Somin Comments Carried in WSJ

A Wall Street Journal article examining the reasons for academics' decided lean to the left relied on comments by Professor Ilya Somin to dispute the idea that someone who places more importance in raising a family would shy away from academia.

"Relative to other professional jobs, academic careers are quite family friendly. Unlike most other professionals, professors have a high degree of control over their schedules [and] can do a higher proportion of their work at home," Somin stated. He also pointed out the value of tuition benefit programs to professors with large families.

Some of the arguments cited in the article as possible reasons for the ideological imbalance in academia included intelligence, faculty mentorship, and differing personality traits.

The Ivory Tower Leans Left, but Why? The Wall Street Journal, February 29, 2008. By Naomi Schaefer Riley.

"That liberals dominate the faculties of American universities would seem to be a settled question. But anyone still harboring doubts can now look at faculty support for this year's presidential candidates. Barack Obama is the clear favorite. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, he had received, by the end of last year, almost a third of the funds donated by faculty and administrators nationwide. The Daily Princetonian, meanwhile, found that, as of last month, not a single Princeton employee had given money to a Republican. The faculties of Harvard, Stanford and Columbia were slightly more balanced, with more than 80% of donations at each institution going to Democrats.

"In recent years a number of conservatives and a few honest liberals have tried to figure out why this political lopsidedness persists. A forthcoming volume on the subject from the American Enterprise Institute will contain a report from two scholars -- Matthew Woessner of Penn State, Harrisburg, and his wife, April Kelly-Woessner, of Elizabethtown College -- called 'Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don't Get Doctorates.'

"Using data from UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, which surveys students at the beginning and end of their college careers, the couple (he a conservative, she a liberal) made some surprising discoveries. One might assume, for instance, that because conservatives on campus live in a culturally hostile environment, they might be less satisfied with their undergraduate experience and decide not to pursue a Ph.D. as a result. But in fact, the two scholars found that conservatives report a slightly higher rate of satisfaction with college than liberals do.

"Liberals might then jump to the conclusion that conservatives don't go on with their education because -- insert George W. Bush crack here -- they're just not bright enough. In fact, however, self-described conservatives and liberals have about the same grade-point average. (The moderates score lowest on this academic scale.)

"Conservatives might in turn suggest that the real key to determining who goes on to a doctorate is faculty mentorship. Professors encourage their closest students to pursue an academic career and write them strong recommendations for graduate school. Perhaps a liberal faculty member would be less likely to take a conservative under his wing. The study's authors found this point to have some validity, with conservatives less likely to meet with a professor outside of class and less likely to be involved in conducting research. But the differences are still rather small and not enough to 'account for all of the observed difference in educational ambitions between liberals and conservatives.'

"Instead they hypothesized that the bulk of the ideological imbalance in academia is the result of differing personality traits. And so the scholars picked four traits -- the importance placed on raising a family, making money, contributing original work to a particular field and developing a meaningful philosophy of life -- and matched them up with students' political self-definitions. 'Ideology,' they wisely write, 'represents far more than a collection of abstract political values.' Liberalism, they found, 'is more closely associated with a desire for excitement, an interest in creative outlets and an aversion to a structured work environment. Conservatives express far greater interest in financial success and stronger desires to raise families.'"