Political Expression on Campus, Take 2

Today, the Chronicle reports ($) on a new book, Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities, and a new article, “I Think My Professor Is a Democrat: Considering Whether Students Recognize and React to Faculty Politics,” that look at political expression and influence on campus. The article, BTW, is written by April Kelly-Woessner and Matthew Woessner at Elizabethtown College and Penn State-Harrisburg, in my co-writer Tom Grosh’s neck of the woods.

Here’s the Chronicle’s quick take-away from Closed Minds:

The overwhelming majority of professors do call themselves liberal, the authors say, but that doesn’t mean their classrooms are dominated by their political views. The survey found that 95 percent of professors believe they are “honest brokers” among competing views. Sixty-one percent said politics seldom comes up in their classrooms, and only 28 percent said they let students know how they feel about political issues in general.

“To our surprise, we found that, far from being saturated in politics, the universities generally have all but ignored what used to be called civics and civic education,” the authors write. [emphasis added]

The article, meanwhile, found “that students agree that most professors do not specifically state what political party they belong to.” It also finds that students tend to drift toward the Democratic Party while in college, but doesn’t find the drift correlated to professors’ political influence, because the drift seems to happen regardless of which party one’s professors belongs to.

Do you agree that universities are ignoring civic education? And is that a bad thing, or a good thing?

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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  • scholler@gmail.com'
    Seth C. Holler commented on October 17, 2008 Reply

    My answer to that question depends on what is meant by “education.” Since the snippet from the Chronicle refers to political party allegiance, I suppose by “education” the article authors mean the formation of political positions.

    In “Education and Soulcraft” in the latest issue of First Things, Gilbert Meilaender contends that while the academic classroom can be a good place for intellectual formation, it cannot be counted on as reliable site for the formation of the soul, simply because virtue cannot be taught. But he says it more eloquently:

    “[Christians should oppose]…teaching into religion—teaching with the aim of making students adherents of a religious tradition (or, as is at least as often the case, subverting the religious beliefs with which they arrived at college)…. It evinces a desire to produce what is beyond our control and—at a less rarefied level—confuses the professorial role with the parental or pastoral.”

    I think this notion should apply to political instruction as well as moral instruction, since one’s political allegiance hinges largely on one’s moral commitments

    Interestingly, Meilaender’s article paints a very different picture of the modern classroom: “The typical academician today is likely to think that we should be humble about our ability to know the truth but devoted to programmatic attempts to shape and form students’ characters.”

  • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
    Mike commented on October 20, 2008 Reply

    I look forward to reading the essay by Meilaender – it doesn’t appear to be on the FT website yet. Does Meilaender address seminary education in his essay?

  • scholler@gmail.com'
    Seth commented on October 20, 2008 Reply

    Not specifically. But he provides a helpful rubric for evaluating the various ways that classrooms, colleges, and universities can interact with religion. There’s teaching “into” religion (to which I referrred above), teaching “about” religion (which means just what it sound like), and teaching “in” or “within” religion. I think he would classify seminaries and religious institutions as (ideally at least) providing that last kind of religious educ., which he sees as a middle way between proselytizing-education and purely analytical-education.

    By the way, Meilaender’s essay is structured as a review of Stanley Fish’s new book, Save the World on Your Own Time(. The thrust of the review is not very different from Fr. Neuhaus’s brief note on it the Aug/Sept. issue.

  • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
    Micheal Hickerson commented on October 21, 2008 Reply

    Ah – that makes sense. I had not paid enough attention to the preposition “into” in your first comment.

  • tgrosh4@aol.com'
    Tom Grosh commented on November 3, 2008 Reply

    FYI: The Woessners are highlighted in today’s New York Times, see Professors’ Liberalism Contagious? Maybe Not.

  • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
    Micheal Hickerson commented on November 3, 2008 Reply

    Tom, thanks for the link. I appreciated this section:

    K. C. Johnson, a historian at the City University of New York, characterizes the problem as pedagogical, not political. Entire fields of study, from traditional literary analysis to political and military history, are simply not widely taught anymore, Mr. Johnson contended: “Even students who want to learn don’t have the opportunity because there are no specialists on the faculty to take courses from. The conservative critics are inventing a straw man that doesn’t exist and are missing the real problem that does,” he added.

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