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(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight week of Jan. 16, 2006)

Polarized Profs hardly a diverse group

  By John Martin

Regardless of what happens on January 23rd, one can safely assume that well over 90% of academics in this country will cast a vote for the Liberals, NDP or Greens.  The overwhelming preference for all things lefty by college and university faculty is well documented. 

Iím only aware of three people among hundreds of co-workers at the University College of the Fraser Valley who will vote Conservative in the upcoming election.  Yet itís a slam-dunk that local Conservative candidates Ed Fast and Chuck Strahl will triple the combined vote of their hapless opponents.  So how is it that even in the most bedrock conservative ridings, academics are so homogenous in their voting patterns compared to the rest of the constituents?

Many liberals would no doubt suggest this is a consequence of the highly educated recognizing that left of centre is where all the enlightened smart people are.  The problem is, polling shows that level of education alone is a poor indicator of political party preference.

A recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Mark Bauerlein may shed some light on this polarization.  The article suggests three inter-related concepts provide the answer.

First is The Common Assumption.  Here, academics take it for granted that everyone at a conference or professional meeting is a like-minded liberal.  There is an obvious sense of fellowship and inclusion and anyone holding different views is likely hesitant to disrupt the camaraderie.  Coming out of the conservative closet in such an environment is a truly awkward moment and hardly a sound career move. 

Second is The False Consensus Effect.  This is the tendency to assume the collective opinion of a group represents the attitudes of the population at large.  After Nixon destroyed McGovern in 1972 , a New Yorker Magazine film critic wrote, ďI donít know how Richard Nixon could have won.  I donít know anybody who voted for him.Ē  While this false consensus unites those in academia, it simultaneously isolates them from more diverse social discourse and the broader population base.

The final component is The Law of Group Polarization.  This social pattern suggests that when like-minded people discuss and debate issues they eventually get bored of agreeing with themselves and tend to move toward extreme versions of their opinions.  So people who voted for Bush, are not just ill informed, theyíre stupid.

Such polarization, arrogance and exclusion can hardly encourage critical thinking and contribute to a well-rounded education. 

Still, the irony of listening to a tenured social sciences professor, pulling down a six figure salary, argue that social justice and equality can only be realized when the capitalist state has been smashed, is priceless.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at John.Martin@ucfv.ca

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