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Press Releases | Classroom Politicization

Survey Reveals Pervasive Political Pressure in the Classroom

Students: 49% Report Professors Preach Rather Than Teach
November 30, 2004

WASHINGTON, DC—49% of the students at the top 50 colleges and universities say professors frequently inject political comments into their courses, even if they have nothing to do with the subject. Almost one-third—29%—feel they have to agree with the professor’s political views to get a good grade.

A survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni reveals the politicization of the classroom and the intellectual intolerance of faculty.

According to the survey:

  • 48% report campus presentations on political issues that “seem totally one-sided.”
  • 46% say professors “use the classroom to present their personal political views.”
  • 42% of students fault reading assignments for presenting only one side of a controversial issue.

The survey also indicates that political comments are consistently partisan. The survey, which was conducted just before and after the American presidential election, found that 68% of the students reported negative remarks in class about Pres. George Bush while 62% said professors praised Sen. John Kerry.

“Students pay hefty tuition to get an education, not to hear some professors’ pet political views,” said Anne Neal, president of ACTA. “When politics is relevant, multiple perspectives should be presented. The classroom should be a place where students are free to explore different points of view. They should not feel they will be penalized if they think for themselves.”

The ACTA survey was conducted in late October and early November by the Center for Survey Research & Analysis at the University of Connecticut at the 50 colleges and universities top-ranked by U.S. News & World Report. List attached.

The survey shows that college and university faculty are biased: 74% of students said professors made positive remarks about liberals while 47% reported negative comments about conservatives. A substantial majority—83 %—said that student evaluations administered by the college did not ask about a professor’s political biases.

The survey comes in the wake of a number of studies that have shown that party registrations of college professors are overwhelmingly one-sided. Last week, the Princeton, NJ-based National Association of Scholars released a study showing that the ratio of Democrats to Republicans at some top-50 schools is as high as 9 to 1.

American Association of University Professors president Roger W. Bowen called the NAS study “wrongheaded” and stated that political affiliations of professors are of little consequence in the classroom.

“The ACTA survey clearly shows that faculty are injecting politics into the classroom in ways that students believe infringe upon their freedom to learn,” said Neal.

ACTA opposes legislative intervention and is preparing guidelines for trustees and administrators on how best to ensure intellectual diversity and tolerance on our college and university campuses.

“The lack of intellectual diversity on our college campuses is clearly a problem,” said Neal. “We believe boards of trustees have the responsibility to ensure that students are exposed to a free and open exchange of ideas and are encouraged to think for themselves.”

The ACTA survey has an error rate of plus or minus four. The majority of students surveyed majored in subjects like biology, engineering and psychology—subjects that have nothing to do with politics. Referenced survey questions are available upon request.

ACTA is a nonprofit educational organization based in Washington, DC, and dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. It is located at 1730 M Street, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.

Top 50 Schools Surveyed

A total of 658 randomly selected students from the top 25 National Universities and top 25 National Liberal Arts Colleges, as defined by U.S. News & World Report, were interviewed for this survey. Because of ties in the rankings, a total of 26 National Universities were included in the sample.

National Universities

1.   Harvard University
      Princeton University
3.   Yale University
4.   University of Pennsylvania
      Duke University
      Massachusetts Institute of Technology
      Stanford University
8.   California Institute of Technology
9.   Columbia University
      Dartmouth College
11. Northwestern University
     Washington University in St. Louis
13. Brown University
14. Cornell University
      Johns Hopkins University
      University of Chicago
17. Rice University
18. University of Notre Dame
      Vanderbilt University
20. Emory University
21. University of California-Berkeley
22. Carnegie Mellon University
      University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
      University of Virginia
25. Georgetown University (DC)
      University of California-Los Angeles

National Liberal Arts Colleges

1.  Williams College
2.  Amherst College
     Swarthmore College
4.  Wellesley College
5.  Carleton College
     Pomona College
7.  Bowdoin College
     Davidson College
9.  Haverford College
     Wesleyan University
11. Middlebury College
12. Vassar College
13. Claremont McKenna College
      Smith College
      Washington and Lee University
16. Colgate University
      Grinnell College
      Harvey Mudd College
19. Colby College
      Hamilton College
21. Bryn Mawr College
22. Bates College
23. Oberlin College
24. Mount Holyoke College
      Trinity College

WHO WE ARE

Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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