Everyone’s had a professor they know to be extremely liberal or conservative. Some professors simply wear their political beliefs on their sleeves without even knowing it. Usually their political views don’t make their way into the classroom. However, if it happens, it should be done in such a way that would not be construed as an attempt at the political indoctrination of the students in the class. Of course, sometimes those political biases inappropriately make their way into the classroom, as has recently occurred at my school, California University of Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.
I’m a public relations student at Cal U and am attending with the ultimate goal of working in the motor sports industry after I graduate. Like other majors, there are a number of required courses for PR majors to complete in order to graduate. Included in the lineup of required courses for PR students is one called PR Cases and Problems, which I enrolled in this semester. It meets once a week on Wednesday nights with Dr. Dencil Backus.
While the first class seemed fair enough--Dr. Backus seemed to be one of those professors that would make us work hard--he made a few comments in class that simply oozed with hate for those on the Right, the military, and “big business.” As long as these comments didn’t seep into the course work, I just chose to treat them with a grain of salt. But in subsequent classes, the professor’s political views have seeped into the course work in a manner that I feel is inappropriate.
The second class saw the State of the Union address become a topic of discussion, with Dr. Backus going off on a tangent about how much he despised President Bush and how he was “the biggest liar we’ve ever had as a president.” Dr. Backus then proceeded to say how Bush lied about the war on terror, everything in Iraq, and other things that I’m sure I probably missed. I spoke up and disagreed, telling him I would bring evidence to support my arguments. I thought no more of it except to print out my stack of stuff and bring it to him the next class.
During the third class we discussed our assignments and assorted other coursework. But as class was winding up, Dr. Backus distributed a two-page email he had received concerning the far Left group MoveOn.org’s political commercial contest and their issues with CBS, which couldn’t run the contest winner during the Super Bowl because MoveOn.org missed CBS’ deadline for purchasing airtime. After distributing the e-mail to the class, Dr. Backus asked if anyone knew was familiar with the situation. I was the only one.
Dr. Backus also asked if anyone had seen the commercial and, again, I was the only one. I mentioned that I thought the commercial was silly and why I felt that way. The professor and I debated the commercial’s merits, or lack thereof, only when he insisted I say what was on my mind.
After our exchange on the subject, Dr. Backus told the class that our new assignment was to design a campaign around MoveOn.org’s commercial and how the organization might be able to convince CBS (and probably anyone else) to air its message. I told Dr. Backus that since I was not a supporter of MoveOn.org’s agenda, I instead wanted to design a campaign that was anti-MoveOn.org, one that was more in step with my beliefs. Dr. Backus refused, saying words to the effect of "Well, guess what, you just failed."
He then seemed to briefly consider canceling the assignment, but decided to proceed with it over my objections and continued to refuse to allow me to turn in the assignment as I saw fit to complete it. He then explained the assignment again, dismissed the class, and asked to speak with me following class. Now, during the entire course of study in the PR field at this university, it is branded onto your brain that if you don’t agree or have a moral conflict with an assignment in the “real world,” that you’ve got a few options that include quitting, asking to be reassigned, doing the work, or simply being fired.
During the course of our after-class conversation, Dr. Backus stated that he didn’t want everything in the class becoming a clash of ideas culminating in an incident like the one we’d just had. I agreed. He then went on to say that it’s “real damned easy” to speak up against a job in college, but not when it affects the food on the table and a family in the “real world.” I said that yes, he was right, but just because it was harder doesn’t mean I haven’t done it before. I’ve left various jobs, volunteer groups, etc. because of things that were going on that seriously conflicted with my values and what I believed was right. He had no response for that except, “Well, it’s real damned easy here. Real damned easy.”
I personally feel that my proposal isn't a very hard one to accept. It’s the same assignment, just coming from the opposite side of the fence. I’ve interpreted his response(s) to my suggestion as one that says I will have to live with him pushing only his political agenda. Dr. Backus mentioned that he doesn't want every class to become something where there's a commotion over content, but I have a feeling it will become so because this professor is pretty open about his agenda. His office door is plastered w/ Anti-Bush bumper stickers and the like, which in itself is fine because it's his office and he can say what he wants there. However, when he begins bringing that agenda into the classroom, I have a huge problem with it.
Approximately three months of this class remain before the semester is over. The said assignment is going to be handed in – from the opposite side of the fence – approximately two hours after this article is penned. Whether Dr. Backus will choose to allow and accept such an assignment, or impose only his political worldview on the class has yet to be seen. However, if he’s like many other liberals in the World of Academia, I have a feeling that this incident is far from over. Only time will tell.