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Liberal Bias Bullshit

Conservatives continue to claim that major institutions like the media and universities have a liberal bias. Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann went as far as to introduce a law that would make it illegal for university professors to discriminate against students who hold conservative views.

But a new study shows that this type of bias does not in fact exist. The study looked at both students who held conservative views, who felt that they were treated unfairly by liberal professors, and liberal students who felt that they were treated unfairly by conservative professors. But what they found was really interesting. The students who felt they were being treated unfairly — left or right — were those who are resistant to change in their own lives and attitudes.

In other words, the problem was not the professors, the problem was students who were resistant to new ideas. For example, they looked at classrooms where a student complained about bias, and found that other students with similar political beliefs in the same classroom did not experience bias. Students who did complain about bias were much more likely to have trouble hearing new ideas — even students on the left who complained about bias from conservative faculty.

Since the whole idea of higher education is to learn and critically evaluate new ideas, it is not surprising that a student who is resistant to new ideas might have trouble.

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10 Comments

  1. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    I know I posted this link before but http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf .

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 7:33 am | Permalink
  2. drew wrote:

    Amusingly this would mean that there really is a bias against “conservative” students according to the non-political definition of the word. The problem for (political) conservatives is that “conservative” by that definition could just as easily apply towards political liberals as political conservatives.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink
  3. David Freeman wrote:

    The increasing polarization between the Republican and Democratic parties makes this problem even worse. I hate to admit it but at this juncture, I’d have a hard time recognizing a good idea from the conservative side even if it was dressed in a tutu and accompanied by fireworks and a brass band. As the positions become more removed from each other, more of us become resistant to new ideas from the other side.

    That is one thing that I like about some of the “moderate” voices in this blog. I can hear you and am trying to be a bit more open and self-critical.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  4. starluna wrote:

    I once had a student who did poorly in one of my courses. When he complained about his grade, he argued that his lack of participation was because he was a conservative and didn’t feel comfortable participating in class discussion. He apparently did not understand that his poor grade was really the result of #1: not doing the weekly assignments; #2: not attending class; and #3: doing a poor job on the final research paper. His participation points were low primarily because he had such poor attendance (you can’t participate if you aren’t in class; you can’t earn participation points if you aren’t in class).

    But, considering that this course was a research based class (weekly assignments and the final project were basically exercises in data collection and analysis), I can see parallels to my experience with this student and the studies cited here. Since one of the goals is to develop critical thinking skills, perhaps the process of verifying claims was what led to his lack of enthusiasm in this class.

    I look forward to reading these studies. I am curious whether there is also a relationship between grades and these complaints.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink
  5. shannigans wrote:

    When I was a student at the University of Utah back in the 90′s we had to write a paper on a current even in some course. I wrote about Hawaii legalizing gay marriage and spoke of it in a positive tone. The professor gave me an F, the first of my life. I’ve never seen so much red ink and rage on a paper. I will admit that on this particular topic my views were and still are resistant to change, so maybe my interpretation of the professor’s bias was due to my own. I still say F that professor.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    Shannigans, are you sure you didn’t get an F because you didn’t spell “event” correctly? JUST KIDDING!

    I’m sure there are some professors out there who are biased like that, both conservative professors (like the one who gave you an F) and liberal ones. Hopefully those kind of people are the exception, rather than the norm, at universities.

    The main issue here is whether there is a pervasive liberal bias in universities.

    Drew, I don’t think someone who holds (traditional) conservative views is necessarily resistant to listening to new ideas. There are ideas I disagree with, but I’m still open to discussing them rationally. Indeed, when I lived in Texas, people were generally conservative, but I found them relatively open to different lifestyles and attitudes. Conversely, when I lived around Berkeley, California, which is very liberal, I was surprised by how close-minded people tended to be (“politically correct”). It works both ways.

    Of course, the current right-wing “conservative” movement is hardly conservative any more in the traditional sense (and hardly a movement — more like a corporate advertising campaign).

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  7. ebdoug wrote:

    When I was a student at the University of Delaware in the 60s a year behind Biden (I found out later)I took psychology 101 with my sister who was a year ahead of Biden. We were asked to participate in an experiment and took a test to determine if we could join. Neither of us could. a very large university class, I was in the 5% of open minded people. My sister with the same parents and same upbringing was in the 5% of close minded people. Nature over nurture.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  8. Patricia wrote:

    1032: Thanks for posting that link, a very interesting read. It’s nice to know someone has been looking at behavioral models for the nuttiness we are now enduring!

    Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
  9. ZJD wrote:

    “Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

    Sunday, June 12, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink
  10. Drew wrote:

    IK – I wasn’t referring to traditional vs. neo conservative politics. The “non-political” definition of conservative that I was referring to is “resistant to change”, which I (like you) have found is just as likely to be true on either end of the political spectrum.

    Monday, June 13, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink