Report: Professors in the South Consider Moving Due to Political Climate

Approximately 58% of professors who planned on moving cited their state's political climate as a primary reason.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on September 11, 2023
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  • A survey found that nearly a third of professors in the U.S. South are considering interviewing elsewhere within the next year.
  • Their state's political climate was a top concern, behind only pay.
  • One in 5 professors surveyed interviewed for a job in another state since 2021.
  • Southern states have enacted new laws in recent years that limit what professors can teach students.

The faculty landscape in the U.S. South is changing, and politics is playing a key role in the transition.

A recent American Association of University Professors (AAUP) survey found that 31% of professors in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are considering interviewing elsewhere in the coming year. Nearly 20% said they have interviewed in another state since 2021.


Salary was among the top concerns for most respondents to the survey, with 58.7% of the 4,250 respondents citing pay as a reason they've considered leaving. Perhaps more surprisingly, their state's broad political climate followed closely behind, with 58.2% of respondents saying politics was among their top reasons.

That's a difference of just half a percentage point.

Higher education has been a battleground for free speech, academic freedom, and divisive topics in the South in recent years.

Florida's Stop WOKE Act epitomized this battle. The law, later struck down by the courts, aimed to limit what topics university faculty could discuss with students, as well as how professors could frame discussions. Similar, although not as extreme, laws have been passed in other states across the U.S.

According to a database from PEN America, states have passed 10 laws since 2021 that the organization describes as "educational gag orders" impacting colleges and universities.

The result may be that professors leave their institutions to work in states without such laws. According to AAUP's survey, North Carolina emerged as a top destination for professors considering working in another state. California, New York, and Massachusetts rounded out the top four potential destinations.

Not all professors are thinking of finding another teaching job, however.

AAUP's survey found that a third of respondents do not plan to stay in academia long term.

"These findings serve as a wake-up call for policymakers and administrators, emphasizing the urgent need to address the concerns raised by faculty members," AAUP said in a statement. "Failure to do so may result in a significant brain drain and a decline in the quality of higher education in these states."

AAUP stressed that it's become more difficult to discuss all types of sensitive topics.

"There are certain issues that I will never touch in the classroom," one respondent told AAUP. "But I want to emphasize that I fear the left and the right equally."