Democrat vs. Republican Professors

I teach at the University of Toledo. Yesterday, as class was beginning, I asked my students who had registered to vote...and enocouraged those who had not to do so, and gave them brief directions.

A student asked, "Who are you voting for?" I told her that I would not tell them that. The entire class protested and begged me to tell them. I said, "I do have strong political leanings, but it's my policy not to share them with my students because I don't want you to feel that you can only say things in class that agree with my feelings and ideas..."

The protest continued, and I moved to change the subject and regain control of the class, when two students in the back of the room chimed in: "We think you are a Republican because you are not trying to tell us who to vote for like all of our other professors."

The rest of the class told me their stories: How their other three or four profs all spend class time discussing their personal feelings and thoughts about the candidates; how one professor forced students to declare whom they were voting for publicly in the class and why, then slammed the reasons given by any McCain supporters...

"So," I said, " because I am encouraging you to exercise your citizenship in a democracy, no matter who you vote for, and because I am not attempting to indoctrinate you into my line of thinking, you have inferred that I am a Republican?"

Pretty damned logical.
Hard to feel like you can "win" when the other side sees nothing unethical about using their math and nursing classes to spew their rhetoric to a captive audience that has been socialized to admire and believe teachers.

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how one professor forced students to declare whom they were voting for publicly in the class and why

Makes you wonder if they're parents are paying for this kind of treatment in a non poli-sci class?

Of course they'd fear retaliation, but I wonder if the dean would like to know about that? Or if he's of that ilk too?

But - typical university, all about diversity, except diversity of thought.

I commend you Ms Wheales on the stance you took. It is funny how you took a completely non-partisan stance, and were deemed a republican for it...

Anecdotal second-hand evidence, tinged with an apparent belief that you know how to teach better than others......pretty damning.

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Pink Slip

Pink Slip,

Mindless towing of the party line. . . pretty damning.

Brian, political parties are fascist. But on the other hand, James Madison thought that political parties were useful in that they act as checks and balances on each other.

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Pink Slip

I am a supporter of the two party system. However, I find mindless parroting of party dogma to be intellectually vacuous and you are the gold standard for parroting party dogma.

I have commented on this thread directly to the author in regards to the content of her post. She answered in kind---again, in direct regards to the content of this post. What have you contributed here? I'm willing to have a back and forth with anyone about any subject. But the only comments you have made toward me are mindless insults. If you'd actually like to debate or argue with me about an ACTUAL TOPIC, feel free to address me. Otherwise, buzz off...

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Pink Slip

Of course it is anecdotal and second-hand....I never presented it as anything other than such, which is why I carefully attributed the stories to my students.

Thirty kids in the room--roughly half said that their other profs. were trashing McCain and trumping up Obama. This is worth sharing here.

I never said a word or " tinged" anything with any statement of my teaching abilities, credentials, etc...in comparison to those other teachers. I was criticizing those who use class time on unrelated subjects to discuss their political ideals.

Don't get me wrong; some of my most respected colleagues and closest friends in academe happen to be liberals--though we may spar from time to time, we respect one another's rights to their own beliefs.

Teachers MUST respect our students' rights to theirs.

I never presented it as anything other than such, which is why I carefully attributed the stories to my students.

One could infer from the title of your post that your singular anecdote represents a universal truth. As a teacher, I'm sure you'd agree nothing could be further from the truth--generally speaking.

I never said a word or " tinged" anything with any statement of my teaching abilities, credentials, etc...in comparison to those other teachers.

You did use the word "unethical" when describing your peers. Usually these descriptions only make sense in relation to something else. In this regard, it could be said you were comparing your teaching to your peers.

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nobody can be 'forced' into disclosing their voting preference. Kids are pretty smart these days. How about a "I haven't made up my mind" answer, or "I'm not voting, both candidates suck", whether true or not. In other words, don't ask me stupid questions, I won't tell you no lies.

Frankly, unless the course is political science or government-civics related, I'm not sure why the election is discussed in any detail, including pushing kids to register and vote, well intended though that may be.

I have a friend who teaches at UT and I'll have to ask him about this.

HistoryMike, you're over there, right? Impressions on this post?

The student who shared this story told me that the teacher went around the room and asked everyone to announce who they were voting for and why. This student happens to be an Obama supporter, so she wasnt' angry at being asked or slammed--she was just sharing an observation.

