There’s substantial evidence that British and American academics skew far to the left, with many openly admitting that they’d discriminate against conservatives. Earlier this year, the Harvard Crimson found that that only 1.5% of Harvard faculty identify as ‘conservative’, compared to 82% who identify as ‘liberal’.
Preliminary evidence suggested this was also true in Canada. A new report confirms that Canadian academia has a massive left-wing skew, with repercussions for free speech and the very mission of higher education.
Christopher Dummitt and Zachary Patterson – two researchers from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute – surveyed around 1,000 Canadian academics, along with a representative sample of Canada’s population. Their main finding is shown in the chart below.
As you can see, academics skew much further left than the general public. Just over half of Canadians describe themselves as “somewhat left” or “very left”. But among academics, it’s more than 85%. The researchers also asked respondents who they vote for, and found that only 9% of academics support parties on the right, compared to 39% for the public at large.
What does this mean for free speech and open debate on campus? The academics were asked, ‘To what extent are you worried about losing your job, having your reputation damaged, facing major adversity or missing out on professional opportunities because of your opinions on diversity?’ Here are the results broken down by left-right beliefs.
Only around 15% of left-wing academics said they were “somewhat” or “very worried”. By contrast, around 50% of right-wing academics said the same. In other words, around half of right-wing academics worry about expressing their opinions on “diversity” for fear that doing so might land them in trouble. But most left-wing academics don’t – presumably because they hold the “right” opinions.
As to whether they had “refrained from airing views in teaching or academic discussions, or avoided pursuing or publishing research”, about 35% of left-wing academics said they had, compared to more than 55% of right-wing academics.
Of course, it’s the threat of being ‘cancelled’ that motivates such self-censorship. Respondents were asked what they would do “if a university professor did research that questioned the idea that racial injustice is a significant problem in modern Canada and students petitioned to silence them”. Results are shown below.
Almost 20% of left-wing academics said they’d support the petition publicly, with another 20% saying they’d do so privately. What’s more remarkable, though, is that almost 10% of right-wing academics said they’d support the petition publicly – and only 30% would oppose it publicly.
Rather than indicating support for cancel culture on the right, I assume this reflects fear of ‘secondary sanctions’ – of being called out for defending, or merely not denouncing, the petition’s target.
The fact that only 30% of right-wing academics would publicly oppose the petition reveals cowardliness as a major problem. This is particularly true given the scenario in the original question: disputing that “racial injustice” is a “significant problem in modern Canada” isn’t even that controversial. How many would defend a colleague who said something genuinely controversial?
Dummitt and Patterson’s report should be sobering for those of us concerned about viewpoint diversity in academia. Not only is the situation in Canada just as bad as in Britain and America, but remarkably few academics seem willing to speak out. Restoring an academic culture that prizes truth-seeking means solving the “cowardliness problem”.