Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Opinion: Faculty should be upfront about their personal political views

Classroom dialogue can benefit from increased transparency of professors’ political views

Opinion: Faculty should be upfront about their personal political views

Politics are omnipresent at AU. The University’s location, the active student body, The Princeton Review’s ranking and a variety of other factors support the conclusion that separating politics from an AU education is impossible. This unique experience of learning in Washington is only enhanced by our affinity for politics.

I believe that this is overwhelmingly positive. If the age group with the lowest voter turnout is college students, then it is essential that we preserve this value and do our part in positively affecting voter participation.

I am a freshman in the School of Public Affairs. SPA is AU’s hub for domestic politics, seamlessly tying its courses to political discussions. Students are encouraged to hold an opinion and defend it with rhetorical skills taught throughout their educational experiences. Issues arise, however, when professors are not transparent about their own views.

In high school, teachers are encouraged or mandated to keep their opinions to themselves, but the same rule does not apply to college professors. I believe that professors should use this academic freedom to enhance their classes by being upfront with their political ideologies. It’s no secret that AU and a multitude of college campuses across the nation are largely liberal, and that this dynamic can create a potentially hostile environment in the classroom.

When students and professors alike make both subtle and overt jabs at the purported invalidity of conservative ideals, it alienates a conservative minority. If you are a student with pro-life views sitting in a class with 40 other students laughing along to a joke the professor made about being pro-life, it can become an isolating and uncomfortable experience.

The environment that exists in SPA classrooms today is negative due to this oversight. It is counterintuitive to have a group of students feeling scared to offer their opinion in class for fear of being attacked by their peers and professors. The only way to combat this is to have everyone be as upfront and tolerant as possible. Professors, with their authoritative positions in the classroom, should lead by example by being clear about their own political views and promote an environment of tolerance in their courses. Professors should support the students with unpopular opinions who have sufficient arguments to back their statements up.

If professors make it clear what their own views are, it eliminates room for politics to influence their classroom in a negative way. Instead of making jokes about the Trump administration, they could offer it as an example and explain why they believe it might have failed in some respects. Ultimately, this transparency concerning political views provides a comfortable way to engage in debate.

To be clear, I don’t think students should be coddled. Debate should be rigorous and challenging across all classes. Still, it is important for students to know that their ideas are valid and respected. No one should have to feel ashamed of their opinions — unless they’re Nazi sympathizers — and the only way to ensure that does not happen is to be transparent.

Political debates at their core are about what’s best for our nation, so even if you can’t agree with what someone believes, you have to agree with this fundamental value. It is essential that we all do our part to ensure that every voice on this campus be heard. 

Riya Kohli is a freshman in the School of Public Affairs and a staff columnist for The Eagle.

This article originally appeared in The Eagle's November 2018 fall print edition

rkohli@theeagleonline.com


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