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Ideological Diversity Lacking at the UO J-School

University of Oregon grad student and ODE columnistDan Lawton has a good article on his personal blog about the lack of ideological diversity in journalism schools and the potential problems that causes.

The article is part of an ongoing project by Lawton on diversity in higher education. I’ve been interviewed for it a couple of times, and there will be a short documentary forthcoming. All in all, it promises to be very interesting.

Using his public records kung fu, Lawton discovers that, of the thirty two full-time faculty in the UO journalism school, none are registered Republicans. Even adding in adjunct faculty, there are only two Republicans. As Lawton notes, “You could walk into a head shop in Berkeley and find a bigger conservative presence.”

Lawton further notes that:

According to a study performed by UO economist Bill Harbaugh in 2006, there are 15:5 registered Democrats in the total UO faculty for every one Republican.  The Oregon Daily Emerald reported that 96% of contributions during the 2008 election cycle went to Democratic candidates; in 2004 the figure was 100%.

The leftist leanings of academia is nothing new, but in an industry that prides itself on its objective, fair coverage of events, you have to wonder (as Lawton does) how well journalism students are served by an almost completely Democrat faculty. (Of course, given the press’ fawning over Obama, maybe they’ve just given up on that whole “objectivity” thing anyways.)

As a J-School student myself, I’d like to say that almost all of my journalism professors at the UO have been courteous, smart and highly professional, even if they disagreed completely with my politics (which comes up more often than you’d think in journalism classes). The only exceptions were part of that select, special group of people you inevitably meet in the course of your life who – politics and ideology aside – are just plain assholes.

  1. […] couple weeks ago I wrote a post about Dan Lawton’s research into political diversity at the UO. Well, Lawton penned an […]

  2. Vincent says:

    I had a professor earlier this year who frequently spent a few minutes before class slamming the Bush Administration and boosting Obama, and more than once made not-so-veiled “Bush-Administration-as-Nazis” references during his lectures.

    The guy was actually an excellent professor and a real nice guy otherwise, and I got a lot out of his class, but the politics got tiresome at times.

    Outside of Oregon, when I was in school in Chicago, I had a history professor who arrived to class the day after the 2004 election apparently intoxicated (or at least coming off a severe hangover) and harangued the class about how Republicans were Nazis.

    I can’t even begin to count the number of times some professor or GTF has dropped some snide political remark or offered their unsolicited opinion on Iraq, 9/11, or whatever. During the election, I had several encounters with faculty members who were both surprised and openly disappointed to learn I didn’t vote for Obama.

    Never mind all that, though. The words “bias” and “hostile learning environment” are usually reserved for such outrages as last year’s brutal “someone cut some balloons loose from a lamp post during Coming-Out Week” incident. The constant bombarding of students with partisan opinions by people in a position of authority doesn’t count.

  3. Random Professor says:

    Cheap talk, you Commentators – post some actual examples of bias from assignments or lectures!

  4. Josh M. says:

    I agree with Ideological diversity lacking at the UO J-School:

    […] Author: CJ Ciaramella – This article was originally published May 20, 2009 on The Oregon Commentator blog. VN:F [1.3.1_645]please wait

  5. Alex Peters says:

    Whoah, Bybee slamfest. I like that guy. I thought Communication Theory was pretty interesting. There are definitely quite a few flaws in the way the curriculum was structured though.

    I understand why people hate that class. It’s lame because he’s basically teaching a course about context and perception but you’re getting it through his lens.

    I feel like the biggest problem is that as a text for such a short course, Representations was way deeper than we had time to dig, and when you’re only reading it in passages it doesn’t really make sense. Thus, he spent time every day putting it in a meaningful context for us. The context those ideas were put in for us often had a pretty clear slant.

    As far as I can tell what it all boils down to is that you get spoon fed some of the answers to the hard questions because the class is only 10 weeks long, and you either like the taste of the spoon you are being fed with and gobble everything up without hesitation, or you don’t and you spit everything out and say, “This class sucks.”

