My internal model of academia is that (1) as a group we are one of the most tolerant of biological and philosophical differences (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, and religion) and (2) that we are likely to take extreme views on issues related to our research. I have no evidence for either of these and they seem potentially at odds in that it seems strange that people would be so passionate about their research and be blase about their religion (or any other philosophy). Is there any work that characterizes the level of tolerance of academics on various issues?

  • Are you asking about relative tolerance (everything bar your last sentence), or absolute (which is what your last sentence could be taken to mean, and seems to be what fkraiem takes it to mean)?
    – 410 gone
    Oct 9, 2014 at 18:06
  • @EnergyNumbers I am not sure. I cannot conceptualize what an absolute measure of tolerance is and would expect most meaningful characterizations of tolerance to be relative (although I am not sure relative to what). That said I am happy with anything that is informative.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 9, 2014 at 18:10
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    fkraiem's study only looked at tolerance within academics, not tolerance relative to non-academics. And it's that issue of whether you're asking about tolerance relative to non-academics, or not. I had originally commented on fkraiem's answer, which might be the reason why they've deleted it, but once I re-read your question, I realised that your question is ambiguous.
    – 410 gone
    Oct 9, 2014 at 18:13

4 Answers 4


There is a recent study which generated quite a bit of noise and seems to indicate that racial and gender biases do indeed exist in academia (at least in the U.S.). The researchers sent e-mails to professors pretending to be a prospective graduate student, and response rates varied widely depending on the ethnic- and gender- markers in the purported student's name.

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    True, although similar studies concerning job applicants in the "real world" have shown a similar gap in response rates. While these gaps obviously need to be combatted, I'm not sure whether this study shows that academics are any more or less tolerant than the general population. Jun 24, 2015 at 21:15
  • Important and relevant, however employment (strictly speaking, a very thin cut even from the employment issue) is just one out of several faces of tolerance / intolerance / racism in academia.
    – Greg
    Jun 26, 2015 at 2:48

As a matter of fact, academics tend to be quite left-leaning, especially in fields like sociology. (Here's an article about this, with links to multiple studies.) Sadly, they're not abnormally likely to be tolerant of conservative viewpoints.

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    i have only found one study behind the link.
    – henning
    Jun 24, 2015 at 20:59
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    My understanding is that the question was general both in terms of geography (not only US), and fields (not only sociology) and not necessarily politics related. The generalization you just made is rather dumb. Also, even if that generalization would make any sense, there can be hundred and one reason why one doesn't vote for republicans (esp republicans like Palin), yet it doesn't tel much about what she/he thinks about gender or race issues.
    – Greg
    Jun 26, 2015 at 2:53
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    @Greg, what you said was snarky, uncharitable, and, yes, intolerant. If you have something serious to say, please rephrase it in more professional terms. :) Jun 26, 2015 at 19:14
  • @MissMonicaE Pointing out an error, a serious oversimplification and/or logical fallacy is not intolerance.
    – Greg
    Jun 27, 2015 at 7:24
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    You also read way more into my answer than was in it. I never mentioned Republicans, for instance. (Yes, I mentioned "conservative viewpoints," but that's hardly synonymous with Palin, even in the USA.) Moreover, your tone was way out of line. Jun 28, 2015 at 2:40

David French is the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonpartisan group that monitors free speech on campus. In a 2005 interview with ABC News, French argued that "the universities have been so captured by the left point of view, that you're going to get more political and intellectual diversity at your average suburban mega-church than you are at an elite university." The cause, he believed, was the systematic suppression and censorship of conservatives.

That same year, Rothman, Nevitte and Lichter published a paper using data based on a telephone survey in 1999 of approximately 4000 faculty, administrators, and students. The purpose of this study was to test if professional advancement is influenced by ideological orientation. What they found out, was that conservatives and Republicans taught at lower quality schools, compared with liberals and Democrats. This suggested, they argued, "that conservative complaints of the presence and effects of liberal homogeneity in academia deserve to be taken seriously".

A 2014 study by Iyengar and Westwood underscored how powerful political bias can be. In an experiment, Democrats and Republicans were asked to choose a scholarship winner from among fictitious finalists, with the experiment tweaked so that applicants sometimes included the president of the Democratic or Republican club. Four-fifths of Democrats and Republicans alike chose a student of their own party to win a scholarship, and discrimination against people of the other party was much greater than discrimination based on race.

