Political scientist Sam Abrams teaches at Sarah Lawrence College. His New York Times piece on the polarization of the New England professoriate garnered national attention. In this episode I talk to him about what inspired his work on the professoriate, and where his current research is taking him.
1:03 What inspired Sam to start researching the professoriate?
3:30 Can you find a centrist or conservative professor in New England?
9:34 Is the think-tank world different and better?
12:05 Grad students considering job opportunities at think tanks vs. universities
13:55 It’s a “messy crazy time” in DC, which makes it hard for political research
18:08 Did Norm Ornstein get it right when he traced polarization to Newt Gingrich’s tactics as speaker?
22:10 Centrists need to participate at a local level
23:57 Less polarized regions and states, and the universities in those places
27:10 Students are more centrist and more curious than people may assume
“This research started for two reasons. The first was that when I entered Sarah Lawrence College, I was immediately uncomfortable. I hoped and was excited about joining a community that was deeply engaged in scholarship and took the search for truth very seriously. And by my second day, I realized we were not necessarily looking for truth in the most open-minded sense. People had lenses they brought to the table. This is the faculty, and they expected you to come in with such a lens. I came in without a particularly strong lens. I am an empirical social scientist. I try to operationalize social questions, and answer these questions.”
“One of the things that my empirics have shown that while faculty may have taken a hard left, college freshmen haven’t. College freshmen are a little left of center, the average American is a little right of center…I would say that many of these students are fairly open minded. Many of them want these ideas. Many of them want to argue with you which is sometimes a lot of work to handle, but also a joy.”
Here are a couple of books mentioned during the interview:
The Gingrich Senator: The Roots of Partisan Warfare in Congress by Sean Theriault
It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the new Politics of Extremism by Thomas E. Mann and Norm Ornstein
And here is Sam’s New York Times piece about the New England professoriate.