From what I gather, the teacher DID get answers like you describe some of the time.

In eight years as an undergraduate and graduate student, I can say that I have never heard a professor in any class talk about the candidates they intended to vote for.

Certainly I have had professors - both on the right and the left - whose politics could be gleaned from close analysis of their writings, their lectures, or extracurricular activities. However, neither the hard-right professors nor the far left professors with whom I have taken classes have ever attempted to indoctrinate, pressure, or influence their students to vote one way or another. Nor have I been a student in a classroom that was so polarized by an instructor's politics that I felt uncomfortable.

Perhaps this is a function of the disciplines with which I associate (especially history, political science, and sociology). This is not to say that such professors are somehow "better" than those in other disciplines in political restraint, but rather that politics is such a significant component of our work that we are much more used to the discussion of theoretical and practical politics in the classroom. Perhaps the above-cited nursing and math instructors - less regularly engaged with classroom discussions of politics - allowed their political zeal to take over.

I have seen classrooms, though, where especially vocal and politically-passionate students can dominate the conversation. If the instructor allows such students to hog the floor or (worse!) intellectually bully other students, the same effect can occur: a chilling mood that stifles free discussion or makes students feel persecuted. One student in a polarized room also had the bad form to come in and gloat after the 2004 election (he was a Bush supporter), further alienating half the class and stirring up classroom animosity. In this case the teacher - pretty centrist in his politics - failed to redirect this passionate-but-intimidating student toward more productive discussions, acting as a de facto enabler of the hijacking.

In a class I teach at UT ( a writing-based history course, but we also analyze other media), the subject of last night's debate came up today. There was a spirited discussion of the merits of the debate participants, and students with pro-McCain and pro-Obama sympathies weighed in. As a political independent, it was not difficult for me to act as an impartial moderator, especially given the fact that I have yet to decide which of these less-than-desirable candidates I will select.

I think there is a natural curiosity by students about their professors, and I usually choose general terms like "fiscal conservative, social liberal" when students ask me about my politics, or I just mention that I am an independent. I think what is most important in the classroom is to create an environment that is respectful, and where people of different ideological backgrounds can communicate their points without fear of retribution or fear of being ganged up on by "the other side." An effective instructor reigns in the debate when it starts getting too heated, or when students in their political enthusiasm slip into the sort of attack politics they hear on the radio, see in television ads, or read on websites.

Now - with this being said - I have heard more than a few students complain over the years about bias in the classroom (perceived more frequently to be voiced by liberal professors than conservatives). I suspect that there is some merit to the anecdotes provided by HelenWheales, and I think instructors who browbeat, cajole, or "poll" their students are doing a disservice to their classes as well as their political causes.

The academic community is supposed to be about open discussion and the free exchange of ideas with the larger goal of advancing human knowledge, not the pursuit of narrow ideological agendas by selfish, politically-zealous instructors.

2 professors at UT that were very vocal about their beliefs and one even about support of candidate, although there support was more kidding than serious and I think they enjoyed if I spoke up providing the other side and a few classes we had good hearted back and forth. I know some in the class were very pissed off at their positions. I don't know of one that espoused Republican beliefs in the same way.

I suppose that was why I thought it was relevant to post the story here. In my college experience, I never felt singled out, nor afraid to share my political views in classes, even though it was clear that they were in opposition to the professor's.

I've been teaching at UT since 1998 and never heard students complain about this particular issue before.

Despite all the talk of "liberal professors" and "liberal universities," many of my colleagues lean more to the right than the left. And, as I said in a previous post, I feel comfortable with those who don't share my grasp of things.

Like you, I am fiscally conservative and more liberal when it comes to social policy. I like to label myself a "wishy-washy moderate." So, McCain is the perfect candidate for me!

I thought after your original post you were targeting the stereotypical 'liberal' teaching atmosphere on our college campuses. Your followups have back-tracked somewhat from that, or maybe I was just wrong about your first post.

"I've been teaching at UT since 1998 and never heard students complain about this particular issue before".

Which covers a time period of two presidential elections (not including current) and several congressional-senate races so maybe what's occuring this time around is an aberration of sorts.

