So Zogby did a poll on public support for tenure and beliefs about political bias, and the results are not surprising: many people don’t think tenure is a good thing and believe professors to be biased. See Inside Higher Ed’s Skepticism of Faculty and Tenure . Of the 9,464 adults polled online (the poll was conducted by the polling company itself, and was not sponsored by any group), more than 58 percent of those polled”believe that political bias is a somewhat serious or very serious problem.” A more interesting aspect, perhaps, is the breakdown with respect to the views on classroom bias by various factors:”There are sharp divisions by party lines (73.3 percent of Republicans view the problem as very serious, while only 6.7 percent of Democrats do), gender (46.8 percent of men view the problem as very serious, compared to 32.1 percent of women) religion (57.9 percent of those who are born again view the problem as very serious, while only 17.6 percent of Jews do), and those who shop at Wal-Mart (56.7 percent of those who shop there weekly believe the problem is very serious, while only 17.6 percent of those who never do think that).” The results with respect to tenure were not that clear-cut (though whether the public actually understands what tenure involved may be part of the story).
The opening quote of the official story on the Zogby website is also interesting: ”As legislation is introduced in more than a dozen states across the country to counter political pressure and proselytizing on students in college classrooms, a majority of Americans believe the political bias of college professors is a serious problemâ€¦” Wow. I guess based on this I ought to re-think my classroom decisions about making suggestions with respect to wetlands protections or reducing carbon footprintsâ€¦
But this has me wondering: what (if anything) does this tell us about the nation? About the future of academia? The issues in this poll are, of course, not new concerns (though the Wal-Mart shoppers perspective is an interesting twist). It seems unlikely a public relations campaign could alter such perceptions. Is it thus simply something we should ignore and go about our business?
–Kim Diana Connolly