Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Professors and Liberalism?

I received my Doctor of Philosophy title at 29. My field was in the realm of literary scholarship and the Humanities. Hence, when I read the following title of the recent NY Times article, my curiosity was peaked. It says, "Professor Is a Label That Leans to the Left." Now, as someone who works with gender and literary scholarship, I tend to be averse to congealed labels. But, be that as it may, at times labels come in handy.

According to the article, a couple of sociologists contend that the stereotype that most professors tend to be liberal might just be a valid one. "Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular — and liberal. Even though that may be an outdated stereotype, it influences younger people’s ideas about what they want to be when they grow up."

As a professor in the Humanities, I don't quite agree with the premise of this piece. I did not receive my PhD in the Humanities because of my tweed-wearing professors in college. If anything, I always found tweed to be quite unfortunate as a sartorial choice. I was one of those who picked the Humanities for one simple reason: it picked me. The subject matter spoke to me more than those transmitting it to me. Still, this is an interesting article to consider. Another paragraph of note says:

"Typecasting, of course, is not the only cause for the liberal tilt. The characteristics that define one’s political orientation are also at the fore of certain jobs, the sociologists reported. Nearly half of the political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular, share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between education and income."

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Sra said...

In the legal context, it is my impression that legal academia is starkly liberal, while the legal profession itself is starkly conservative. I wonder why that is.

Yeah, I agree with you that people aren't becoming professors because they like tweed and frazzled hair. There are much easier ways to feed such fashion-challenged compulsions.

JJ said...

Totally. Reductionist much?
As Sra and you put it, there are other ways why people choose to become professors and wardrobe choice is too pathetic a 'reason' to even quote.
I liked the bit about a field of study choosing one as opposed to the person choosing it.

Scott said...

Reducing a whole profession to a cultural cliche..., nice! Interesting premise to think about, though.

Unknown said...

Stereotypes are too ridiculous more often than not.