More than 60 percent of tenured UI faculty identified as Democrats

BY KRISTEN EAST | MAY 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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Local and national experts say professors are typically more liberal because Democrats and Republicans holding a different set of values and job aspirations.

According to records obtained by The Daily Iowan, 61 percent of roughly 1,200 tenured faculty members at the University of Iowa identify as registered Democrats. Roughly 10 percent are registered Republicans.

A discrimination case involving a former dean of the University of Iowa College of Law has sparked discussion about a potential liberal bias at the school.

Teresa Wagner has alleged law-school administrators denied her a faculty position in 2006 because of her conservative political views. A trial date is set for mid-October this year.

UI President Sally Mason defended the UI's hiring processes last month when Johnson County Republicans protested in support of Wagner's lawsuit.

"We adhere strictly to federal law," Mason said. "We're careful to adhere to all the laws, all the guidelines. Political affiliation is not something we ask [during the hiring process.]"

One UI political expert said he doesn't understand the reasoning behind the percentage breakdown.

"It doesn't make sense," said Cary Covington, a UI associate professor of political science. "I don't know why conservatives wouldn't want to be just as equally as involved in educational pursuits. I would expect conservatives to be just as interested in higher education and helping college-age students as liberals and independents are."

Covington said people typically assume most professors — at the UI and nationwide — identify either as liberal or Democrat. But, he said, that isn't always the situation.

"I do think that universities are places for reflection and self-correction and, in the interest of diversity, I think that universities should make sure that they represent the full spectrum of viewpoints as well as demographics," he said.

A 2010 study reported 43 percent of professors nationwide as being liberal. Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse — who conducted the study — concluded that rather than asking why so many professors are liberal, the better question to ask is why more conservatives are not choosing the higher-education career path.

"On the whole, our research shows that there isn't a systematic discrimination among conservatives … they just tend to not go into higher education," Fosse, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Harvard

University, told The Daily Iowan. "Conservatives, I think, should be looking inward and thinking, Why is it that young conservatives want to go into the private sector instead of the public sector?"

UI political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle also noted conservatives are more likely to go into the private sector while liberals remain in academia.

"Conservatives and Republicans that are perhaps more entrepreneurial, more business-oriented are more interested in going out and creating jobs and businesses," he said. "The academic environment doesn't appeal to them as much."

Hagle said the percentage of Republicans at the UI isn't that surprising.

"Ten percent doesn't seem that bad," he said. "Someone outside may think that's pretty low, but it depends on what the comparison is."

Hagle said different departments within the university lend themselves to an overwhelming majority of Democratic professors. Business and medicine colleges, he said, typically have more Republicans than others do.

Fosse said it's important not to generalize higher education trends at all, though there isn't much research on this topic.

"There's no systematic bias across higher education in terms of hiring, the recruitment of professors, [or] students," he said.

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