EDITORIAL: Professors should rein in opinions
Educators taking strong stance can have chilling effect
Yesterday, a student posted the following message in the Rutgers University Class of 2020 Facebook group:
“I just dropped the first class I’ve ever dropped in my college life. Why? Because the first f***ing 10 mins of a course should not be about (President Donald J.) Trump and Liberal agenda. this is the 7th course I’ve had with a super biased liberal professor and I’m sick of it.” He finished the post with, “I’m not even a f***in conservative.”
The post accumulated approximately 200 likes over the course of the day. There were also about 50 comments displaying both views for and in opposition to the original post. But seeing this post and the reaction it sparked from students can bring about an interesting discussion regarding professors taking a strong stand on their own views with regard to controversial or political topics in class.
In trying to flesh out the issue, it may help to discern how off topic, if off topic at all, the professor’s discussion is. For example, a professor of mathematics spending a significant amount of class time facilitating a discussion about the day’s politics, even without espousing their own opinion, would obviously be overly irrelevant. The students in that class are paying to learn about math, not politics.
But when we think about a professor in a political science class spending a good deal of time on a rant about, say, their hate for the president, it is easy to see how this might affect the way certain students act in class and how they think of the professor. When Professor Michael Chikindas was under fire for his anti-Semitic Facebook posts, it was clear that students, especially Jewish students, should not be required to take a course that he teaches for obvious reasons. And the same can be said for a student who leans in an opposite direction politically from their professor.
It is hard to believe professors are often inclined to shun students or allow their grades to suffer simply based on differing political viewpoints, but it is seemingly not all that far-fetched to think that it would be possible. If a professor holds a viewpoint adamantly and shares it openly and often in class, a student with an opposing viewpoint may very well feel uncomfortable sharing those opposing views in class, which would not only have a chilling effect on the general class discussion, which is often important in classes pertaining to history and political science, but it could even affect the student’s eventual participation grade.
It does seem, then, that it is best for professors to keep their opinions to themselves to the best of their ability. While many humanities courses entail the dissection and evaluation of various points of view, the job of the professor is simply to inform their students on those points of view and to explain how one might think about them — not what to think. Professors enthusiastically endorsing one view over another today will only have a negative effect on their students’ abilities to use their own reason in coming to conclusions about tomorrow’s issues.
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