A bill introduced in the Arizona House of Representatives would ban discrimination based upon a faculty members' religious and political beliefs.
The bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Tom Forese and passed out of committee by a 7-1 vote, is aimed to reduce discrimination against politically conservative faculty members in public colleges and universities. The bill mandates that hiring and tenure decisions be based upon a "faculty member's competence and appropriate knowledge in the field" and asks colleges to foster "a plurality of methodologies and perspectives," Inside Higher Ed reports.
George Yancey, professor of sociology at the University of North Texas, said in an interview with The Christian Post that he would support an effort to reduce religious and ideological discrimination on college campuses, but he is not convinced the bill would do that. It is more important, Yancey believes, to bring attention to the issue so professors can become aware of their biases and take steps to avoid them.
"My work indicates that we do have discrimination and so if this bill makes it more difficult to discriminate, which I am not sure that it does, then I would support it. I think more than law what we need is consciousness raising on the behalf of many who believe themselves to be tolerant but may not be as tolerant as they think they are."
Yancey conducted a study in which he found there is a bias against hiring candidates who are known to be evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Christians or Republicans. The results of his study were published in a book, Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education (2011).
Yancey sent a survey to academics in nine different disciplines. Those answering the survey were not told that the survey was measuring religious and ideological bias. The question used to measure the bias was buried in with other questions so that respondents would not guard themselves against revealing their biases.
The questionnaire asked the respondent to assume they were hiring a new professor. They were provided a list of characteristics and were asked which characteristics would make them less likely to hire the job candidate.
Of all the different biases Yancey measured, respondents showed the most bias toward fundamentalists, followed by evangelicals and Republicans.
The differences varied by discipline. The social sciences and humanities were more biased than the hard sciences. Anthropology and English showed the most bias. Sixty-seven percent of anthropologists said they would be less likely to hire a fundamentalist. By comparison, 38 percent of chemists said the same.
Among the social sciences, political science showed some of the lowest levels of bias with 41 percent saying they would be likely to hire a fundamentalist and 40 percent saying they would be less likely to hire an evangelical. Yancey only looked at the sciences and humanities so he is unsure if the same biases are in all of academia.
"My position as a scholar is that a person's religious and political beliefs should not play into whether or not they get hired," Yancey said.
Yancey believes that the biases he found are damaging to academic research.
"I think it harms our ability to do good science and it harms the ability of science to be disseminated because people are suspicious of it."
Yancey said he got into the topic because he is a Christian and had personally observed the biases against Christians. As a social scientist, though, anecdotal evidence was not enough. He wanted to test his hypotheses.
"I tell my students who go out for interviews, if I know they are Christian or politically conservative, not to disclose that in interviews," Yancey explained. "I'm not saying that this is so rampant that you have no chance of getting a job, but the fact that it is there is problematic."
Yancey also believes that if he had found bias against other religious groups, Jews for instance, there would be greater concern over his findings.
"What if this bias wasn't against evangelicals? What if it was against Jews? Wouldn't we hear talk of anti-Semitism all over the country?"
Yancey is currently trying to raise money for a Christian Studies Program at the University of North Texas. If successful, it would be the first of its kind at a secular university. The program would not be to train ministers, Yancey explains, but to do rigorous research that benefits Christians and helps establish a respectable presence in academia.