Senate Majority leader Phil Berger noted a truth recently that Democrats outnumber Republicans 12 to one within the UNC system faculty, suggesting conservatives are discriminated against.
The statistic was no surprise. But liberal professors were surprisingly offended. Their heads began to spin, suggesting the reason there are more liberal professors is they discriminate against conservatives. What is even more alarming is their response that liberals are simply scientifically smarter and less biased.
A Chapel Hill professor made a fair point that political affiliation never comes up in job interviews. That may be true. But if they’ve seen the professor’s resume they can pretty much conclude political leanings. They are smart enough to detect philosophical political cues. They shouldn’t pretend they don’t.
Nevertheless, the liberal professor labels all conservatives as evolution denying, climate-change opposing and abortion- bashing idiots. So conservatives can’t possibly discuss women’s reproductive issues, climate or evolution. He thinks conservatives are biased but liberals are not. He should have stopped while he was ahead.
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science published a comprehensive review of the literature on this topic in its March 2015 issue regarding politics and science. They objectively studied the claim that conservatives are biased to reject scientific evidence by reviewing the scientific literature.
Research indeed suggests a theory of political motivated reasoning does exist. People desire to reach conclusions consistent with their prior beliefs and if they are asked to process information inconsistent with those beliefs, they respond in an emotionally biased manner. Sort of like the UNC professor.
Interestingly, they found, contrary to popular belief, this biased processing actually occurs among people with greater reasoning and cognitive capabilities — not less. What’s more important though is that the scientific literature concludes no partisan or ideological group is superior to the other regarding immunity to motivated ideological bias.
Republicans will be skeptical about climate change data as it intersects with their political beliefs. But Democrats tend to be skeptical of scientific claims that undermine their policy preferences or values as well. Like X and Y chromosomes determine gender.
They also specifically found that those with the greatest education are many times more likely to “allow their values to color their scientific understanding.” According to the evidence, values influence bias more than political affiliation.
To be fair, there is also evidence that among some groups like teachers and scientists, more knowledge leads to less political bias. But again, neither group has a monopoly on being less biased. This is an argument for more political diversity in education — not less.
So it really comes down to values. Despite the scientific safety of nuclear energy and fracking, it challenges liberal values of environmentalism. The same as climate change and evolution challenge conservative values. But it doesn’t mean that a liberal scientist isn’t qualified to work at a nuclear power plant or a conservative scientist can’t teach evolutionary biology. Academics should be able to fairly differentiate science from ideology.
Economist Amy Liu studied 148 universities and found that after college, self-described liberals increased by 32 percent and self-described conservatives decreased by 28 percent. Interestingly, after entering the workplace these numbers begin to reverse in the real world devoid of safe zones and speech codes.
The point is UNC professors are smart and really do a great job. But they tend to think like those around them. Political diversity is the only diversity not valued on campus.
So even if the professor is right and there is no overt discrimination, the quantitative evidence is too clear to ignore.
Critical thinking is intellectual discipline. Many times the biggest challenge of critical thought is questioning our own thoughts and beliefs.
More than 90 percent of UNC faculty is liberal and that isn’t at least covert agreement to discriminate? One study showed 96 percent of Ivy League professors were liberal. You can’t get 96 percent of Ivy League professors to agree daily tooth brushing is a good idea. Sen. Berger may be on to something.
Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.