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Where are the PC profs?

Posted by Christopher Shea  July 29, 2008 12:04 PM

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Isn't it a little bizarre to try to count the number of "politically correct" professors? Social scientists are supposed to be precise with definitions, but that phrase -- "PC" for short -- has been drenched in irony from the start. (Leftists who have called themselves politically correct without an implied wink can probably be counted on one hand.) To say nothing of "politically incorrect," which carries a connotation of brave convention-flouting. But consider: When a low-level staffer in the Bush Administration Justice Department is caught illegally rating job applicants according to their reliability on "God, guns + gays" (her phrasing), is that politically incorrect? Or just a right-wing version of PC?

A new irony-free study by an assistant professor of conflict resolution at George Mason University, Solon Simmons, does not bother with such nuances. Mining data from a survey of 1,417 full-time professors, conducted in 2006, Simmons determined that if you hold the following views you are PC: You believe that the gender imbalance in math-and-science fields is largely the result of discrimination, you think discrimination is responsible for American socioeconomic inequality, and you think affirmative action is a good thing. Basically, PC is all about race and gender.

Under his definition, Simmons found that 20 percent of the professors at Ph.D.-granting universities fall under the PC umbrella, while 22.4 percent are "politically incorrect," strongly opposing the PC views. The rest fall somewhere in the middle. These numbers would seem to belie the idea that universities are PC bastions -- again, if you buy into the definition. A big if.

However, at liberal-arts colleges, there were more PC profs: 28.8 percent of full-time teachers, compared with 18.8 percent who could be called politically incorrect. Professors at U.S. News's "top 50" universities, meanwhile, display a PC-to-politically-incorrect ratio of 38.9 percent to 18 percent. (Community colleges, in contrast, were quite politically incorrect, with only 15.5 percent in the PC category.)

The most PC fields, Simmons found, were psychology, sociology, and English. Meanwhile, "management information" and mechanical and electrical engineering had precisely zero faculty members who could be identified as PC.

Counterintuitively, Simmons found that politically incorrect faculty "stars" had an easier time landing jobs at the top 50 universities than politically correct ones. Further evidence that PC isn't the all-consuming menace some think it is: Over 96 percent of both PC and politically incorrect teachers either "strongly" or "somewhat" agreed with the statement that a professor's political views should play no role in hiring decisions.

Simmons was co-author last year -- with Harvard sociologist Neil Gross -- of another paper that looked at faculty ideology, grounded in the same data. Because that one avoided the Sisyphean task of trying to define PC, it's actually more illuminating.

Via Inside Higher Ed, where you'll find a lot more data

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