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Help Us Stop Classroom Politicking By: Evan Coyne Maloney
AcademicBias.com | Friday, October 08, 2004

On college campuses across the country, partisan activists are trying to convince students how to vote. In itself, this shouldn't be surprising; historically, our campuses have hosted political activity of all kinds. Exposing students to vigorous political debate is an integral part of the college experience.

But today, many of the people trying to influence the political views of students are college professors. Outside the classroom, professors have the same rights to free speech as anyone else. But when professors spend class time making partisan political speeches, it is an abuse of their positions. It may be fully within their legal rights to do so, just as it is the right of people in other professions to ignore ethical considerations as long as they're not breaking the law.

Parents and students pay good money for college educations. So do taxpayers, through grants, subsidies and tax breaks for private institutions, and through public financing of state schools. With all these people paying all this money to put students in classrooms, you'd think they have a right to know whether they're getting what they pay for. After all, if you pay for a car, but you instead get only 80% of a car, you'd have a case against the salesman. It's called fraud.

A similar fraud happens on college campuses every day. Professors hijack class time to make unrelated political pronouncements. In certain studies, it's understandable that politics would come up. Obviously, one would expect politics to be discussed in a political science class, and it wouldn't be out of line in a philosophy class, either. When politics relates to the subject matter, professors should be given leeway to use their own views to connect their students to the course material. But is politics appropriate in a math class? What about English? Or physics, biology or engineering?

When I was a freshman at Bucknell University, I had an English professor who often spent twenty minutes or more of each class talking about his political views. (Oddly, he also had an obsession with the TV show Three's Company, which was discussed almost as much as politics.) This was during the first Gulf War, and it was this professor's view that President George (H. W.) Bush was an evil man bent on waging war just to take Iraq's oil. Any student who dared disagree with him was dismissed as an idiot. It was my understanding that my tuition was paying for lectures about literature, not politics. That's what the coursebook said, anyway. Universities should be thankful that they're not subject to truth in labeling laws.

When a student signs up for a class where each session lasts an hour, somebody is paying for that hour. If fifteen minutes of that hour are spent telling the students how great one political candidate is, or how terrible another one is, then whoever is paying for that class is being defrauded of 25% of the money they spent on that class. In any other profession, that would be theft of services. On campus though, it's business as usual.

But maybe not for long.

With the election just over a month away, we expect that many professors will become even more brazen in turning their classes into their personal political soapboxes. And if they do, we will be there fighting for the students who are being cheated out of their educations.

So, how can students help? By logging the amount of time their professors spend making political speeches. We are not targeting professors who teach subjects where politics relates to the subject matter. Again, we don't have a problem with professors having opinions and discussing them when appropriate. But we do want to know about professors who preach politics in classes where it has nothing to do with what's being studied.

If you're a college student, here's what you can do:

  1. When a professor voices his or her political views in class--again, only when it does not pertain to the class itself--write down the amount of time spent on the political discussion.

  2. Also, record the date of the discussion, the name of your professor, the name and course ID of the class, and the name and location (city and state) of your school.

  3. Lastly, and this is very important, you must be able to provide the name of at least one other student who was present at the time and who is willing to corroborate your report.

Once you've done all this, send an e-mail with all the information to:

classtime (AT) academicbias (DOT) com

Based on your reports, we will be visiting a number of schools to see what the administration's official position is on political advertising in class.

I'm sure we'll be accused of running a political witchhunt, but that is not what we're doing. We are respecting the academic freedom of professors by focusing only on those incidents that occur in unrelated classes. We will not act on reports from classes where it is reasonable to expect politics to be part of the discussion. Nor will we act on statements made outside the class. Professors have the right to say whatever they want outside the class.

We put a lot of trust in professors. Their job is to help students learn how to think critically, not to tell students what to think politically. Professors may be employed by the university, but ultimately, they are employed by the people who are paying for their classes. We plan on reminding them of that.

Evan Coyne Maloney is the director of "Brainwashing 101"

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