Type, Academe, and the Culture Wars


Many writers over the past 20 years have addressed the value conflicts in American society often referred to as the culture wars. For example, in The De-Valuing of America William Bennent suggests America is in the throes of a values war between a liberal elite and those Americans who hold more conservative values. Thus, aligned against those who hold to values of frugality, sexual restraint, a Protestant Work Ethic, and self-control are the liberal elite trend setters and opinion makers who populate the news media, the artistic community (Hollywood), academia and the "blue states."

In his book Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, James Hunter frames this war of cultures as a conflict between two ideological impulses which he terms "orthodox" and "progressive". Rather than reflecting traditional religious or regional divisions, Hunter suggests these ideological impulses cross traditional divisions in that


Christian fundamentalists, Orthodox Jews,and conservative Catholics have joined forces in a fierce battle against their progressive counterparts--secularist, reform Jews, liberal Catholics and Protestants--as each side struggles to gain control over such fields of conflict as the family, art, education, law, and politics. Not since the Civil War has there been such fundamental disagreement over basic assumptions about truth, freedom, and our national identity.


Some authors question the extent to which these culture wars are anything new when viewed within the context of religion's various forays into the political realm over the course of more than 200 years of United States history. Other authors note that the bipolar framing of these value conflicts oversimplifies the more complex and nuanced differences in values that permeate U.S. culture. Regardless of these more considered perspectives, the continued predominance of a two-party system provides a sufficient political foundation for energizing the popular us-versus-them mind-set that characterizes modern domestic and international politics.


Culture Wars on Campus

Recently, the culture wars have appeared on college campuses (and some might say re-appeared). Probably one of the more visible movements has been the conservative political effort to draw attention to what some consider as an extreme liberal bias on the part of college and university professors. The most notable speaker on this topic has been Mr. David Horowitz who has presented his views in a book entitled The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. Of clear concern is that these professors "appear to believe that an institution of higher learning is an extension of the political arena, and that scholarly standards can be sacrificed for political ends...."

Just how liberal are our universities? And, if indeed there is a liberal bias, what might explain it?

In the following section, we briefly review research studies suggesting that political affiliations of college professors indeed do tend to lean "left," although the distribution of political affiliations is more nuanced if one takes into account the academic disciplines of the professors. Following this review of professors' political orientations we suggest that the psychological type preferences of professors may play a role in the "academy's" liberal orientation.


Political Affiliations of Professors

Various researchers over the years have looked at the political orientations of college professors. And, most of these studies tend to confirm the general perspective that college faculty indeed tend to have liberal and Democrat orientations. One of the more recent studies, however, provides a number of insights and qualifications.

This study, published in Public Opinion Quarterly, is entitled "Is the Academy a Liberal Hegemony? The Political Orientations and Educational Values of Professors." The authors of this study used data collected in two nationally representative surveys conducted by the Carnegie Foundation (in 1989 and 1997).

The authors of the study (Professors John F. Zipp and Rudy Fenwick) were interviewed by freeexchangeoncampus.org. The following portion of the interview provides a summary of the findings and issues concerning this topic:


freeexchangeoncampus.org: So you found that more faculty are liberal, but with some important qualifications. What were those qualifications?

Authors: There are four important qualifications to the portrait of faculty as "liberal":

(1) As we mentioned previously, the ratio of liberal to conservative faculty is between 2 to 1 and 3 to 1, and has remained within that range since the 1980s (except for the basic percentages, the most recent 2005 data from UCLA were not publicly available for analysis). These are hardly the monolithic 7 to 1 or 10 to 1 ratios given by conservative commentators.

(2) The percentages of liberals and conservatives vary considerably by disciplines, with humanities and social sciences being the most liberal, but with popular majors, such as computer science, engineering and business having more conservatives.

(3) Likewise, types of higher educational institutions vary: selective liberal arts colleges tend to be most liberal while two year schools tend to have more conservative than liberal faculty. By the way, there are a lot more students and faculty in two year colleges than selective liberal arts colleges; about 40% of all students attend two year schools, so you could look at this as conservatives having a greater presence where the most students are.

