Closed Minds?: Politics and Ideology in American Universities

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Contrary to popular belief, the problem with U.S. higher education is not too much politics but too little. Far from being bastions of liberal bias, American universities have largely withdrawn from the world of politics. So conclude Bruce L. R. Smith, Jeremy Mayer, and Lee Fritschler in this illuminating book.

C losed Minds? d draws on data from interviews, focus groups, and a new national survey by the authors, as well as their decades of experience in higher education to paint the most comprehensive picture to date of campus political attitudes. It finds that while liberals outnumber conservatives within faculty ranks, even most conservatives believe that ideology has little impact on hiring and promotion. Today's students are somewhat more conservative than their professors, but few complain of political bias in the classroom. Similarly, a Pennsylvania legislative inquiry, which the authors explore as a case study of conservative activism in higher education, found that political bias was "rare" in the state's public colleges and universities.

Yet this ideological peace on campus has been purchased at a high price. American universities are rarely hospitable to lively discussions of issues of public importance. They largely shun serious political debate, all but ignore what used to be called civics, and take little interest in educating students to be effective citizens. Smith, Mayer, and Fritschler contrast the current climate of disengagement with the original civic mission of American colleges and universities. In concluding, they suggest how universities can reclaim and strengthen their place in the nation's political and civic life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The question of ideological bias in universities has been debated for years. Bruce Smith, Jeremy Mayer, and Lee Fritschler have approached this question with scrupulous research and open minds. They have come up with conclusions that probably surprised them —and will certainly surprise others." —Alan Brinkley, Columbia University

"This thoughtful study will not generate universal agreement but it warrants the attention of anyone who cares about the future of American universities. Our universities create our future leaders so the kind of environment they provide is a central subject and one ably explored in this important book." —Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard University

"The purpose of Closed Minds? is to present an impartial assessment of the right's accusations that liberal dogmatists are using their power to indoctrinate postsecondary students, to deny access to faculty positions to conservative scholars an systematically to undermine well-established interpretations of American history and life in the United States today. Smith, Mayer and Fritschler have done a commendable job." —Howard A. Doughty, The Innovation Journal

"A fascinating tour of one aspect of the culture wars debate and its effect on universities. Based on an exhaustive survey, the authors conclude that, while most professors lean liberal and Democratic, there are no serious or major issues of bias in college teaching or the hiring of faculty." —C. Peter Magrath, West Virginia University Newsletter

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815780281
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce L. R. Smith is a visiting professor at the School of Public Policy at George Mason University. He was previously professor of political science at Columbia University and a senior staff member of the Center for Public Policy Education at the Brookings Institution. Jeremy D. Mayer is associate professor at the School of Public Policy at George Mason and the author of Running on Race: Racial Politics in Presidential Campaigns 1960–2000 (Random House, 2002). A. Lee Fritschler is professor and director of executive education at the School of Public Policy at George Mason and a former vice president at Brookings. He served as assistant secretary for postsecondary education from 1999 to 2001 and as president of Dickinson College from 1987 to 1999.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1

2 Higher Education and the "Culture Wars" 8

3 Emergence of the U.S. Research University 24

4 Transformations of Academic Culture after World War II 44

5 Political Attitudes of American Professors: Results of a 2007 National Survey 71

6 The Politics of Politics in the Classroom 92

7 Conservative Activism in Higher Education: The Pennsylvania Hearings on Academic Freedom 117

8 Much Ado about Little: Student Perspectives on: Classroom Bias 138

9 Do Universities Discriminate in Hiring? 163

10 Conclusions 198

App. A The Survey Instrument 213

App. B Sampling Methodology 224

App. C Focus Group Questions 234

App. D American Council on Education Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibility 236

App. E House Resolution 177 of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 239

Notes 243

Index 269

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