When Rick Santorum recently decried California universities as bastions of liberal elitism based on a report he read from “the state of California” he instantly garnered nationwide criticism from the likes of Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow.
Although the report, authored by the conservative National Association of Scholars, has come under criticism for its content and methodology, some of its claims may ring true.
Martin Carcieri, a political science professor at SF State, said that a liberal tilt is almost assumed among faculty members.
“While I work with some pretty good department faculty colleagues at SF State, in my five years here it seems very clear that many, though perhaps not all, SF State faculty implicitly expect that one is, so to speak, ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ of hard left ideology,” he said in an email.
The report, released in April of this year, studied social science departments within the University of California system and found that within the humanities, liberal leaning faculty outnumber their conservative counterparts by a margin of 17 to 1 and that the views of liberal professors moved dramatically to the left in the last 40 years.
“This report is tapping into something that has been known for some time,” said Robert Smith, a political science professor who has taught at SF State since 1976. “But I think it went a bit far in suggesting that there was an active liberal agenda that was being projected onto the students, which I don’t think is generally the case.”
Smith, who self-identifies as a liberal, said he goes to great lengths to ensure that both sides of an argument are presented in his classes.
“I start off by telling my students that I come from the left liberal end of the spectrum, and that should take everything I say with a grain of salt,” he said. “In my more advanced classes it doesn’t come up as much because the texts we read speak for themselves. Some of them are liberal and some are conservative, so that students get both points of view just by doing the readings.”
Carcieri said he takes a similar approach to the question of bias in the classroom.
“I simply try to draw out the strengths and weaknesses on all sides of the cases we analyze,” he said. “In concluding some of these discussions, further, after the students have talked them through, I’ll sometimes lay my views on the table, often suggesting some of the complexity of the issues.”
In a city like San Francisco, known for its far-left leanings, the faculty is bound to reflect the surrounding community, according to political science major Ryan Simon. But he said most of them do a good job of separating personal views from their curriculum.
“One of my professors, who I’m pretty sure is very liberal, goes out of his way to make sure that both sides of an argument are presented,” he said. “If all we’ve heard is people agreeing on a liberal viewpoint, he’ll usually step in and say ‘but try thinking about it this (more conservative) way,’ at which point it usually gets very quiet.”
Smith pointed to SF State’s history as a mainstay of liberal thought as a reason that many are attracted to the University.
“I think a lot of people are attracted to the University and the city because of its liberal reputation,” he said. “We are more liberal than other CSUs; we might even be more liberal than UC Berkeley. There is a certain energy at this school, with its history and reputation, that makes it a liberal bastion.”
But Carcieri said that precisely because San Francisco in general, and SF State in particular, leans so far to the left, it is vital to teach students with a balanced approach.
“The radical leanings of San Francisco politics should inspire SF State faculty to present conservative views forcefully and in great detail, so to enable students to respond effectively to such views in the real world, if indeed they disagree with them,” Carcieri said. “If people graduate from SFSU having been exposed to only radical left views, SF State is crippling them for citizenship.”