(4) As we alluded to before, political orientations vary by demographics in ways that produce somewhat offsetting trends: younger faculty are less liberal than older faculty, while women faculty- an increasing percentage of faculty- are more liberal than male faculty.


In summary, these results tend to show that, while professors do appear to lean liberal, the political orientations of faculty appear to vary by faculty age, sex, and academic discipline. With respect to "culture war" concerns--and particularly those raised by David Horowitz--the variability in political orientation by academic discipline seems particularly relevant. That is, the professors identified in his book as "dangerous professors" come almost exclusively from the liberal arts areas.


Psychological Types of College Professors

Research in this area is much like that concerning the political affiliations of college professors. That is, there are no representative national surveys that provide a definitive picture. Rather, various samples collected over time and in various venues provide us with a few "snapshots" of what the psychological types of professors might look like.

One relevant study1 recently was published by Professor Dan Salter of Walden University. In this study Professor Salter compared the psychological type profiles of 556 professors with a larger sample (n = 44,428) of workers who had completed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Results suggested the following psychological types were significantly underrepresented amongst professors: ISTJ, ISFJ, ISTP, ISFP, ESTP, ESFP, ESTJ, and ESFJ. Psychological types that were overrepresented included: INFJ, INTJ, and INFP (with INTP being near-significant).

Although Professor Salter emphasizes the large sample size may be responsible for many of the significant findings--and that the INTJ profile probably is the most significantly overrepresented type--the overall pattern of results deserves consideration. In particular, all of the types that are underrepresented are sensing types whereas all of the types that are overrepresented fall into the IN quadrant of the type table. In general, therefore, the S-N preferences seem key here and the IN combination also seems relevant.

Similar to Professor Salter's study, Political | Types compared the psychological type profiles of a sample of university professors (n = 2282) with the national representative sample (n = 3036) collected by Consulting Psychologists Press as part of the norming process for the new Form M of the MBTI. The results from this study are shown in the table below.

Although the samples we used differ from those used by Professor Salter, the results are quite similar. First, our sample of professors shows a clear preference for intuition over sensing as was found in Professor Salter's study. In general, our results show professors preferred I, N, T, and J more so than E, S, F, and P. As for whole types, professors in our analysis clearly are overrepresented amongst INTJ, INFJ, and ENTJ types (as indicated the the Index of Attraction scores where scores above 1.0 indicate a type is overrepresented compared with the population, and scores below 1.0 indicate a type is underrepresented; e.g., INTJ's score was I = 5.16). Conclusion: college professors clearly seem to be more N and NT than the general population.



University Professors (n = 2282) Compared With Estimates
of U. S. Population (n = 3036)
N = 293
% = 12.8
I = 1.17
N = 139
% = 6.09
I = 0.42
N = 172
% = 7.54
I = 4.67
N = 248
% = 10.87
I = 5.16
  E   1045   45.8   0.94"  
  I   1237   54.2   1.06"  
  S   823   36.1   0.50*  
  N   1459   63.9   2.31*  
N = 38
%= 1.67
I = 0.33
N = 39
% = 1.71
I = 0.19
N = 185
% = 8.11
I = 1.69
N = 123
% = 5.39
I = 1.64
  T   1218   53.4   1.38*  
  F   1064   46.6   0.76*  
  J   1504   65.9   1.21*  
  P   778   34.1   0.75*  
N = 27
% = 1.18
I = 0.30
N = 38
% = 1.67
I = 0.20
N = 207
% = 9.07
I = 1.12
N = 121
% = 5.30
I = 1.56
  ST   506   22.2   0.78*  
  SF   317   13.9   0.32*  
  NF   747   32.7   1.90*  
N = 148
% = 6.49
I = 0.77
N = 101
% = 4.43
I = 0.36
N = 183
% = 8.02
I = 2.97
N = 220
% = 9.64
I = 5.97
  NT   712   31.2   3.00*  
"p < .05; #p < .01; *p < .001
The source for the sample of professors is the Atlas of Type Tables, p. 255; the source for population estimates is Snaphots of the 16 Types (no longer published).


