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  • Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care? by Neil Gross
  • John M. Braxton
Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care? Neil Gross. 2013. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 393 pp. Hardcover ISBN: 978–0-674–05909 ($35.00).

A widespread public perception of the academic profession focuses on the politically liberal leaning tendencies of its members. Sociologist Neil Gross meticulously unpacks this perception in his volume Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care? He accomplishes this task, in reader friendly manner, through a series of single studies he has conducted with colleagues and graduate students as well as pertinent works by other scholars.

This volume displays a logical progression of important questions about the liberalism of the academic profession of the United States. I briefly describe the chapters of this volume to demonstrate this logical progression of the topics covered in this book. In Chapter 1, Gross presents data on the political identity of the U.S. professoriate. He asserts that “radicals, progressives, and center-lefters make up the left/liberal flank of American academia” (p. 55). More specifically, Gross notes that the majority of U.S. academics occupy the left end of the political identity spectrum: 9% percent identify with the radical left, 31% are progressives, and 14% are center left. However, Gross states that 19% of the U.S. professoriate are moderates and another 27% are conservatives. In this chapter, he also arrays these various categories of political identity by institutional type and academic discipline.

Given that the majority of U.S. members of the academic profession occupy the left end of the political spectrum, Gross attends to the next logical question: why is the U.S. professoriate liberal in its political orientation? He focuses on this important question in Chapters 2 and 3. In Chapter 2, Gross discusses four extant hypotheses for the liberalism of the U.S. professoriate and their inadequacies, whereas in Chapter 3 he presents his theory of political self-selection to account for the liberalism of the U.S. academic profession.

The next logical question focuses on the distribution of political identities by institutional type and academic discipline. Gross concentrates on this question in Chapter 4. Another logical question and perhaps one of the most important ones pursued in this volume concerns the effects of a professor’s political identity on the performance of his or her professorial roles or as Gross puts it the knowledge-politics question. He focuses on this question in Chapter 5. This question rests at the crux of the conservative claims of the effects of the liberal bias of the professoriate on students. Through interviews with faculty members in the disciplines of sociology, economics, biology, literature, and engineering, Gross identifies and describes four types of attitudes towards politics and [End Page 804] teaching: critical pedagogy, accidental neutrality, cultivated neutrality, and political transparency. In this chapter, he arrays these four types of “claimed pedagogical practice of faculty” by the five disciplines he used in his interviews.

Having pursued this series of logically-interconnected questions, Gross turns his attention to accounting for why conservatives care about the liberalism of the U.S. academic profession in Chapters 6 and 7. In Chapter 6, Gross points to the confidence in higher education as an important reason for concern about the conservative bias toward the professoriate. In this chapter, Gross describes three hypotheses for conservative allegations of a political bias that have garnered public attention. Despite these claims, Gross contends that the campaign of conservatives against the liberal bias of the professoriate has failed to gain widespread support within the conservative political movement. Gross discusses this issue in Chapter 7 and posits a role for what he calls “midlevel moral entrepreneurs” who have assumed a specialized role focused on attacks on the liberalism of the professoriate.

The discussion of this series of logically interconnected questions concerning the liberalism of the U.S. academic profession constitutes a significant contribution made by this book. Scholars who have pursued long-standing programs of research will appreciate the elegance of the sequence of the questions Gross pursues in gaining a greater understanding of the political identities of faculty and...


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