By Harry Rowe | Staff Writer
Conservative Christian campuses may be more politically tolerant and teach less politically slanted texts than secular universities, according to new research from doctor and sociologist Dr. George Yancey.
Dr. Yancey led a discussion titled “Investigating Political Tolerance at Conservative Protestant Colleges and Universities,” which was held by The Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion. Yancey is a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas and has several publications, some of which can be found in Baylor’s bookstore. Yancey and his research team worked through five separate sets of data, and according to him, all should provide a pretty solid case for the political tolerance at these universities.
“You may or may not know, when we look at earlier colleges and universities, that they were not what we think of today as secular learning,” Yancey said. “In fact, many of the earliest colleges and universities were religious institutions.”
Yancey recalled a quote from University of Pennsylvania professor of english and education Peter Conn. The quote was from a 2014 article found in The Chronicle of Higher Education called “The Great Accreditation Farce,” explaining that colleges and universities with religious requirements did not deserve to be accredited because of their religious bent. This type of environment, in Conn’s view, “systematically undermines” the most important aspect of higher education. Yancey stated that this perspective was what led him to do his research on tolerance at colleges and universities. He wanted to see how colleges from The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) compare to “elite” institutions, which were classified as being an R1 doctoral university. An R1 university is part of the Carnegie classification system. and R1 schools are premier or “elite” research institutions, of which there are around 100, with new schools moving in and out every couple years.
Yancey discussed his and his team’s five data sets that were collected for this research. They took a look at crowdpac data, data given to political candidates or political action committees; survey data on political and religious issues; a deep examination on the textbooks these colleges use; and more.
When looking at the types of textbooks used for political science classes at Christian universities and colleges, Yancey and his team coded, or analyzed, 1,576 political science books. Yancey said this was done by looking at the political orientation of the author, subject and publisher. They carefully went through book reviews, researched authors and publishers to find any hint of political partisanship. Yancey acknowledged that this isn’t perfect, which is why they were careful about assigning bias to a textbook.
“Our attitude was, ‘if you’re not sure, say it’s not biased,’” Yancey said. “We’d rather err that way than attach a bias label to a book that wasn’t there, so we probably underestimated the number of books that had a slant, had a bent one way or the other.”
Out of the three dimensions Yancey set for the task, he and his team found that 89.8 percent were coded as neutral, 8.8 percent were coded as progressive, and 1.4 percent were coded as conservative on at least one of the dimensions for all books. For the R1 doctoral universities, 0.6 percent of the textbooks were conservative, compared to 2.18 percent for the other institutions, which Yancey noted as significantly different.
Yancey discussed the various sets of data separately and briefly. One of the data sets that were measured were dis-invitations for speakers on college or university campuses. These were speakers that had either been uninvited by the university or did not get to speak due to protests. He found over 300 cases from the last decade. Out of the cases he found, five occurred on conservative protestant campuses while 143 cases occurred on Carnegie doctoral universities.
In conclusion, Yancey found that conservative Protestant universities are not politically intolerant and are not these “bastions of Christian conservatism” that Yancey said people typically think they are. Instead, Yancey argued his research found that these institutions seem to be more balanced than their secular counterparts.
“There’s a lack of pressure, we argue, towards political conformity,” Yancey said. “There’s not as many speaker dis-invitations, there’s more balance in textbooks at in least political science, so we argue that there’s a lack of pressure for political conformity because the religious aspect is so important, it allows for political freedom.”