NYTimes: Progressive professors a nonrenewable resource?

In an article today headlined “The ’60s Begin to Fade as Liberal Professors Retire,” the NYTimes suggests that the hippie-influenced activist Baby Boomer professors are starting to retire – and their academic replacements are leaning more and more toward the moderate and inoffensive.

Yet already there are signs that the intense passions and polemics that roiled campuses during the past couple of decades have begun to fade. At Stanford a divided anthropology department reunited last year after a bitter split in 1998 broke it into two entities, one focusing on culture, the other on biology. At Amherst, where military recruiters were kicked out in 1987, students crammed into a lecture hall this year to listen as alumni who served in Iraq urged them to join the military.

In general, information on professors’ political and ideological leanings tends to be scarce. But a new study of the social and political views of American professors by Neil Gross at the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons at George Mason University found that the notion of a generational divide is more than a glancing impression. “Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s,” they wrote, making up just under 50 percent. At the same time, the youngest group, ages 26 to 35, contains the highest percentage of moderates, some 60 percent, and the lowest percentage of liberals, just under a third.

When it comes to those who consider themselves “liberal activists,” 17.2 percent of the 50-64 age group take up the banner compared with only 1.3 percent of professors 35 and younger.

“These findings with regard to age provide further support for the idea that, in recent years, the trend has been toward increasing moderatism,” the study says.

The authors are not talking about a political realignment. Democrats continue to overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans among faculty, young and old. But as educators have noted, the generation coming up appears less interested in ideological confrontations, summoning Barack Obama’s statement about the elections of 2000 and 2004: “I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation — a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago — played out on the national stage.”

As commenters have pointed out, professors overall still seem to be overwhelmingly Democrat-supporting. Anyway, somehow I don’t think this is going to be as huge an issue at Wesleyan… recalling certain recent young Wesleyan professors like Ly.nn Owens and Eyal Rabinovitch (though they aren’t at Wes anymore)…

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30 thoughts on “NYTimes: Progressive professors a nonrenewable resource?

  1. Anonymous

    ok, but it’s still one of the most respectable rags out there. what do you think isn’t just another rag? the Wall Street Journal? the New Yorker? the Economist?

  2. Anonymous

    ok, but it’s still one of the most respectable rags out there. what do you think isn’t just another rag? the Wall Street Journal? the New Yorker? the Economist?

  3. Anonymous

    should we really expect more from the Times? remember its coverage leading up to the Iraq invasion? notice how it’s constantly pushing war with Iran?I think it’s time to acknowledge that the NYT is just another rag.

  4. Anonymous

    should we really expect more from the Times? remember its coverage leading up to the Iraq invasion? notice how it’s constantly pushing war with Iran?
    I think it’s time to acknowledge that the NYT is just another rag.

  5. Nick

    Yeah, man, clearly the young professors are real conservative. That article would have made a good point if it wasn’t poorly researched and argued. Just a quick critique:-The analysis that anon 3:04 posted is on target and pretty damning. -The Gross/Simmons UBC/GMU study – which is the only data here – was about how people perceive themselves, not how they are, and that’s no evidence for an actual trend. Very few people who are actually liberal, including myself, would identify would identify themselves as such these days. And with good reason: “liberalism” has very little to show for itself after 40 years of supposed fighting, and the term carries a lot of baggage. The better values it represents are alive and well, but not under that name. -Since when is one study and a couple of anecdotes sufficient for any real conclusion? Especially since the most respected survey in America besides the US Census contradicts the NYT article’s data, and is neither cited nor mentioned.-Both activism and progressivism are far larger and mostly more recent than the 1960s, which were more than forty years ago now. -Anyone who thinks long-standing ideological confrontations are absent from Barack Obama’s campaign has not been paying attention. If there is a “political realignment” – and I think there is – most of it is not visible on that scale. Frankly, the article’s use of a presidential campaign as inspiration for academic trends is insane. To the extent that such an analysis is meaningful, this handles it. Frankly, we should be able to expect a lot more from the New York Times.

  6. Nick

    Yeah, man, clearly the young professors are real conservative. That article would have made a good point if it wasn’t poorly researched and argued. Just a quick critique:

    -The analysis that anon 3:04 posted is on target and pretty damning.

    -The Gross/Simmons UBC/GMU study – which is the only data here – was about how people perceive themselves, not how they are, and that’s no evidence for an actual trend. Very few people who are actually liberal, including myself, would identify would identify themselves as such these days. And with good reason: “liberalism” has very little to show for itself after 40 years of supposed fighting, and the term carries a lot of baggage. The better values it represents are alive and well, but not under that name.

