Professor bias hurts students and staff
Earlier this week, the article “Do professors lean to the left?” ran on the front page of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. The article mostly concerns itself with an analysis of the standard phenotype of college professors. Among other things, the article asserts that according to recent studies, college professors may be more socio-politically moderate than previously assumed.
At first, this sounds like a fairly positive front-page headline. Logically, the more moderate a professor is, the less slanted and unbalanced his teaching will most likely be. Therefore, a fairer and better learning environment is created for the student.
However, soon after reading the article, the devil’s advocate portion of my brain lit up, and I asked myself: Is there no case to be made in favor of socio-political bias in professors?
In my opinion, there certainly is. As odd as it sounds, it may actually be beneficial to college students for professors to lean one way politically, whether it is to the left or to the right. As an aspiring journalist, it seems to me that the issues concerning the concept of perfect objectivity seem to have some parallels between the realms of media criticism and higher education. Just as in the profession of journalism, objectivity in teaching is something to be stressed and sought after. However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and objectivity is no exception to this adage. When taken to the extreme, perfect objectivity on the behalf of the informer robs all informative output of a contextual frame, therefore rendering the information itself less meaningful and less useful to the informed.
A professor with little or no lean would strike me as a personification of perfect objectivity, or, in other words, a professor whose message would have less meaning than a professor with significant lean. Let me qualify this statement, however, by saying that I do not endorse any sort of actual political bias in any educational environment. Razvan Sibii, a media criticism and media ethics professor in the journalism department of the University of Massachusetts, said on the subject, “I do believe that professors should work hard at not allowing their personal political opinions to influence the way they grade papers or conduct discussions.”
Failing a student or purposefully drowning out ideas based on political affiliation is obviously not only highly unethical but extremely detrimental to students in any educational environment. But a professor with considerable lean is more likely, in my opinion, to give a more meaningful informative message. This is because doing away with the concept of perfect objectivity allows for a less vague frame for students to contextually gather information from.
“I do think that students can benefit form hearing about a professor’s ideological leanings,” says Sibii. “Whenever appropriate, he/she should disclose his/her ideological investments always keeping in mind, however, that the class is not about them, but rather about the students and their reasoning process.”
In college, students should not only be receiving an adequate education, but should be doing so in preparation to actively participate and achieve success in the real world. As our society becomes more and more media-based, one’s interaction with the real world becomes more and more about one’s ability to identify, deconstruct and reconstruct messages directed at oneself regarding the origin, context and significance of said messages. The real world is set apart from the ideal world by the fact that it is filled with slant, bias and subjectivity.
Considering this, it is absolutely necessary for higher education to prepare students to decode and draw meaningful information from the barrage of socio-political media-based messages from countless sources found in the real world. There is no better or more appropriate place to learn these highly abstract and intangible skills than in college. However, to do so, the leanings of college professors must not be suppressed or concealed. Rather, they should be embraced and acknowledged, not only for the sake of the free flow of ideas and information, but so that students gradually learn to extract proper and valuable meaning from said ideas and information.
Obviously, it seems easy at first to construct an argument against having a college professor with considerable political leanings. As the introduction to the Collegian article seems to imply, professors could potentially turn leanings into bias very easily. This would make the professor possibly take on the role of a preacher rather than an educator, using his position as a bully pulpit to convert students to his ideologies instead of teaching them.
However, there is a considerable difference between a professor having substantial lean and exercising bias in the classroom. As was previously stated, punishment or praise towards a student based solely on political affiliations is wrong. Yet it is possible for a professor to express and make students aware of his or her ideologies without actually pushing them on the students. Even if a student could not disagree more with a professor who openly expresses his or her ideologies, that student arguably benefits greatly by learning from the professor about the other side of whatever issue is at hand.
Without formally and appropriately addressing the ideologies of one’s professor in a higher learning environment, a student will never learn to properly dissect and make use of the plethora of informative relationships available to them. In order to prepare for the real world, a place that is filled with information that is fused with slant and opinion, a student should be able to practice disseminating significant meaning from informative messages that arise from real human ideological opinions and viewpoints. Provided this, students will then not only be much more well informed, but will also learn to better construct their own meaningful and informative messages based on their own opinions and ideologies.
If students can approach their professor’s opinions and their leanings with this mindset, it will prove to be supremely advantageous for their learning process.
Dave Coffey is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.