    It really was just the yucky copper spoon though, the food tasted fine. So basically, yeah, if we had more diversity in the J-school people might be more inclined to listen to certain subjects, but if you can’t synthesize what you’re being taught in class and make it meaningful to you then you’re really not learning.

  6. Ian "hammertime" Summers says:

    I second any and all criticism of Carl Bybee.

  7. I can weigh in on that. Bybee is the least view-point neutral professor in the J-school that I’ve met.

    Fortunately for me, I played Sudoku and Wordsearch to pass the time. You’d be surprised how much time those two mindless games waste. I could do both in about 30 minutes with the occasional class comment but to really get an hour out of it you’ve got to stretch that shit out hard.

    Basically, don’t take Comm. Theory and Criticism. It’s mostly just criticism of American culture and consumerist society. The Eugene Dogma if you will.

  8. Olly says:

    “Can we get a grammar judge in here? Olly?”

    I assumed your intent was for it to be pejorative.

    Joking aside, “almost completely Democrat faculty” reads fine to me, because (I think) the tremendously important distinction between capital-D “Democrat” and “Democratic” is only found in US English.

  9. Timothy says:

    The J-School’s problem isn’t which part of Team Purple its faculty register with, it’s that they employ Carl Bybee.

  10. Matt says:

    “Democrat faculty” is incorrect. The adjective form of “Democrat,” the noun, is the genitive of description, “Democratic.” When you have an adjective meaning, the noun should be appropriately declined. You may also grammatically say “faculty of Democrats.”

    Plus, a person using “democrat faculty” just sounds stupid, in my opinion. It’s kind of like saying “he quick ran,” or “the environment movement.”

  11. Alex Peters says:

    It sucks when you have a professor that doesn’t even try to be viewpoint neutral. You can take a class with perfectly good curriculum and totally fuck it in the ass for tons of students if you don’t even try. I’m sure Scott can weigh in on this. Having worked with him in my Communication Theory class I know for a fact that he didn’t listen a fucking word our professor said. We could have very well failed our final project if it were up to him.

    The bottom line is the J-school is way too hippie dippy for it’s own good.

  12. Jake says:

    rabble, rabble, rabble, I’m drunk, rabble the J-school sucks, rabble, rabble, I was ill-prepared for corporate layoffs, rabble.

  13. CJ Ciaramella says:

    Yeah, Democratic with a capital “D” would imply the political party, but I don’t feel like “Democrat” is technically incorrect. Can we get a grammar judge in here? Olly?

    As for teaching a class on avoiding libel charges, yes, I have some experience in the field.

    “CJ, can we run this photoshopped picture of an ASUO Senator snorting blow off a hooker’s ass with the caption ‘This man has five illegitimate children’?”

    “Yes! Wait …. damn it, no!

  14. Ian "thunderfist" summers says:

    “DEMOCRAT faculty? A journalism student ought to have better grammar, CJ. It

  15. Ian "thunderfist" summers says:

    To even everything out I say that the J-School let C.J. teach a course on “Avoiding libel and slander charges”

  16. Ross Coyle says:

    “Gsim says:
    May 20, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    It’s interesting you brought this up. I was arguing with a friend of a friend’s girlfriend (work that one out) about working at a warehouse. I suggested that if given a man and a women I would be predisposed to picking the man because he has a mechanical advantage in height, muscle size, etc. She wound up screaming at me about being a chauvinist or misogynist or something of the sort. I don’t even bother with these people anymore, it’s not worth my time.

  17. Vincent says:

    Since 1980, Democrats have gone from earning 40% of voters with post-graduate education to almost 60%.

    Chicken, or egg?

  18. Robert says:

    The disappointing thing about this post is “you have to wonder (as Lawton does) how well journalism students are served by an almost completely Democrat faculty.”

