.
- Progressives are vastly overrepresented in the academy. According to the most comprehensive study on faculty political leanings to date (Gross & Simmons 2014), progressives outnumber conservatives by 10:1 in the humanities and social sciences, despite the fact that conservatives outnumber liberals in the general U.S. population (and pretty much always have).
- While we are not able to directly compare the socioeconomic backgrounds of faculty, we can reasonably infer from information about graduate school completion and school placement rates (see here then here) that faculty are disproportionately likely to come from families in the upper quartile of income.
- We can similarly infer that faculty are likely to hail from cities and the suburbs over towns or rural areas… particularly from metropolitan areas along the West Coast or the Northeast Corridor running from Boston through Washington D.C. (see here, here, here for more).
Comparing Underrepresentation Rates
In order to more easily compare levels of underrepresentation among groups, we can create a common representation quotient by dividing the percentage of representation each group has among full-time faculty divided by the share these groups comprise of the total U.S. population.
On this scale, approaching “1” would signal parity between representation in the academy v. the broader society. Exceeding “1” would indicate overrepresentation, while approaching “0” would indicate severe underrepresentation. In descending order, the breakdown is as follows:
|Group||Share of the U.S. Professoriate||Percentage of the U.S. Population||Representation Quotient||Source(s)|
|Non-Christian Faiths||13||6||2.17||Gross & Simmons 2009, Pew 2014|
|11||6||1.83||U.S. Census Bureau, Myers 2016|
|Liberals||44||26[*]||1.69||Gross & Simmons 2014, Gallup 2018|
|Religiously Unaffiliated||31||23||1.35||Gross & Simmons 2009, Pew 2014|
|Whites||75||61||1.23||U.S. Census Bureau, Myers 2016|
|Men||59||49||1.2||U.S. Census Bureau, Steiger 2013|
|Women||41||51||0.8||U.S. Census Bureau, Steiger 2013|
|Christians||53||71||0.75||Gross & Simmons 2009, Pew 2014|
|Blacks||5||13||0.38||U.S. Census Bureau, Myers 2016|
|Conservatives||9||35||0.26||Gross & Simmons 2014, Gallup 2018|
|Hispanics||4||18||0.22||U.S. Census Bureau, Myers 2016|
And so, if we were to visualize the over/under representation (with “0” indicating parity), it would look something like this:
This is the picture for U.S. colleges and universities overall. However, if we restrict our analysis to social science fields, the dynamic changes significantly:
|Group||Share of the U.S. Social Science Professoriate||Percentage of the U.S. Population||Representation Quotient||Source(s)|
|Liberals||58||26[*]||2.23||Gross & Simmons 2014, Gallup 2018|
|Atheist/ Agnostic||39||23||1.7||Gross & Simmons 2009, Pew 2014|
|Whites||81||61||1.33||U.S. Census Bureau, National Science Foundation|
|7||6||1.17||U.S. Census Bureau, National Science Foundation|
|Men||50||49||1.02||U.S. Census Bureau, Ginther & Khan 2015|
|Women||50||51||0.98||U.S. Census Bureau, Ginther & Khan 2015|
|Blacks||5||13||0.38||U.S. Census Bureau, National Science Foundation|
|Hispanics||4||18||0.22||U.S. Census Bureau, National Science Foundation|
|Conservatives||5||35||0.14||Gross & Simmons 2014, Gallup 2018|
Looking at underrepresented groups: Women are even closer to parity in social research fields than in most other academic sectors. And while blacks and Hispanics are severely underrepresented among full-time faculty in the academy writ large, those faculty that are black and/or Hispanic tend to be heavily concentrated in social research fields (at the expense of STEM fields). However, there also happen to be more faculty employed in social research than most other occupational fields. Therefore, the representation quotients for blacks and Hispanics remain roughly unchanged, regardless of whether we are talking about social research fields in particular, or U.S. institutions of higher learning overall. While Asians remain overrepresented in social research fields, they are less-so than whites.
The non-religious are concentrated even more heavily in social research fields than the academy overall.
Finally, there is a significant downward shift in levels of political diversity when we restrict our analysis to social research fields. Liberals are hugely overrepresented: more than twice as common among social scientists as they are in the general population. Meanwhile, the representation quotient for conservatives in social science fields is 0.14, which is significantly lower than any other major population group measured. In other words, the lack of ideological diversity seems to be vastly more pronounced in social research fields than underrepresentation in terms of gender, sexuality, and race.
Research suggests these disparities are even greater within campus administrations: “It appears that a fairly liberal student body is being taught by a very liberal professoriate — and socialized by an incredibly liberal group of administrators.”
Of course, particular institutions need not, as a rule, strive for perfect parity with the general population along any demographic or ideological dimension. After all, under (or over) representation is often a result of selection effects. However, underrepresentation becomes worrisome under two conditions. One is a hostile environment and/or active discrimination. The other is if insufficient input from certain constituencies lowers research quality and impact. Unfortunately, both of these conditions seem to be present in the case of ideological representation within the academy: There is evidence of active discrimination against conservatives (and more broadly, a suppression of views that defy prevailing orthodoxies), and this does undermine the accuracy and effectiveness of social research.
For further reflections on the moral and practical considerations of this data, see my essay in the latest issue of Times Higher Education, “If conservative views are not represented in social research, leftists will suffer most.”
Opinions expressed are those of the author(s). Publication does not imply endorsement by Heterodox Academy or any of its members. We welcome your comments below. Feel free to challenge and disagree, but please try to model the sort of respectful and constructive criticism that makes viewpoint diversity most valuable. Comments that include obscenity or that sound like a tirade or screed are likely to be deleted.