On May 1, Sinclair Broadcast Group commentator Mark Hyman cited a recent study on "liberal academia" as evidence that colleges and universities have grown increasingly liberal and are biased against hiring conservative professors. The following day, Hyman continued to attack "liberal academia" by claiming that it breeds intolerance and violence on college campuses and displaying images of rioters being arrested while discussing incidents in which conservative speakers on campuses have been hit with pies and salad dressing. But the study's findings are based on seriously flawed methodology, and the study's authors explicitly indicated that their findings were not proof of anti-conservative bias in university hiring practices.
On the May 1 edition of "The Point," Hyman cited the findings of a March 29 study titled "Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty" in asserting that "college faculty is even more liberal than previously thought." In fact, the study's methodology in demonstrating "a sharp shift to the left" on campuses was fundamentally flawed, as it compared two data sets (from 1984 and 1999) compiled through very different surveys and from different respondent pools. As Media Matters for America noted:
On the question of ideological orientation, the study's comparison of the 1984 and 1999 surveys violates a fundamental principle of survey research. As decades of research have shown, altering questions in even subtle ways can produce dramatically different results. [Researchers Stanley] Rothman, [S. Robert] Lichter, and [Neil] Nevitte base their conclusion that "a sharp shift to the left has taken place among college faculty in recent years" on questions asked in two entirely different ways in the two studies, one asking respondents to place themselves on a ten-point scale, and one asking them to select from a list of descriptions.
Hyman went on to claim that "[c]olleges, especially the elite schools, discriminate against those professors who refuse to adhere to a rigid liberal orthodoxy. Conservative professors just don't get hired." This claim echoed the statements of study co-author Lichter, who was quoted in news reports declaring that "this is the first study that statistically proves bias [against conservatives] in the hiring and promotion of faculty members." But the study itself refutes both Hyman's and Lichter's statements. The authors, Lichter among them, wrote that their "results do not definitively prove that ideology accounts for differences in professional standing," adding that "[o]ur findings on the more controversial issue of discrimination against conservative faculty should be regarded as more preliminary."
Furthermore, notwithstanding what its authors claim, the study does not even show, much less "prove," that conservatives suffer discrimination in university hiring and promotion. Few would doubt that liberals outnumber conservatives among university faculty. But justifying claims about hiring and promotion would require data on the number of conservatives and liberals who applied for various positions or came up for tenure review. Despite Lichter's and Hyman's comments, the study's authors present no such data.
On the May 2 edition of "The Point," Hyman returned to the subject of "liberal academia" and again referenced the flawed study to allege that violence is a symptom of "radical liberal thought" on college campuses. As evidence, Hyman cited recent incidents in which students have thrown food at conservative speakers. MSNBC political analyst and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan was hit with salad dressing during a speech, while right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, and right-wing commentator David Horowitz all had pies thrown at them. After Hyman mentioned these incidents, however, Hyman showed video clips of police in full riot gear arresting demonstrators. As the clips played, Hyman equated pie-throwing with the riots:
It is not uncommon for students to peacefully protest against a speaker. But the rash of physical assaults has been on the upswing. All four victims are noted conservatives. No prominent liberals denounced the attacks. The problem is starting to spiral out of control when one side of the ideological divide loses the war of ideas and resorts to violence to try to maintain its monopoly. Liberals toss around the word "intolerance" when someone says something they disagree with. But they are accepting when one of their own resorts to violence in an attempt to silence someone they just don't like. It is time America rescue its colleges and universities from radical liberal thought.
Media Matters leads SinclairAction.com, a coalition of groups and individuals protesting Sinclair's continued misuse of public airwaves to broadcast one-sided, politically charged programming without a counterpoint.