Closed-minded conservatives excel at detecting liberal bias

Inside Higher Ed just ran a story titled, "Eye of the Beholder," which reports on an article showing that there is a strong correlation between being conservative and not open to changing one's mind and perceiving liberal bias in the classroom.  Similar thing happens with closed-minded liberals — they have the habit of seeing conservative bias.

The study found that students — even in the same classrooms — didn't perceive bias in the same ways (or at all), and those who perceived bias were those who were resistant to changing any of their views. The finding extended to some who identified themselves as being far on the left and resistant to change, and who believed that they had some biased conservative professors. But among both left-leaning and right-leaning students who didn't score high on resistance to new ideas, there was little perception of bias.

In short, if you're dogmatic about your views, you're likely the one to report having a biased professor. (Sidebar: my experience is perfectly consistent with this, as pretty much every person who's ever accused me of classroom bias has either been a blinkered conservative or a raging Marxist.  That said, this, apparently is true of me.)

What explains this variation in perception of bias in the classroom?  The lead researcher, Darren Linvill of Clemson University, proposes:

…[T]here may be elite colleges and universities where students arrive as freshmen used to having their views challenged by teachers, and that might still be "an ideal." But he said that the reality he sees from his research is that this is a foreign concept to many entering college students today.

That's it – challenging a view is a case of bias.  In a way, yes, it is.  It is biased against dogmatism.  (A question: is this a case of self-serving bias, as the dogmatic students tend to do poorly in discussion and blame it on professor bias instead of their own lack of preparation? Is it self-serving to offer that as an explanation?)

7 thoughts on “Closed-minded conservatives excel at detecting liberal bias”

  1. Being accused of this:
    Aiken is mean, weird, but hilarious. He's a picky grader, and even if you think you've got the material mastered, he finds a way to stump you. Anyone tells you he's a liberal, he's not. He's really a conservative in disguise. One more thing: study. Seriously.                                
    Is not a bad thing at all.  In fact, I would venture that Professor John Casey fits this description as well.  Why wouldn't LOGIC professors behave and think this way?  It seems perfectly normal to me.
    I will agree with the whole point of easily finding bias when you are closed minded.  As a VERY outspoken, open minded student, I don't have that problem.  I am willing to entertain all thoughts, although I will admit I have had problems wrapping my head around a few of the things Dr. Casey said.  In the end, I took away more from that class than I ever thought I would.

  2. Perhaps this might be an instance of the strong man.  You're biased because you have failed to strong man the views of certain dogmatists.

  3. John, a nice observation about iron-manning.  A question, then, about pedagogy: do teachers, at least occasionally, have the obligation to iron man student views?  The answer to the second question is: yes, but only when I'm in public.
    Aaron, I do hope it was a randomly generated question.  Otherwise, I'm worried about what the follow-up reviews will look like.   On a related note, I have a friend who was on a hiring committee a few years back, and one of the interviewees asked what the university policy was on sex with students.  Whew!

  4. Hi Prof – nice blog.
    If doing modus ponens leads to a conclusion that the student abhors, and the student refuses to do modus ponens, it would be reasonable to attribute the poor discussion to the student. If the student is largely responsible for the poor discussion and he blames it on his professor, then yes, that seems like self-serving bias.
    "Is it self-serving to offer that as an explanation?"
    I don't have a satisfactory answer to that. But I think we would very likely become self-serving if we didn't occasionally ask ourselves the question, "Is it self-serving to offer that as an explanation?"
    "Aiken is mean, weird, but hilarious. He's a picky grader, and even if you think you've got the material mastered, he finds a way to stump you. "
    What's the point of a logic class if your professor agrees with you? I hate it when people agree with me without good reason. It feels like they're just trying to make me feel good.

  5. Hi Ray, Glad to have you here.
    Your point about modus ponens is an interesting one, and something that often arises in philosophy classes.  If the critical argument is a case of MP, then the student needn't accept the conclusion (P > Q, P / Q), but can reject one of the premises (best not reject MP, unless you're Vann McGee!)
    In one case, a strong commitment to ~Q sometimes makes it so that the person may accept the conditional (P > Q) and perform modus tollens.  This is the source of the old saw, "one man's modus ponens is another's modus tollens." 
    The trouble with this is that very few people keep track of their commitments in such a formal way.  So retracing the disagreement like this always looks crazy.

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