No professor of any political persuasion should 'force' their students to openly declare their voting intentions and why they are doing so. I think we can all agree on that. What comes out of a free-form discussion with anybody willing to declare such is another matter.

For what it is worth, I added some new sections to my syllabi that I spend a few minutes at the beginning of the semester discussing. These are ground rules for how I expect classroom discussions to go:

Discussion Guidelines

1. Right to be heard: We are a diverse group of people with a variety of social, political, and religious viewpoints. All reasonable opinions deserve to be aired in this forum. However, I will insist that we use the “raised hand” standard. In addition, I reserve the right to invoke time limits if one or two people begin to dominate the discussion, or use it for their own personal soapbox. Finally, let us avoid interrupting each other; this type of rude behavior stifles the discussion environment.

2. Right to disagree: There will be numerous occasions where the instructor and students do not agree on discussion topics. Not only is this inevitable, but it is desirable. By hearing diverse opinions we are able to make informed choices.

3. Right to respect: Students should take care that their speech is sensitive to those in the room. Racially offensive, sexist, or derogatory language is in poor taste, and does not belong in the classroom.

I think that instructors need to set out reasonable and consistent ground rules about their expectations regarding classroom discussions, and stick to them. If students know what the standards are, they are more likely to recognize to self-filter.

http://historymike.blogspot.com/

I'll use my academic background as a counterpoint. 8 years (BS & MEd, not all concurrent), 3 presidential elections, that's probably around 45-50 or so different profs over that time, not one case of browbeating, coercion, "democratic agenda" propaganda, etc. Spirited discussions on occasion, for sure. I'm sure that abuses occur, crossings of lines, but I would not presume that it is a "liberal" flaw, but a flaw in teaching pedagogy. And I'd be surprised if it really happens all that often.

a) I'm confused as to what you are referring to in the last parg by "you (you general, or you republicans, or you democrats" and "win"? Could you clarify? And when a young college student says their professor was, "trashing McCain and Trumping up Obama" - I wonder what that actually means?

b) Why SHOULDN'T politics be discussed in classes other than polisci? I would argue that in the right context it is important to do so. Our elected officials are key agents in enacting policy that affect every discipline. Coming from a science background, legislative and executive views have a major impact on funding streams for research, resulting in major shifts in priorities for researchers in every scientific discipline. Knowing Bush/Cheney scientific viewpoints, and those of their primary supporters, sure as heck presaged their splitting with the scientific community on a number of important issues. Be great fuel for conversation.

c) Mike, thanks for your ideas on fruitful discussion guidelines. Great framework!

I'm confused as to what you are referring to in the last parg by "you (you general, or you republicans, or you democrats" and "win"? Could you clarify?

Perhaps "win" was the wrong term...Now that I think about it, perhaps I should not have made that closing point at all--it suggests that those students are influenced by the political ramblings of their teachers, and are absorbant sponges, rather than free-thinkers.

When I said it is hard to feel like "you" can "win," I meant that I am frustrated by the unethical tactics "we" McCain supporters are up against (ie: ACORN, registering the uninformed and indifferent homeless to vote). Using the classroom as a political pulpit--especially when some students are singled out for not sharing the teacher's beleifs--is not ethical, and seems to be yet another underhanded means of winning an election.

And when a young college student says their professor was, "trashing McCain and Trumping up Obama" - I wonder what that actually means?
Well, I asked that student today to further explain. She told me that the prof. made a point of "slamming" everything students said when explaining why they supported McCain in what this Obama-supporter explained "went about it the wrong way." She said that the teacher "went on and on" about how Obama had better ideas, could solve the financial crisis, etc...

And on point b). Well, sure. EVERYTHING is political, so it is possible, and sometimes necessary, to discuss the construction of political ideals and their relationship to topics important to a field or topic of study. I was not saying that politics don't belong in the classroom...as long as they relate to the topic of study AND the conversation is open and inviting in an environment like HistoryMike presents. This way, students are not only encouraged to share their ideas freely and without fear, but they can hear those of others in an open dialogue. These are the environments where students learn and where hearts and minds turn.

Thanks for taking time to clarify your thoughts. I found that I wanted to automatically go into rebuttal mode, but realized I wanted to make sure I was understanding what you were saying. And find I totally agree with what you're saying. It's all about appropriateness and true dialogue vs pulpit, not party affiliation per se (which was my first read).

