A recent study commissioned by the American Association of University Professors reveals that the politicization of the academy has become a matter of concern for the American public.
The study was conducted among 1000 American adults who were surveyed by telephone on their view toward higher education. The researchers found that even among Democrats only 48.3 percent have "a lot of confidence" in American universities. Among Republicans the figure was much lower-only 30.5 percent. Furthermore, 7.3 percent of Democrats reported having hardly any confidence at all in our universities, along with 15.9 percent of Republicans. Considering that our medical schools, engineering schools scientific academics are the envy of the world, this is striking. Considering that 90% of university humanities faculties vote Democratic, the fact that only 65.5% of liberal Democrats consider the job of college or university professors to be "very prestigious" is quite striking. Only 40.6% of conservative Republicans agree. By contrast, 71.9% of all respondents ranked the occupation of Physician to be "very prestigious."
A Gallup Poll conducted in 1949 revealed a much more positive public perception of professors, with participants ranking professors/teachers second only to medical doctors when asked to rank among a multitude of choices which profession they trusted most. A full 26.09% of respondents in 1949 chose Professor/teacher as the profession they trusted most, compared with 31.59% for doctors and 17.63% for bankers, the next most trusted profession.
Survey participants' responses to questions that asked directly about political bias in the academy were also revealing. A huge percentage of those surveyed-35.5% of respondents-stated that "political bias is a very serious problem."
Only 26.9 percent of Democrats said that bias in the classroom is a very serious problem, but nearly half (48.5 percent) of Republicans did.
The study's authors ask themselves whether their statistics show that David Horowitz and Students for Academic Freedom are having an impact on the public perception of universities. "Our finding is that there is more support for [Horowitz's view] than might otherwise be imagined, and less consensus about U.S. higher education than previous research has suggested."
While the study's authors stop short of offering any concrete guidelines on how to address these issues, other organizations have already done so in their place.
This past April, the entire student body at Princeton University voted on April 27 to pass a version of the Student Bill of Rights-the first time the Bill has faced a campus-wide referendum. The referendum was initiated by the university's chapter of the College Republicans but it was clearly a nonpartisan bill aimed at promoting greater intellectual diversity and academic freedom on campus.
Although the vote was close (with 51.8% of students voting for the measure) the result showed that even many students not affiliated with the College Republicans voted in favor of academic freedom, proving the Bill's ability to inspire bi-partisan support.
The resolution is a simple and elegant statement of the principles of academic freedom including that "professors must never allow a student's political affiliation or religious beliefs to negatively affect his/her academic performance" and that "Teachers are entitled to freedom in teaching their subject as they see fit, but not to the point of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination, or to the exclusion of other opinions or viewpoints."
"While we have not the power to declare the above binding or irrevocable, it is the position of this body that any act in violation would contravene the 'fundamental principles of free discovery' to which Princeton University is committed," concluded the resolution.
By revealing the Academic Freedom Movement's success in expressing concerns about the political abuse of American universities and by providing evidence of declining public confidence in our university systems, perhaps the AAUP report will finally persuade university officials to strengthen protections for academic standards and for students' academic freedom.