July 12, 2007
Survey Design & Political Bias in Higher Education
Posted by Christine Hurt

OK, I'm just seeing if anyone else has some problems with this survey:  As highlighted in Inside Higher Ed, a recent survey shows that out of 9.464 adults polled,  58% of those adults agreed that political bias on campus is a "somewhat serious" or "very serious" problem.  In addition 65.3% agreed with the statement that "a professor who does not have tenure is more motivated to do a good job that one who does have tenure."

My problem with this survey is that it asks people who may have zero knowledge of the subject matter of the question to opine.  What percentage of these respondents went to college at all?  Graduated?  Went to college in the last ten years?  Have family members who have gone to college in the past ten years?  I'm not sure that I care how my grandma, who might answer a telephone survey, answers a question about whether she thinks unknown college professors at unknown colleges are politically biased.  And, according to the article, only 55% of adults have even heard of tenure, so they must be experts on incentives and disincentives created by tenure.

I understand that to the extent that taxpayer money is spent on public higher education we might care what non-college attending persons and non-college tuition paying persons think about higher education.  We might ask whether respondents think that professors whould be allowed to speak about political opinions, but not factual questions about whether they do or whether it creates problems.  I pay taxes, and I suppose those taxes fund our military efforts, but I can't imagine answering a poll about officer candidate school:

Q:  "Would you agree or disagree with the statement that drill sergeants at officer candidate schools are unnecessarily harsh on new recruits?" 

A:  "Well, based on my review of Louis Gossett, Jr.'s portrayal of a drill sergeant in An Officer and a Gentleman, I would have to disagree with that statement."

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