At Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, conservative college students are coping with their left-leaning professors by self-censoring during class discussions, according to a new study published in a recent issue of The American Sociologist.
“A political mismatch between professors and a large swath of the student population has been widely documented,” reads a portion of the study’s abstract. “This mismatch is salient within sociology, where left-leaning politics are mainstream and institutionalized. Further, extant research indicates that this political mismatch leads students outside of the left-leaning mainstream to perceive that their professors are politically biased, and to have diminished classroom experiences.”
Jeremiah Wills, Ph.D, a sociology professor at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina, led the study, with Wayne State University professors Zachary Brewster and Gerald Roman Nowak III contributing to the research on classroom experiences.
Wills and his team queried 394 students at Wayne State with an online questionnaire designed to gauge students’ political stance — and whether or not those preferences impacted classroom behavior.
While this was a small sample study, the results were compelling — and are worth considering by other institutions of higher learning.
“We’ve been surprised that sociologists have not studied the political mismatch between professors and their students much,” Wills told LifeZette of the study’s focus. “Given that sociologists are among the most liberal faculty in academia and that they regularly teach about politically themed topics, we think it is important to study how students and professors with diverse ideologies interact and affect the student learning experience.”
He added, “Our primary interest is the student experience, which we think is strengthened when religious and political diversity are used as teaching opportunities in the classroom.”
Wills has also described the study as the first of its kind to “document a link between religious and conservative and moderate students’ perceptions of political bias in the classroom and their reactions to such perceived biases,” noted Campus Reform.
Still, bias toward conservative students on college campuses nationwide is nothing new — and this is harmful to all students, regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum.
I have grandsons in college that have been shouted down in the classroom by professors and students for addressing questions in a conservative way. One has feared for his safety on campus. Liberal intolerance at its worst.
— Tango 5⚔️❌ (@rem3276) June 28, 2018
“Self-censoring is antithetical to an authentic educational experience for conservatives and liberals,” emphasized Wills. “All students need opportunities to have their viewpoints heard and challenged. They also need to be exposed to alternative ideas from other students and their professors.”
He continued, “Ideologies are important parts of our identities, so they need to be recognized; however, evidence should often take priority over ideologies in college. We want students from all backgrounds to learn how to use evidence and not focus on using ideologies just to win arguments — and especially not to appease their professors.”
“When liberalism is pervasive within a discipline,” he added, “students can get the unfortunate message that having this particular ideology is more important than evidence.”
(See how these college students view ideologically conservative women in the video below.)
And though Wills and his team were not all that surprised by the findings, “Documenting the process of how religiosity and political ideology can lead to perceptions of and reactions to bias is important,” he told LifeZette.
“We hope that additional studies can be done with nationally representative samples, to see if our findings can be replicated and extended in interesting ways.”
Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. Follow her on Twitter.