Professors’ political opinions: helpful or hurtful?
By THEODOSIUS ZOTOS
Moderation is the key to everything. Having a conscious filter regarding your words and their implications is important, especially for educators. Professors have the academic freedom to voice their beliefs in class, including political ideologies, but at the same time these expressed opinions should be self-monitored and used only to enhance classroom learning. Professors should not take advantage of the influence that comes with their profession and should not utilize their platform to influence students to take a certain political position. Of course, determining the right amount of political expression in a classroom can be arbitrary and there is no set value on what should be allowed.
As a sophomore political science major, I am consistently engaging in political discussions in and outside the classroom setting. After taking four semesters worth of classes at UMW, I now understand how much a professor can influence your beliefs and shape your views. I also understand how discouraging it can be when you do not share the same beliefs as a professor or when you do not agree with the direction of a classroom discussion. No one wants to express an opinion in a classroom when there is no one else to agree — it can be uncomfortable and sometimes frightening. Although I have only experienced this a few times, other students have voiced this same concern to me on numerous occasions.
Economics professor Steve Greenlaw shared his view on the topic and said, “I have long thought that if I told students what I thought on political issues then that would prevent them from thinking through things on their own, so I have tried to avoid that. Although the past election has pushed me outside this norm at times, I do think it’s important to appropriately relate any discourse to what is being taught in class.”
Since the recent presidential election, political tensions are at an all-time high. There is so much opposition between parties and even within them. The political discourse over the past couple months has been characterized by name-calling, contentious congressional meetings, and insufficient bipartisan cooperation. As a product of this election cycle, the intense emotions and beliefs have infiltrated classroom discussions and course material. Addressing current issues and how the government is functioning is more important than ever, especially within political science and international affairs classes, but there is a fine line as to what should be said and what should not.
As I touched on before, professors should involve students in engaging class discussions and work to the best of their abilities to avoid any discouragement. It is important for professors to facilitate difficult conversations in class but the comfort of students should always be a top priority. College students’ opinions are constantly being discouraged by other students as a consequence of learning in such a large interactive social environment, but a potential problem is developed when professors are complicit in the situation.
“I believe that it is not appropriate for professors to impose their political views on their students. We are supposed to make you think – not conform to our views,” said Surupa Gupta, associate professor of the political science department. “It is also important for us to create a space in our classrooms where all students can participate in discussions without feeling the need to agree. Are we 100 percent successful at hiding our political views? Probably not.”
I don’t want to discourage professors from voicing their opinions and exercising their freedoms but rather to remind them to be mindful of their influence. Professors at UMW impact students in immeasurable ways. I have learned so much from them since I was a freshman and their insights on the world have made me a better person, but as cliché as it sounds: with great power does come great responsibility.