Group Polarization in Colleges and Universities

Social Psychology,” by Charles Morris and Albert Maisto, Psychology: An Introduction, 1999,

Do college campuses lean left?,” by John Tierney, New York Times, 19 October 2005, (from Power Line through Larwyn).

looks at a problem I’m dealing with daily: the monstrous Left/Liberal advantage on college campuses

After establishing the large political advantage the Left/Liberal forces have in academia

Surveys last year showed that Democratic professors outnumber Republican professors by at least 7 to 1, more than twice the ratio of three decades earlier. The trend seems likely to continue, because younger professors are far more likely than older professors to be Democrats.

And noting that from a demographic perspective Right/Conservative folk should be a majority

You could argue that fewer conservatives today want to become professors, but that seems odd, given the country’s move to the right in recent decades. Conservative student groups and publications are flourishing. Plenty of smart conservatives have passed up Wall Street to work for right-wing think tanks that often don’t pay more than universities do, and don’t offer lifetime tenure and summers off.

And that they seem to be diverted into other “thinking” fields:

At think tanks and other research institutions outside academia, there’s a much higher percentage of Republicans than there is on university faculties. Apparently, despite their greed and other failings, many conservatives do want to become scholars, but they can’t find work on campus.

Tierney names one of the forces: group polarization

One reason is the structure of academia, where decisions about hiring and publishing papers are made by small independent groups of scholars. They’re subject to the law of group polarization, derived from studies of juries and other groups.

If people are engaged in deliberation with like-minded others, they end up more confident, more homogeneous and more extreme in their beliefs,” said Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago. “If you have an English or history department that leans left, their interactions will push them further left.”

Once liberals dominate a department, they can increase their majority by voting to award tenure to like-minded scholars. As liberals dominate a field, conservatives’ work comes to be seen as fringe scholarship.

A form of groupthink, group polarization can easily be shown in a classroom:

Peter Gray (1993) suggests a simple exercise that readily demonstrates the group polarization effect. Before lecturing on group decision making in Chapter 15, have your students declare on a Likert scale how strongly they agree or disagree with some statement or idea (Gray suggests the idea that the next exam should be essay rather than multiple choice). Collect the responses and divide students into like-minded groups for a short, 5-minute discussion. After the group discussion, have students rate their agreement with the proposition again on the same Likert scale. The results should be consistent with group polarization: those who initially agreed should agree more strongly after group discussion, and those who initially disagreed should disagree even more strongly after group discussion. According to Gray, asking your students to speculate about the causes of the effect should generate the same explanations generated by psychologists over the years (i.e., that members are exposed to new, persuasive arguments, and that members gradually take a more extreme position in order to be viewed positively by others). An added benefit is that, in addition to learning the group polarization effect in a memorable way, students learn that they can successfully “think like psychologists” in generating plausible explanations for observed events.

So given the entrenched nature of group polarization, is there an easy way for Conservatives to “take over” academia? Is there any real way to avoid a take-down?

Probably not.

One thought on “Group Polarization in Colleges and Universities”

  1. How about some of our brilliant alum and parents
    filing law suits using Civil Rights law.

    We could work our way up to Affirmative Action!

    Now wouldn’t that be a hoot!

    Think problem is that conservatives are so against
    how the Civil Rights laws have been misused they do
    not want to dirty hands with them.

    But what better way to kill two birds with one stone.
    Just turn their tactics back on them.

    Isn’t that of the “Art of War”?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *