Assume a majority of faculty at UNC are Democrats? You're wrong!

Posted August 26, 2016

The claim, rapidly becoming an accepted urban legend, that Democrats outnumber Republicans 12 to 1 on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill faculty is half-baked at best. The research that concocted that figure actually shows non-Democrats outnumber Democrats 739-619 on the faculty in 17 select departments.

This all popped up last week in an article about GOP efforts in the legislature to embed one of Senate Leader Phil Berger’s aides in a new UNC “collaboratory” on environment and energy policy. In an e-mail to a reporter at the Raleigh News & Observer, Berger said at UNC “professors registered as Democrats out-number Republicans by a ratio of 12 to one.”

A few days later, in an op-ed taking issue with Berger, UNC Med School Professor William Snider repeated the number.

It turns out a not-so-deep dive into the origin of this 12-1 ratio reveals just how misleading it is.

It all started with a website called “The College Fix,” where Alec Dent, who identifies himself as UNC student, penned an article in June headlined “At UNC Chapel Hill, 17 departments have zero registered Republican professors, analysis finds.”

The first paragraph of the article, cherry picking the findings, hits on the 12-1 Democrats to GOP ratio. But, to give credit where credit might not be due, the author did include a more full disclosure of the numbers he gathered (which have not been independently verified).

The reality: non-Democrats out-number Democrats in those 17 departments. Dent reported that 299 professors were unaffiliated, 291 couldn’t be found in the voter registration database, affiliations for 98 couldn’t be determined and two were Libertarians – a total of 690 faculty. Add the 49 Republicans – and there are 739 non-Democrats – out-numbering the Democrats.

Numbers can show a lot of things, but this is a case where there is far less than meets the eye.

Hyper-partisans gumshoes looking to sniff out political bias in hiring at UNC aren’t going to find a smoking gun in Alec Dent’s handiwork.

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  • Eric Atkinson Sep 6, 2016
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    So... about 700 communists. Seems a bit low.