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Dust-Up! Me vs. Michael Shermer in ‘LA Times’

The Eternally Radical Idea

All week long, I'll be digitally debating Michael Shermer, Scientific American columnist and editor of Skeptic magazine, over on the Los Angeles Times' "Dust-Up" feature. We'll be duking it out over academic freedom and other hot-button issues on campus.

Today's topic? Allegations of political bias in the college classroom.

Shermer leaps right in, writing:

Students should complain about professorial indoctrination, because it is real and it is loaded heavily on the left, most notably in the social sciences and the humanities.

A 2005 study by George Mason University economist Daniel Klein found that Democrats outnumbered Republicans among the faculty by a staggering ratio of nearly 10 to 1 at UC Berkeley and 7.6 to 1 at Stanford. Measuring political attitudes through voter registration among faculty in 20 different departments, in the humanities and social sciences the ratio was 16 to 1 at both campuses (30 to 1 among assistant and associate professors), and in some departments, such as anthropology and journalism, there wasn't a single Republican to be found.

I respond by arguing that Shermer is conflating evidence of bias with indoctrination:

But is having an opinionated professor really the same as indoctrination? I have seen claims -- often from conservative students -- that students have a right not to be "harassed" by the left-leaning opinions of their professors. This drives me nuts, because if there is one thing conservatives should not be doing, it is legitimizing the idea that merely being exposed to different points of view is the same thing as harassment. Harassment rationales are used to shut down people with dissenting opinions (often the socially conservative, the un-PC, or the merely unlucky) far too often.

You can read the whole thing here.

Later on this week, Michael and I will be taking on Ben Stein's Expelled, the problems with tenure, and whether or not universities have a "customer service" obligation to protect students from speech that makes them uncomfortable. Should be lively. Wish me luck--and stay tuned!

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