Most college professors are Democrats because Republicans don’t accept scientific reality.
That’s according to William Snider, founding director and professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
He wrote an op-ed for The News & Observer after Phil Berger, the Republican leader of the North Carolina Senate, accused UNC of discriminating against Republican academics who fail to “toe the line from the left.”
Twelve out of thirteen professors at the University of North Carolina are Democrats, according to Berger, who suggests that’s evidence for his claim of discrimination.
It’s a bit unclear whether college professors are as overwhelmingly liberal as Berger implies. Mother Jones cites the sociologist Neil Gross, who estimates about half of professors describe themselves as “left or liberal,” and another 19% identify as moderates. That makes the professoriate lefter than average — but not by the overwhelming margin the 12:1 ratio at UNC would suggest.
Gross, however, also finds that academics are much less likely to be strong conservatives than most Americans. Only 4% fall into that category — as well as another 23% on social and military issues.
To explain the discrepancy, Snider writes that college professors, particularly scientists, tend to self-select affiliation with Democratic party because their profession necessitates beliefs that align with it.
A 2013 Pew Research survey found that only 43% of Republicans “believe” in evolution, which Snider notes, is the “central organising principle of modern biology.” Of the 17 Republican politicians who sought the party’s presidential nomination this year, only Jeb Bush suggested that he accepts the science. And, as Snider notes, “several of the candidates were on record stating that they did not accept evolutionary theory.”
“How should scientists react to this?” Snider asks. “If Republican leaders don’t believe it [evolution] is true, how can scientists support them? Further, public funds in NC are directed at ‘voucher’ schools that teach that the theory of evolution is false. How can we join the party that apportions funds in this way?”
He goes on to identify as even “more relevant” the general Republican position that climate science is a “hoax.”
(The 2016 Republican Party Platform states that “climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue” and calls for rejecting the Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol, which call for international cooperation to combat climate change.)
Given the overwhelming scientific consensus on the human causes and global threat of a warming planet, Snider writes that it’s hard for researchers to take a party that accuses major research bodies of conspiracy seriously.
“It is also apparent to anyone who follows the issue that many of the statements claiming that climate science is a hoax are compromised by economic self-interest related to companies and individuals who profit from fossil fuels,” he adds.
Snider writes that he worries North Carolina’s Republican legislature might punish UNC for not going out of its way to hire Republicans:
“We hope not, but the University of North Carolina system has already seen a competent and respected president who was a Democrat forced out so a Republican could be installed. The sad part is that this will happen only at public schools. The private colleges and universities will continue to prosper via endowments and high tuitions, their faculty will remain heavily Democratic and the wealthy will continue to send their children there.”
It’s hard to imagine that there’s a massive conspiracy to exclude Republicans from academia, as Snyder notes. It could be illegal to ask about a job candidate’s political affiliation during a hiring process, and there’s only a few fields — sociology is perhaps one — where a candidate’s party politics are likely to become apparent in their work.
Other professors, like the far-left linguist Noam Chomsky, make their politics known outside their academic work. But that’s more the exception than the rule.
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