Who knew that making the empirically proven observation that academia has a liberal bias would provoke controversy? Or that suggesting a class on 9/11 should, perhaps, encompass a range of views, not just those of anticolonialists and terrorists, would make national headlines?
Before I even started at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I wrote what became a widely read article critical of UNC’s freshman orientation. The backlash was immediate. I faced a larger wave of criticism after I drew attention to a UNC first-year seminar called “Literature of 9/11.” In an article on the College Fix, I noted that the course’s required-reading list consisted of books that expressed blatantly anti-American attitudes. Later, a thorough analysis of the syllabus by the John William Pope Center confirmed the basis for my concerns. The study found that only two of the course readings could be labeled pro-American, whereas nineteen were explicitly anti-American. Sadly, this class and the professor who teaches it are not outliers.
A 2011 survey conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that academia is moving further and further left. In 2008 a majority of full-time college professors self-reported as either “liberal” (47 percent) or “far left” (8.8 percent). Just three years later, liberal and far left professors accounted for nearly two-thirds of all faculty. In fact, self-identified far left professors (12.4 percent) now outnumbered conservative faculty members (11.5 percent).
The professors at Chapel Hill reflect this trend. On the website North Carolina College Finder, Chapel Hill receives a rating of “very unbalanced” in terms of registered Democratic versus Republican professors. This rating is reserved for universities where Democratic professors outnumber Republican professors by a ratio of 5:1 or greater. At Chapel Hill the discrepancy is greater.
This fall the Carolina Review, the ISI-supported conservative student publication at UNC, analyzed the party affiliation of professors. From a sample of 249 professors, information was unavailable for 81; yet of the remaining 168, an astounding 120 were registered Democrats. A mere 4 professors were registered Republicans.
In an ideal world, a professor’s political philosophy wouldn’t have much bearing on his or her courses. Yet many professors seem incapable of preventing their own biases from slipping into their classes. Professors routinely express their political views, even when those views are not relevant. During a small group meeting for one of my courses, our teaching assistant openly criticized Governor Pat McCrory and the recently signed Protect North Carolina Workers Act. The class was Art History I: Western Art, and the topic of conversation before the abrupt change had been Roman architecture.
It’s unfortunate that some professors find it necessary to declare their views as though those perspectives were the only way of seeing the world. In doing so, they frighten students with dissenting opinions from speaking out. It is only through debate and viewing all ideas that we can come to find the truth. In letting their ideology affect their courses, professors preemptively shut down conversation and prevent true learning from taking place.
Alec Dent, a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is associate editor of the Carolina Review, an independent student publication in ISI's Collegiate Network.