Although, I do have to pick on one point you made. Trying to register "uninformed and/or indifferent homeless" shouldn't be seen as a political trick (although it will probably benefit democrats more, but probably not much if at all really, on election day). If you are an American citizen, you have the right to vote, to have a say in your governance. Encouraging participation of ALL should be encouraged, not just the knowledgeable or elite. In fact, I'd say many "informed" american citizens, if you sat down with them and asked 'em to spell out the differences between the two candidates wouldn't be able to delve past 5 talking points per candidate.

Again - thanks for clarifying!

Agreed..I have no problem with registering and encouraging homeless people, like Michelle Ross who is featured in the Toledo Free Press story. Allowing only those already in power the right to vote makes for a dangerous world, indeed.

However, I am concerned about many of the long-time Toledo homeless that many people would recognize--like the guy who lives downtown who wears camoflauge. He charged my car as I was waiting at a stoplight a couple of years ago and pounded my car with a brick. I'd be pretty ticked if I knew he canceled out my vote. I have spoken with several others who have mental challenges. I don''t think people should be voting if they are mentally incapacitated. Who determines this? OK, tough question...

And please don't assume, like some of my liberal co-workers mistakenly did, that I do not feel it is my duty to aid people in dire straits...I not only contribute financially to area shelters, but I volunteer my time for one, and to similar Catholic charities...my kids do, as well.

"You did use the word "unethical" when describing your peers. Usually these descriptions only make sense in relation to something else. In this regard, it could be said you were comparing your teaching to your peers."

True, but I wasn't saying I am a better teacher--just a better person!
(tee hee hee)

A democracy is meaningless without an educated voter base. How do you suppose you get that education? By sitting at home and listening to Fox News? By shouting "Yeah, I agree!" at beer with your friends who have all fallen into the same rut that you have? Or maybe by having ideas challenged and questioned by outsiders? If you can have the flaws in your reasoning pointed out, you can fix them and become better than you were--and you can do the same for someone else. Why not thank those who challenge you?

"How their other three or four profs all spend class time discussing their personal feelings and thoughts about the candidates; how one professor forced students to declare whom they were voting for publicly in the class and why, then slammed the reasons given by any McCain supporters..."

Slammed an argument? In college? Really? Geez, perhaps you're used to fuzzy "yes, that's a valid point, good job" every time you open your mouth, but the whole point of college is to learn to think critically. That means slamming reasons. Try to figure out why an argument breaks down--both your own and the other person's! Learn something, for crying out loud!

"Hard to feel like you can "win" when the other side sees nothing unethical about using their math and nursing classes to spew their rhetoric to a captive audience that has been socialized to admire and believe teachers"

If you're a Republican and see nothing unethical about your party, you really need to have your eyes opened. Are you unaware of torture, of the suspension of habeas corpus, of unprecedented environmental terrorism, of ignoring science in order to push an ideological position that has been proven to be wrong, of suppressing votes and tampering with voting machines, of teaching blind obedience to authority rather than teaching people to challenge ideas, of destroying the health of the citizens to put more money into the hands of the wealthy, of being proud of ignorance...

If you are on ANY SIDE of an argument and you feel that attacked by someone on another side, you probably have too much ego tied up in "being right" to be willing to consider the issues dispassionately. Please don't vote--you're part of the reason democracy is failing.

Wow--this replies to a topic I thought was long ago put to bed.If you read through the entire thread, you'll see where the discussion led. I clarified and defended my post, which was meant to prompt discussion.

You said:
the whole point of college is to learn to think critically. That means slamming reasons. Try to figure out why an argument breaks down--both your own and the other person's! Learn something, for crying out loud!

Learning to think critically does not entail having your arguments, ideas, and beliefs "slammed." It requires inquiry and analysis, and most importantly, an open mind...a willingness to look at things from other angles, to consider and reconsider complex and even uncomfortable ideas. It is never accomplished by telling a student WHAT they should be thinking. Critical thinking is accomplished by giving students the tools to help them think for themselves and to defend their ideas with reasoning.

You should read more carefully. I never suggested that students should think MY way, nor am I against professors challenging the ideas of an opposing political camp. What I said was that I had a big problem with professors telling students who they should support in an election. That is not a professor's job--certainly not a math or nursing professor's job.

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