Political Discrimination in Academia is Only Beginning to Heat Up, Study Finds

The Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology (CSPI) has published a study which found that academic intolerance and discrimination could get much worse before it gets better.

The study, written by Eric Kaufmann, is titled “Academic Freedom in Crisis: Punishment, Political Discrimination, and Self-Censorship.” It claimed to be “the first of its kind to investigate authoritarianism and political discrimination in academia” and relied on survey responses from both perpetrators and targets in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Some of the study’s key findings include the following:

1. Over 40 percent of US and Canadian academics would refuse to hire a Trump supporter, while 33 percent of British academics would refuse to hire a Brexit supporter.

2. Only 10 percent of academics support firing professors who express controversial or politically incorrect beliefs—yet many of those who do not support it still would not speak out if it did happen to someone.

3. Aspiring and current young American academics are “significantly more willing” than older academics to support firing professors who express controversial or politically incorrect beliefs.

4. Over 90 percent of academics in the social sciences and humanities who support Trump do not feel comfortable expressing their beliefs to another colleague. This is also the case for 80 percent of those British social scientists and humanities professors who support Brexit.

Kaufmann notes that “progressive critics view the free speech debate—on campus and more generally—as overblown, a moral panic concocted by the right. In universities, many don’t experience a threat to their ability to teach and research, so they wonder what the problem is.” Academia is becoming more of an echo chamber and self-contained bubble than ever before, and there are no signs that it’ll slow down anytime soon.

Kaufmann also likens academic freedom threats to an iceberg: “Items that make the news—such as de-platformings and dismissals—[are] the visible symptoms of a much deeper problem.” Although it is true that academic deplatforming and firing over political beliefs remains very rare, that only represents one criterion of what Kaufmann describes as “hard authoritarianism” in academia. Hard authoritarianism can also take the forms of lesser disciplinary action, bullying, and psychological pressure. 23 percent of right-wing academics in the United States have experienced lesser disciplinary action, 36 percent bullying, and 50 percent psychological pressure.

What’s more, Kaufmann further argues that “soft authoritarianism” is just as serious of a problem in academia as hard authoritarianism.

Being denied a job, promotion, publication or grant funding can be a crushing impediment to a conservative or gender-critical academic trying to make a career,” he writes, adding that “while most academics and PhD students—even on the left—are not complicit in hard authoritarianism, these findings implicate up to half of academics and graduate students in political discrimination. This produces the chilling effect and self-censorship that form the tissue of soft authoritarianism, a form of Mill’s ‘despotism of custom’ that inhibits freedom, truth and viewpoint diversity.”

Both hard and soft authoritarianism are likely to increase for the time being, mostly because the main drivers of hard authoritarianism are younger academics. Any conservative who’s thinking of pursuing an academic career should either be incredibly selective in where they study and where they apply for jobs, or they should use their research and writing talents in another line of work.