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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Slanted and enchanted: politics in the classroom

    Even though most students don’t step back into political science class after fulfilling their gen-ed requirements, it doesn’t mean they won’t receive a lecture with a political slant.

    It’s a fact of life for most college students that professors will occasionally interject their own political opinions into their course lectures. It’s not surprising for many of us to hear off-handed comments from professors excoriating Bush or the Iraq war, whether we are in a political science, geography or physics lecture. In fact, a 2004 University of Connecticut survey found that 49 percent of students thought it commonplace to hear political comments from lecturers in courses, regardless of the subject matter. For many of us, professors’ criticisms of current American policy have lost their political charge since we have heard them in nearly every class.

    Yet, we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss the influence of such off-handed remarks: They can have surprising and unexpected effects on our performance in courses in addition to our own beliefs.

    Conservative groups have long derided university faculties for attempting to churn out only like-minded liberals. Books such as “”Indoctrination U.,”” “”Brainwashed”” and “”Shadow University”” charge academia with attempting to hammer in liberalism rather than allowing a free and open exchange of ideas. Check out the homepage for the College Republican National Committee and you’ll find a plea for donations to fight the radical left in the “”ultimate ideological battle”” being waged all across American campuses.

    Liberals often discount such valuations as overblown conservative propaganda, but a handful of legitimate research has shown that such concerns may not just be a partisan ploy.

    It’s no surprise that the majority of professors on any campus are more left of center, politically – a study by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research found that professors nationwide are three times more likely to align with liberal ideologies than conservative ones.

    What is surprising, however, are the potential ramifications of professors introducing their own political biases into the course material. Our perceptions of our professors’ opinions affect how or whether we approach professors inside and outside of the classroom. Sociologists who study professor-student dynamics have observed that students who believe their political views don’t align with their professors are less likely to go to office hours and engage in classroom discussions – all of which can have negative impacts on student performance.

    Furthermore, a 2004 report titled “”Politics in the Classroom”” found that nearly a third of students surveyed agreed with the statement “”On my campus, there are courses in which students feel they have to agree with the professor’s political or social views in order to get a good grade.”” That’s hardly the kind of open and inclusive learning environment universities aim to cultivate.

    Because blatant and unnecessary political remarks during lectures can suppress honest academic curiosity and even marginalize students who feel their opinions are in the minority, professors should try to keep their political opinions to themselves as much as possible. According to the American Association of University Professors, that’s what they should all be doing anyway; their guidelines state professors should avoid “”teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.””

    Yet, as students, we don’t have to go as far as calling for a formal code of political neutrality in classrooms. The Students for Academic Freedom, led by right-wing activist David Horowitz, tried to do so by promoting an Academic Bill of Rights. A diversity of ideas should be fostered, not artificially imposed. Professors shouldn’t be barred from sharing their political opinions, but they should just know better than to make clever political criticisms merely to elicit laughs as opposed to enhance class discussion and participation.

    Controversial ideas are important to fostering academic inquiry, but professors should remember to keep from turning their podium into a pulpit for their individual political beliefs.

    Christina Jelly is a senor majoring in biochemistry and philosophy. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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