We affix labels to identify who we think people are. Labels make our lives easier. Yes, labeling is really naming. Organizing things into categories is not necessarily wrong. But when it comes to people, we can categorize and then ostracize—if we don’t like the person or their point of view. Labels on the side of a package are helpful to know what we’re eating. Labels on a person may allow us to chew them up and spit them out.
Sometimes people try to find out why they are labeled in a certain way. Two sociologists, Ethan Fosse and Neil Gross, test this hypothesis: what are the reasons that professors tend to be classified as “liberal?” Fosse and Gross begin by basing their research on four major variables: religion, tolerance, income, and degrees. Finding that professors are more liberal than non-professors because they have advanced degrees, or seem to be more interactive with opposing viewpoints, or earn less money compared to their advanced educational rank is an interesting starting point. In reporting on this study, The New York Times simply said “the title of professor has come to be linked with the term ‘liberal’”
Laurie Fendrich, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, heartily agreed with the linkage of her professorial profession being liberal. The title of her article reads, “My Mother Made Me a Liberal.” Fendrich does acknowledge the Fosse/Gross study needs to be critiqued for its validity. She then connects the study to her mom’s conservative use of money. Monies were saved by Fendrich’s parents for her future education. She lauds her mother’s wonderful work toward her current doctoral status and concludes her mom’s economic conservatism has made her liberal.
Both the Fosse/Gross study and Fendrich’s comments leave a furrow on my brow. While I have many questions concerning the assumptions being made in both writings, the conclusions cause the most concern. In any research, to find the cause of something is difficult. Many variables vie for attention. To find similarities between two things is easier but less conclusive in any study. For example, suggesting professors are more liberal because they make less money when they have more education may be seen as a badge of honor by some, pompous and arrogant by others. It is not a cause of their status, simply a similarity.
I believe the reason why many professors are liberal is because they have been taught by people who are liberal. Now they work at institutions which are liberal. Whomever has control over the direction of or the instruction in an institution will direct the thinking of that institution. If the majority of institutions have authorities dedicated to a certain mindset, a set of beliefs, I think that would be a better way to tell why the term professor means liberal to many people.
For my part, I have been and continue to be a professor. I am one who professes, just like my colleagues, liberal or conservative. What’s in a label? A label simply describes who I am based on what I believe. Food labels are important. I want to know what I’m eating. And if I go to school to learn, it is helpful to know who is feeding me information. For Prime Time America, this is Dr. Mark Eckel, personally seeking truth wherever it’s found.
Labels. Moody Radio Commentary. March, 2010
Dr. Mark Eckel, Professor of Old Testament, Crossroads Bible College