    DEMOCRAT faculty? A journalism student ought to have better grammar, CJ. It’s Democratic faculty.

  19. Curtis says:

    “I wonder how many registered Republicans even apply for jobs at the University of Oregon given that the way Eugene and the U of O are typically viewed are as bastions of hippydom and uber-liberal thought that pervades every single element of life here to a fault.”

    Bingo. I’m not going to claim that there ISN’T a liberal bias in academia, especially at the University of Oregon (I’m not stupid). But you’re implying that the lack of conservative professors is the result of intention and not the the result of the career choices made by conservatives, or the proportion of eligible conservatives to eligible liberals.

    Nate Silver wrote about the decline in the “conservative intellectual” (defined as someone with a post-grad education) over the past 30 years just a few days ago (you can see the post at Since 1980, Democrats have gone from earning 40% of voters with post-graduate education to almost 60%. If you take out the number that are voting for independents or third party candidates, I imagine that you’d find that only 15%-20% of the most educated people even vote for Republican candidates. That likely extrapolates out into the candidates for teaching positions at the university level.

    Using a little bit of imagination, you can easily think of other reasons why the University J-School faculty might not be “balanced”. For example, are liberals or conservatives more likely to seek out employment in a school like the U of O in a town like Eugene? Are liberals or conservatives more likely to work in a public school with lower pay, rather than a private school with higher pay? For that matter, is journalism a major that would appeal more to people with a liberal worldview than a conservative worldview (with the focus on “fairness” and “representing all sides”)? I don’t have any data to back any of that up, obviously, but they’re at least questions to consider.

    I think conservative voices should be more prominent on college campuses, especially on faculties. But the current lack of representation is probably much more due to Democrats cornering the market on those likely to go into academia than to any kind of bias in selection by the University itself.

  20. Gsim says:

    It isn’t just in the J-school, I witnessed this infrequently in the biology department. At the beginning of this term I got quite the indoctrination about what great things all the former democratic presidents have done for diseases in Africa, but not a single word about the huge amounts of humanitarian aid (15 billion) that Bush W. initiated.

    As for orthodox progressive ideas and basic assumptions, definitely. The other day in class we watched a movie regarding the economics of a rural village. The men catch fish and the women buy the fish from the men to sell in the market. Women who have sex with men get more access to better fish, therefore sex for fish (or right to buy the limited supply of fish) is common place and AIDS is killing them like crazy.

    When asked for ideas about how break the cycle of disease, a number of the people in the class suggested that the women could ban together, buy their own boats and catch their own fish. When I mentioned that the women probably didn’t do that because of their inherent disadvantages at catching fish. The reaction was simply ridiculous, I should have known better to have broken from the belief system, but amongst offended huffs and murmurs from the other students the professor asked me, “You don’t think women are as good at fishing as men?”

    I then had to explain to 25 science students that yes, obviously women are at a physical disadvantage to men when it comes to physical labor. The men could row to the fishing area faster, set and pull their nets at a higher rate and then return to shore to sell the fish their fish sooner, which would probably make it hard for the women to stay in business.

    None of these bright science kids were willing to diverge from the mantra of women and men are perfectly equal. There was a basic assumption that the men in this situation were bad/evil and that with just a little help the women could throw off their chains of bondage. We didn’t even discuss it, just moved on ignoring the physical and psychological disadvantages women face in 3rd world countries where they are treated as chattel.

    Not great learning environment.

  21. C.T. Behemoth says:

    I agree CJ (and Vincent), but I’m just thinking that it would make more sense to make the conclusion via the bodies of academic work and curricula rather than hoping one’s assumption via voter registration cards holds true in the classroom.

    I guess that would be kind of like the ‘watchdog’ groups that a lot of people operate when it comes to Israel (and Palestine) on campuses, but surely there’s some way to go about it without making it look like an ideological lynching.

