A new book claims American universities’ tendency to disengage from the world of politics leaves students unprepared for citizenship in a democratic society, but some university officials, administrators and students do not think it is a good idea for professors to share their personal beliefs in the classroom.
The book, “Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities”, is based on research from surveys, focus groups and interviews with students and professors nationwide. The authors, two professors and an associate professor at George Mason University in Virginia, wrote contrary to popular belief the problem with higher education in the U.S. is not too much politics but too little.
Educating students about politics can and should be done free of any bias, wrote Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, in an e-mail.
“It is perfectly possible to discuss the nuances and balances of political debates and arguments in an impersonal way,” Donovan wrote. “The various professors in our political science department do this all the time, and do it very well.”
Donovan wrote that although no university policy specifically forbids a teacher from mentioning their personal political views, it is considered unprofessional and could fall under the section Academic Freedom and Faculty Responsibility in the Faculty and Staff Handbook.
In the classroom, teachers are entitled to the freedom to discuss their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce controversial matters that have no relation to their subject, according to the handbook.
Ranae Stetson, associate professor of education, said she does not think the practice is common at the university or she would have heard about it from her students.
“It definitely can alienate students,” she said. “We do talk about current events in the classroom, but as far as showing support for one candidate or the other. . .I will not do it.”
Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor with expertise in American politics, said he is often asked about his personal political beliefs, but he declines to answer because of the potential influence professors can have over their students.
“One should not use their classroom as a pulpit to further their own political views,” he said. “Nor should they use their position as a professor to try and influence their students’ behavior.”
Riddlesperger said students should feel comfortable to express their views and not worry about their beliefs being different from their professors. In his 26 years of teaching at TCU, he has never heard of any professor discussing his or her own personal beliefs in class.
“You need to have freedom of open expression in the classroom,” he said. “Anything that is going to inhibit that, professors should be leary of.”
This point is one Ashley Tambunga, a junior English major, said she agrees with.
After one of her professors made a reference to “stupid liberals” in a lecture, Tambunga did not feel comfortable expressing her own views in the classroom.
“There are some teachers that you would love to know the conclusions they have drawn about certain issues in politics,” she said. “But not mentioning their personal view in the classroom seems more professional and inviting to discussion.”
Matt McGuirk, a senior communications major, said he has never heard bias from any of his professors, but has heard plenty of students have nasty arguments about political views this year.
“I don’t think it would necessarily be a bad thing for professors to discuss their views in class, as long as everyone is open to debate,” he said. “It could turn bad, though, if there wasn’t some sort of mediating and the argument got out of hand.”