For a 2016 study, Shields and Dunn surveyed 153 conservative professors. “As two conservative professors,” they wrote in The Washington Post, “we agree that right-wing faculty members and ideas are not always treated fairly on college campuses. But we also know that right-wing hand-wringing about higher education is overblown.” Nevertheless, about one-third of the professors professors admit to using "coping strategies that gays and lesbians have used in the military and other inhospitable work environments", ie they "closeted" themselves by passing as liberals. Some also said they were badly mistreated on account of their politics.

In a 2017 speech before the Stanford Board of Trustees, former Provost John Etchemendy argued that he "watched a growing intolerance", "a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for". "It manifests itself", he argued "in the intellectual monocultures that have taken over certain disciplines; in the demands to disinvite speakers and outlaw groups whose views we find offensive; in constant calls for the university itself to take political stands".

In 2009, world–renowned political scientist Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University for his criticisms of Israel's human rights violations against the Palestinian people. In 2014, co-discoverer or DNA James Watson was forced to sell his Nobel prize after losing most of his income for stating that people of African descent are less intelligent than white people. In 2017, graduate student Lindsay Shepherd was hauled before a three-person panel at Wilfrid Laurier University, which interrogated her for more than 40 minutes for showing a first-year communications class a video snippet from TV Ontario of Jordan Peterson debating another professor on the use of gender pronouns. In 2018, University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Amy Wax was removed from teaching mandatory first-year courses for saying in an interview that she didn't think she'd ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the class.

These are some of many examples where academics / scholars have been reprimanded for making statements deemed too "politically incorrect" by their employers. While such cases are obviously but annectodal evidence at best, they do suggest Etchemendy may have had a point when he said he watched a growing intolerance "that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for". They do suggest it may indeed be safer for conservative professors to pass as liberals. They do suggest that French may have had a point when he argued there was systematic suppression and censorship of conservatives. And they do suggest that Rothman, Nevitte and Lichter may have been right to conclude that that conservative complaints of the presence and effects of liberal homogeneity in academia deserve to be taken seriously.

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    @StrongBad : How are differences in political views not a direct consequence of philosophical differences? For example, consider a typical Christian Conservative and an Atheist Liberal? Do you really not see how a different philosophical perspective is at the core of both their religious and political differences? Aug 19, 2018 at 0:09
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    "While such cases are obviously but annectodal evidence at best[.]" Right. In your collection of examples, some of them are obviously not instances of problematic treatment of academics -- e.g. in the case of Watson, getting partially dismissed from your position for making unequivocally racist remarks is not an instance of academic censorship. Some of your other examples are much more convincing -- e.g. inappropriate censorship seems to be precisely what happened to Lindsay Shepherd, as evidenced by the university's apology to her. Your list would be more convincing if it were shorter. Aug 19, 2018 at 0:12
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    Your Watson link is actually about Shephard; I think you got some URLs mixed up. Aug 19, 2018 at 0:57
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    Please stop posting the same answer all over the place. Aug 19, 2018 at 1:10
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    To call the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education a non-partisan organization is a bit disingenuous. It is explicitly Libertarian and at the very Right Wing end of libertarianism. To see that they have an agenda, you need only look at their funders. See, for example: sourcewatch.org/index.php/…
    – Buffy
    Aug 19, 2018 at 13:02

I think it might depend on the field. For example, if you are in a Biology department, you're likely to be labeled as "ignorant", "dumb", or "coward" if you are Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim or any religion that believes in a God who creates), regardless of whether you believe in evolution or not, and regardless of what your actual religious beliefs are. Generally, in natural sciences that's a pretty common trend I think. One could argue that this is more related to the second point you mentioned, rather than the first one, but given that this intolerance, as I said, is regardless of the opinion of the religious person about the origin of life and rules of physics, one could also argue that having this opinion that "any religious person is incapable of appreciating science" as an assumption, is a form of intolerance.

(There is a documentary about Christian professors in science (or biology) departments who were not tolerated by their colleagues and were discriminated against, but I couldn't find it now)

When it comes to ethnic and racial tolerance, in my experience, a level of racism and orientalism that would face condemnation in the US (but not necessarily in Europe) is not uncommon in academic communities in Europe. That being said, my impression is that they're still considerably more tolerant than an average person (or at least an average conservative) in that society.

But overall, I perceive academics to be more tolerant than the median member of the society.

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