    I wonder how many registered Republicans even apply for jobs at the University of Oregon given that the way Eugene and the U of O are typically viewed are as bastions of hippydom and uber-liberal thought that pervades every single element of life here to a fault.

    How do you convince red-blooded conservatives to come here? Surely they won’t come here for the pay. : )

    All-of-a-sudden this ‘diversity of thought’ argument starts to look exactly like the ‘diversity of race’ argument, which to me seems to be that we should bemoan that ‘diverse’ (yes that is a euphemism I’m sure) people don’t come to Oregon in droves. Of course, this is because people are white here and the assumption is that we whiteys are racists who make life for diverse people uncomfortable.

    Ok…I should stop there.

  22. CJ Ciaramella says:

    My point is not that having a 100 percent Democrat faculty creates overt bias in the classroom (although it can). Like I noted, my professors have been great. In my experience, though, these kind of situations create de facto bias.

    If you have any sort of concrete political beliefs, you tend to work from certain basic assumptions. These assumptions, consciously or unconsciously, flavor your thought and speech. When you have an almost 100 percent left-of-center faculty, such as in J-school, you’re going to get a pretty uniform set of assumptions.

    For example, I’ve taken two courses, a visual communication class from the J-School and a digital arts class in the AAA department, both of which had a rather heavy anti-consumerism theme. Both were core classes for their respective programs.

    It’s safe to say that most students don’t take the time to think too critically about everything their professors say; they tend to take it for granted. Therefore, what you’re getting in situations like this are students who come out of college making the same assumptions without having them seriously challenged.

  23. Sakaki says:

    Score one for Vincent.

    Well played, sir.

  24. Vincent says:

    Well, if we look at what people are supposed to be hired for, isn

  25. C.T. Behemoth says:

    Well, if we look at what people are supposed to be hired for, isn’t political affiliation something that is really peripheral to what goes on? That is, during interviews for a position, you’re not supposed to ask “What is your political affiliation?” I suppose one could glean a particular political tilt from a person’s body of work, but there must also be people who are good at what they do, as objective as anyone can be in academia, and their political affiliation ends up being a meaningless tag…except for us cynics. : )

    Short of the aforementioned asses (see: CJ’s last paragraph) shouldn’t the question be, “Why are there not more qualified conservatives for academic positions?” or “Why are left-leaning academics out-competing their conservative counterparts?” rather than “Why do people who end up being qualified for a position end up being politically left or left-of-center?”.

    It just seems to me that, short of the mind-numbing ideologues of the world (who exist on either side of this spectrum), using one’s voter registration card to make a grand assumption about him or her…is a specious argument, at best. In fact, it seems to me that one could easily turn this argument on its head and make a case that conservatives are losing in the competition for academic positions in American universities…and whining about it with arguments like this one. Not that I’m making that argument here…..

  26. Vincent says:

    I think it’s less about “professionalism” and more about the apparent mindset of “diversity for thee, but not for me” — the academy evidently does not appear particularly concerned with living up to its own high-minded ideals, insofar as it apparently makes almost zero effort to promote the hiring of faculty that deviate from orthodox progressive ideas (at least in the social sciences).

  27. C.T. Behemoth says:

    It’s an interesting point to focus on because I find myself wondering how you measure one’s objectivity and professionalism via their political affiliation.

    It seems like the assumption is that being registered as X means that you and your work are inherently (and always) biased to the point of absurdity when discussing the notion of diversity…of ideas.

    Is the desired outcome supposed to be faculty who are overwhelmingly registered as Independent, thus ensuring all skeptics that they and their work are worthy in the profession?

    Or am I missing something here? This argument carries over into the wider argument about which was Academia leans as well, so feel free to discuss either scenario.

  28. Vincent says:

    It’s almost cliche at this juncture to point out that “diversity” does not and has never meant “diversity of ideas”. Allowing that would mean jeopardizing the narrative about race, gender, capitalism, etc. that’s been built up in the academy since the 1980’s.

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