In early 2022, an effort to analyze political bias in academia was launched by Governor Ron DeSantis and state legislators. The “Intellectual Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Survey” was made available for students and faculty at Florida’s colleges and universities. Because conservative students are much more likely to fear backlash from expressing their politics in university classrooms than liberal students, this undertaking by the state was met with applause from many Republicans.
However, the results of the survey did not appear to corroborate the idea of pervasive liberalism in state universities. Of over 10,000 faculty members across Florida colleges who responded, the plurality identified as politically moderate. This was followed by conservatives and liberals, respectively.
But while this may appear to quell any cause for concern among conservatives in Florida’s higher education system, these numbers are not so easy to interpret. Less than 10 percent of faculty across the state actually responded to the survey. While this has been characterized as a “statistically significant” sample in some news reports, others have pointed out that the state’s faculty labor union told its members not to respond to the survey.
Given the fact that the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) union has expressed staunch opposition to Governor DeSantis and Republicans, it is quite possible that their directive influenced mostly liberal faculty to not participate in the survey. This may have created the illusion that university employees are more moderate and conservative-leaning than they truly are, thus skewing the results.
And while the survey was also sent to students, the response rate was even more abysmal. At Florida A&M University (FAMU), for example, just 53 out of over 8,000 students returned the questionnaire. Statewide, a mere 1 percent of students answered the survey, which was blamed partially on the fact that these were sent in April, at the very end of the spring semester. This is such a small share of the student population, that it is universally considered statistically insignificant; no firm conclusions can be drawn from the data.
Unfortunately, it seems this effort by Florida lawmakers to assess the political climate on state campuses was largely a flop. However, there is some existing data that may help to distinguish the reality of political life for students and faculty at universities like Florida State.
Studies show liberal bias among college faculty
While some seem eager to reject the idea that professors are overwhelmingly liberal, studies prove this remains the case. For example, an analysis of voter registrations at 40 of America’s top universities concluded that among professors, there were nearly 12 registered Democrats for every one registered Republican. Even among faculty in economics departments, who are generally perceived as “more conservative” than liberal arts educators, Democrats outnumbered Republicans nearly five to one.
Similarly, an analysis by Professors Neil Gross and Solon Simmons discovered that just 9 percent of faculty nationwide identify as conservative, compared to nearly half calling themselves liberal, and the remainder viewing themselves as politically moderate. And remarkably, a recent survey of Harvard University faculty found that approximately 80 percent of professors are either very liberal or liberal, with just over 1 percent claiming to be conservative. While this is a limited amount of data, there is undoubtedly a striking pattern that can be observed in the results.
Conservatives are most likely to self-censor
Although students across the political spectrum engage in self-censorship to conceal their political views, this phenomenon is mostly relegated to conservatives in university classrooms, research has indicated. A University of North Carolina study found that approximately 68 percent of campus conservatives consciously stay quiet about their politics in class, compared to about 49 percent of moderates, and just 24 percent of liberals.
Generally, this is not because of baseless speculation about how professors may identify politically. A survey conducted by Intelligent.com in 2022 reported that 85 percent of students have heard their professors expressing political views in class. Of those respondents, 77 percent say the faculty member promulgating their perspective was liberal.
How does this apply to Florida?
Though Florida-specific analyses about bias in academia are effectively nonexistent, these surveys do raise serious questions about whether the Intellectual Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Survey paints an accurate picture of the political climate on campuses. It is hard to believe that the influence of left-leaning faculty at universities is as ubiquitous as other studies indicate, except in the state of Florida.
Because of the low response rate to the state’s survey, college students in Florida may very well display similar patterns of behavior in suppressing their political views, in response to the conduct of university faculty. Undoubtedly, more research should be done into this issue to determine the degree to which political bias permeates our campuses.