The words “school,” “professor” and “liberal” are often joined together in the same sentence because it is frequently claimed that professors are liberal and that their beliefs are uncritically accepted by students.
However, that claim is now less tenable after the release of a recent study in “PS: Political Science & Politics,” the journal of the American Political Science Association. The study looked at 7,000 students at 38 institutions and concluded that students are not indoctrinated or instilled with the beliefs held by their professors.
Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner, political scientists who regularly carry out research on politics in higher education, reported through statistical analysis that the overall perceptions of professors and the extent of their political influence are misguided.
So, what was the real purpose of their research? It points out the growing attitudes and sentiments that undermine these misguided accusations.
Isn’t it completely patronizing for conservatives to think that we students are nothing more than passive individuals who just sit while ideas and opinions are poured into us? We are authors of our own meanings, creators of our own actions and we attend class to expand our knowledge and thinking, not to inhibit them in order to cater to certain groups.
As college students, we arrive on campus with views on a wide range of social issues. Among other topics, we hold views on religion, health care, politics and same-sex marriage. One important function of an academic institution that both liberals and conservatives can agree on is that it serves to stretch our minds and expose us to different views and opinions. Isn’t this the goal of education? Is it possible that exposure to liberal ideas encourages debate and teaches us to think for ourselves—skills we need in the real world?
Some students come to college having led politically sheltered lives. They grow up in communities where everyone is conservative; their family retains and passes on those conservative views. Those students won’t be willing to switch the channel to MSNBC or read the New York Times. They come in with beliefs carved in stone, and the first time they encounter a professor who questions their beliefs, they are stunned and offended. However, they may not notice that the professor equally questions the beliefs of students on the other end of the political spectrum who, likewise, have never examined the opinions that they grew up with.
If students are not willing to question their views, they won’t take courses that challenge their conceptions or require them to defend their opinions. That’s too bad, because we should all judge our opinions according to the best evidence and discard the ones that are illogical, incoherent or based on faulty assumptions.
It is arguable that our peers have more influence on our political views than our professors. For example, we tend to view our parents and professors as out of touch with contemporary lifestyle. As a result, we follow the trend and views set by our cliques.
The real issue is that dogmatic right-wingers cannot stand to be challenged. They don’t believe in fair negotiation with a foreign leader unless they first get what they want. They expect nations to adjust to their standards. Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but life doesn’t cater to only one set of beliefs. Today’s conservatives basically discount everything that our professors stand for. Professors are not “Aw shucks” or “Gotcha!” people.
Professors gravitate toward circles where their views are respected, not ridiculed. They want to open student’s minds and prepare them for the real world, where they will constantly be pushed to defend their arguments in logical ways.
Kevin Phan is a first-year biological sciences major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.