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Professorial politics elicit diverse student reactions

By Shane Nelson

April 22, 2003 9:00 p.m.

The mixed support and condemnation that erupted this past week
when 180 professors made their personal opinions on the war widely
known to the public mirrors the wide range of feelings about
whether professors should express their political opinions inside
the classroom.

Some students want to know what is on their instructors’
minds, while others find it inappropriate in a classroom
setting.

Regardless of the sway, the larger concern is how
professors’ opinions affect students in class discussions and
graded papers.

Many students do not see anything wrong with professors bringing
their personal opinions into the classroom.

They say educators are paid to have opinions and that expressing
them in the classroom aids students in critically analyzing the
information presented.

Students are mature enough to filter the different opinions they
are exposed to, especially if they have access to all sides of a
story, said Khanum Shaikh, a first-year women’s studies
graduate student.

As a teaching assistant, Shaikh said she could not imagine a
teacher who would grade a student down for arguing a divergent
opinion in a paper.

“We want students to challenge the teacher’s
opinion, to challenge everything, to think about who is producing
knowledge and why,” she said. “I constantly emphasize
that students don’t get an A for agreeing with me.”

Many students agreed that the professor’s opinion does not
affect what they write in their papers, citing the
professor’s expectation for an objective argument supported
by other readings, not anyone’s opinions.

Additionally, some students say it’s only fair to let
professors express their opinions in class.

“Students can wear whatever they want to class ““
T-shirts with political slogans, etc. ““ yet that professor is
going to teach them regardless,” said Erin Bertiglia, a
fourth-year English student.

But there are other students who say political opinions have no
place in the classroom, because teachers are supposed to teach
proven facts rather than personal opinions.

While Alexander Tsai, a second-year economics student, said he
agreed with his bioterrorism professor who made Saddam Hussein
“out to be a bad guy,” he did not agree with how the
professor went about doing so.

“It was so subjective “¦ as a professor, he should
make his class more neutral and let the students decide for
themselves,” Tsai said.

Mike Ash, a fifth-year molecular cell developmental biology
student, echoed a similar sentiment by relating his experiences in
an introduction to women’s studies class he took his first
year.

Many guys in the class were afraid to voice their opinions
because they contradicted those expressed by the female professor,
Ash said.

Additionally, Ash said his minority status as a conservative in
the primarily liberal class made him feel uncomfortable at every
lecture, and that he would have preferred it if the class were more
objective.

Many students agreed that the nature of a class determines
whether the expression of political opinions in the classroom is
appropriate.

North Campus classes in the social sciences and humanities are
more likely to accommodate professors’ political views than
South Campus classes, because such opinions may better relate to
the course objective.

“If my neuroscience professor starts talking about the
war, it’s totally irrelevant,” said third-year
psychology student Julie Glover.

“But if it relates to the class subject, then it’s a
good thing, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand,” she
added.

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