A significant question, of course, is why the Ns and NTs tend to be overrepresented amongst college professors. One possible explanation is provided by Isabel Myers in her hypothesis that the mental functions groupings (ST, SF, NF, and NT) play an important role in career choice. Thus, we might ask "What is it about the N and NT preferences that might influence these types to seek careers in post-secondary education?" To help us answer this question, let's first consider the brief profile of the INTJ offered in the MBTI Manual:


Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance--for themselves and for others.


Key characteristics here are "original minds," "skeptical," and "independent." With these characterizations in mind, let's consider what Professor Dean J. Saitta has written in Anthropology Today  (August 2006) regarding his perception of a professor's role:


I take what I suspect is a fairly common position: our obligation as university faculty is to teach a breadth of ideas, critically examine their social causes and consequences, boldly experiment with new ones and, from time to time, actively champion particular ideas that can advance what we know and change for the better (whatever we take ‘better’ to mean) how we live. If we make some of our publics uncomfortable in the process, then we’re probably doing something right.


Key characteristics here are "teach a breadth of ideas," "critically examine," "boldly experiment," and "from time to time, actively champion particular ideas that can advance what we know and change for the better...how we live."

Comparison of these two quotes suggests the following relationships. First, N preferences are evident in the theme of orginality, breadth of ideas, experimentation, and change. Second, T preferences are evident in the theme of skepticism, critical examination, and cause-effect analysis. Finally, IJ preferences are evident in the theme of independence, a focus on ideas, and the from-time-to-time IJ willingness to extravert their auxilliary thinking function in action on their ideas.


Psychological Type and the Political Affiliation of Professors

This perspective on the psychological orientation of college professors clearly seems to reflect what Hunter has characterized as the "progressive" (vs. "orthodox") orientation in the culture wars. When combined with our analysis of the research showing a relationship between the S-N preferences and conservative-liberal orientations, this characterization seems even more probable.

This "progressive" vs. "orthodox" clash becomes even more clear when considered from the perspective of temperament theory which contrasts NT preferences with SJ preferences as "Rationals" vs. "Guardians". Consider the following characterizations of the four Presidential temperaments from Dr. David Keirsey's site:


There are four basic temperaments out of which our character can be fashioned, and each temperament is quite different from the other three. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, with his remarkable bravado, is an engaging example of the venturesome Artisan temperament. And as an Artisan he resembles some of our most colorful Presidents, daring and charming men like Andy Jackson, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan.

William McKinley, in contrast, is a fine example of the steadfast Guardian temperament, and joins the distinguished company of American Presidents like George Washington, Grover Cleveland, and Harry Truman, all sober and serious men.

There are two other temperaments. One, the analytic Rational, has given us some of our most far-sighted and controversial Presidents, men of theory and strategy such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Abraham Lincoln.

The other temperament, the Idealist, has provided one of the great surprises in this study of character: we find that there has never been an Idealist President in all the two hundred year history of The United States of America.


These characterizations suggest the far-sighted, controversial, analytical, and theoretical NT Rational reflects a "progressive" political posture whereas the steadfast, sober, and serious SJ Guardian reflects an "orthodox" political posture.


Summary Comments

Does this liberal orientation reflect something "dangerous" for American society or does the liberal orientation reflect something more in line with the role of the liberal arts faculty and their psychological type preferences. Our perspective here is that much of what liberal arts faculty do is in keeping not only with the role of a "liberal arts" education but with the psychological type preferences of those who seek out such careers: to explore, challenge, critique, and experiment with significant cultural ideas and practices. For some this activity may indeed seem dangerous. For others it reflects the commitment to their careers.

Certainly further research combining psychological type preferences and political orientations would help provide more insight into these issues.


1Salter, D. W. (2006). Testing the Attraction-Selection-Attrition Model of Organizational Functioning: The Personality of the Professoriate. Journal of Psychological Type, 66(10): 88-97.


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