    -Since when is one study and a couple of anecdotes sufficient for any real conclusion? Especially since the most respected survey in America besides the US Census contradicts the NYT article’s data, and is neither cited nor mentioned.

    -Both activism and progressivism are far larger and mostly more recent than the 1960s, which were more than forty years ago now.

    -Anyone who thinks long-standing ideological confrontations are absent from Barack Obama’s campaign has not been paying attention. If there is a “political realignment” – and I think there is – most of it is not visible on that scale. Frankly, the article’s use of a presidential campaign as inspiration for academic trends is insane. To the extent that such an analysis is meaningful, this handles it.

    Frankly, we should be able to expect a lot more from the New York Times.

  7. Anonymous

    3:22 means the Douglas Cannon where, apparently, post-colonialism is not welcome.

  8. Anonymous

    3:22 means the Douglas Cannon where, apparently, post-colonialism is not welcome.

  9. Anonymous

    what’s “crazy” about being post-modernist/marxist/feminist?i think it’s important to remember what higher education looked like before these kinds of professors insisted on airing their “polemical” views. if you’re glad that you know things about women, post-colonialism, queers, black history, latin america, etc. or anything else not in THE cannon, then you owe a debt of gratitude to those who have spent their lives questioning and changing what is important to learn.

  10. Anonymous

    what’s “crazy” about being post-modernist/marxist/feminist?

    i think it’s important to remember what higher education looked like before these kinds of professors insisted on airing their “polemical” views. if you’re glad that you know things about women, post-colonialism, queers, black history, latin america, etc. or anything else not in THE cannon, then you owe a debt of gratitude to those who have spent their lives questioning and changing what is important to learn.

  11. Anonymous

    i always find it more practical to say “sell-out” instead of “pragmatic”. same meaning, way fewer syllables.

  12. Anonymous

    i always find it more practical to say “sell-out” instead of “pragmatic”. same meaning, way fewer syllables.

  13. Anonymous

    I think it’s great that a lot of radical leftist professors are retiring without getting their spots filled by other postmodernist/ Marxist/ feminist crazies. “Progressive” is not the same thing as polemical, and pragmatic is what college professors should be. Ideological debate is great, but being concerned primarily with overthrowing the patriarchy or revolutionizing society, and blasting anyone who doesn’t agree, is not what higher education is about.

  14. Anonymous

    I think it’s great that a lot of radical leftist professors are retiring without getting their spots filled by other postmodernist/ Marxist/ feminist crazies. “Progressive” is not the same thing as polemical, and pragmatic is what college professors should be. Ideological debate is great, but being concerned primarily with overthrowing the patriarchy or revolutionizing society, and blasting anyone who doesn’t agree, is not what higher education is about.

  15. Anonymous

    wait, wait- the Soc department didn’t hire Eyal because of his maleness? That’s totally ridiculous, he was an excellent professor and knew his shit, I don’t think his sex clouded his teaching, or whatever. And yeah, Long is also not a woman. This gender bias sounds like a spurious claim.

  16. Anonymous

    wait, wait- the Soc department didn’t hire Eyal because of his maleness? That’s totally ridiculous, he was an excellent professor and knew his shit, I don’t think his sex clouded his teaching, or whatever. And yeah, Long is also not a woman. This gender bias sounds like a spurious claim.

  17. Anonymous

    Yeah, like the young ones here are sooooo conservative. If anything they’re even more liberal than the older ones.

  18. Anonymous

    Yeah, like the young ones here are sooooo conservative. If anything they’re even more liberal than the older ones.

  19. Anonymous

    Yeah, but the guy they hired who was more focused on quantitative methods (Daniel Long) is craaaazy liberal. And one of the unstated reasons they didn’t hire Eyal or ly.nn is because the Soc dept wants to hire, in addition to a quantitative person, someone who is a little less… male.

  20. Anonymous

    Yeah, but the guy they hired who was more focused on quantitative methods (Daniel Long) is craaaazy liberal. And one of the unstated reasons they didn’t hire Eyal or ly.nn is because the Soc dept wants to hire, in addition to a quantitative person, someone who is a little less… male.

  21. Anonymous

    ly.nn was a visiting professor and not offered a tenure-track position. one of the stated reasons was precisely because the department was looking for someone more focused on quantitative methods.

  22. Anonymous

    ly.nn was a visiting professor and not offered a tenure-track position. one of the stated reasons was precisely because the department was looking for someone more focused on quantitative methods.

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