Thursday, July 12, 2007

Zogby's New Poll: The Quest for True Diversity

By Richard Vedder

Zogby has performed a public service by quantifying something that many have complained about, but which is vehemently denied to be a problem by university presidents.

Zogby shows that most Americans believe that university professors are biased, that they present slanted views of material in the classroom, etc. Surveys have repeatedly shown that social science and humanities faculties (who teach courses where controversial ideas are discussed and evaluated) are overwhelmingly liberal, mostly registered Democrats. And there is a widespread perception that many use the classroom far too much to espouse personal views than objectively present the facts or multiple sides of an issue.

I was at a conference a couple of days ago where a roomful of wealthy Americans concerned about this problem (among others) were discussing solutions. It is clear that intellectual diversity means far less in the academy than fixation with skin color, religion, sexual orientation and other matters pretty distant from intellectual discovery and the quest for truth. In reality, the reverse should be the case: colleges should strive to present young minds with alternative perspectives on issues, while maintaining total neutrality institutionally on policy matters. They should evaluate student and job applicants on their qualifications with little or no regard for individual characteristics such as sexual preferences, skin color, religion, gender, etc.

Zogby also found that people think tenure erodes job performance, that it leads professors to become complacent and lazy. The public is, roughly speaking, right. I have said it for years: the more light that is shone on higher education, the greater will be the pressures to change the ways of the academy. I think the Zogby poll's results are broadly congruent with this view.

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