Conservatives Just Aren't Into Academe, Study Finds
Divergent life choices may explain the dearth of right-wing scholars
By ROBIN WILSON
On Thursday mornings, a half-dozen faculty members from Pennsylvania State University's campus here gather at Kuppy's Diner to talk politics. Like most professors, all of those in the Kuppy's gang are Democrats — all except Matthew Woessner, an assistant professor of public policy.
During a recent Thursday-morning get-together over scrambled eggs and toast, the conversation at Kuppy's focused on the U.S. presidential election. As usual, Mr. Woessner's colleagues were taking shots at him. Why did he originally favor Rudy Giuliani? one of his colleagues wanted to know. "I really want to make sure I have a president who is going to bomb more countries," Mr. Woessner quipped.
It is the kind of over-the-top statement Mr. Woessner is famous for. The young professor relishes the role of conservative contrarian inside the liberal academy, a role that puts him in a distinct minority not only here but in higher education generally. But Mr. Woessner's candid conservatism also sets him squarely at odds with the findings of his own research, which suggests conservatives may just not be well suited to careers in academe.
That research — which Mr. Woessner completed with his wife, April Kelly-Woessner, an associate professor of political science at nearby Elizabethtown College — is some of the first to take a hard, scientific look at the politics of the professoriate. The topic has excited fervent discussion and argument by anecdote, but very little empirical research.
"The idea that professors are liberal has been known since the 50s," says Solon J. Simmons, an assistant professor of conflict analysis and sociology at George Mason University, whose own recent study found that 90 percent of professors called themselves liberal or moderate. "But the Woessners actually have something new here. I think they are some of the first to do this kind of work."
The Woessners have peered into the psyche of conservative undergraduates to find out why so few of them want to earn Ph.D.'s and become professors. Their paper on the topic, "Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don't Get Doctorates," is available online and will be published as part of a book published in August by the American Enterprise Institute.
The Woessners found that liberal students have values and interests that point them to careers in academe, while most conservative students do not.
"The personal priorities of those on the left," the Woessners conclude, "are more compatible with pursuing a Ph.D."
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