The impact of academics and university administrators on political correctness in academia
: a positive political theory analysis

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Political correctness (PC) is a regulatory phenomenon that restrains allegedly
offensive speech and behaviour towards disadvantaged groups of individuals.
Today, this phenomenon is prominent within top universities in the UK, Canada
and the US. This thesis explains why and how academics and administrators at these
universities impact PC in academia, and thus shows that these agents are a
necessary causal factor of PC’s prominence in the academic realm.
To do so, the dissertation analyses the actions of academics and university
administrators from the perspective of positive political theory, which uses rational
choice-based models to examine socio-political phenomena. In particular, the thesis
uses rational choice models belonging to public choice theory – the application of
economic tools to politics that aims at producing explanations and predictions.
This work examines the ideological dimension of PC and scrutinises four
crucial spheres where academics and university administrators interact with PC,
namely, academic research, the higher education curriculum, affirmative action and
speech codes. The thesis concludes that the liberal values of substantive equality
and individual liberty largely underpin PC, whose regulatory function is to protect
a liberal value system from illiberal truth-claims. Ultimately, via successful rentseeking
and by having advantages in solving collective action problems, interest
groups of PC-driven academics and university administrators capture academic
institutions. They employ PC to gain rents and to shape the institutions’ policies,
thus protecting their members from ideological and professional competition.
Ideology and material self-interest align in a way that strengthens PC.
Date of Award1 May 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJohn Meadowcroft (Supervisor) & Colin Jennings (Supervisor)

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