My decision eight years ago to leave northern San Diego for UCLA was highly unusual. In my church youth group of about 50, only a few people in the previous decade had enrolled in a big, public, liberal, hedonistic university; most of my peers either took classes at the local junior college or moved to Nowheresville, Texas to attend Abilene Christian University. My parents’ friends were proud of me, yes, but I sensed that they sensed that I might never return, physically or religiously. They were likely right on the first count, but not the latter.
Despite unfounded fears of the secularizing university, worries my parents never shared, I found UCLA to be a fire that refined my mind and helped me to better formulate what I believed in and, when necessary, do what Fitzgerald said was the test of “real-intelligence.”
I had friends who complained of ultra-liberal professors teaching them to hate George Bush, Christianity and Israel. I never experienced this and often thought my friends were playing the victim card too often.
Last week, The New York Times affirmed my feelings that professors on once-liberal campuses have really become quite moderate.
already there are signs that the intense passions and polemics that roiled campuses during the past couple of decades have begun to fade. At Stanford a divided anthropology department reunited last year after a bitter split in 1998 broke it into two entities, one focusing on culture, the other on biology. At Amherst, where military recruiters were kicked out in 1987, students crammed into a lecture hall this year to listen as alumni who served in Iraq urged them to join the military.
In general, information on professors’ political and ideological leanings tends to be scarce. But a new study of the social and political views of American professors by Neil Gross at the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons at George Mason University found that the notion of a generational divide is more than a glancing impression. “Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s,” they wrote, making up just under 50 percent. At the same time, the youngest group, ages 26 to 35, contains the highest percentage of moderates, some 60 percent, and the lowest percentage of liberals, just under a third.
When it comes to those who consider themselves “liberal activists,” 17.2 percent of the 50-64 age group take up the banner compared with only 1.3 percent of professors 35 and younger.
“These findings with regard to age provide further support for the idea that, in recent years, the trend has been toward increasing moderatism,” the study says.
The authors are not talking about a political realignment. Democrats continue to overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans among faculty, young and old. But as educators have noted, the generation coming up appears less interested in ideological confrontations, summoning Barack Obama’s statement about the elections of 2000 and 2004: “I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation — a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago — played out on the national stage.”
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