Masked Marxism? The effects of political affiliation of professors on campus (Gurr)

By By Kathleen Gurr

By Kathleen Gurr

Sounding the alarm about alleged liberal bias on college campuses is a longstanding right wing strategy, creating an atmosphere of paranoia, fear and mistrust a la Joe McCarthy. Let’s talk about tolerance.

Every classroom should encourage learning, spark debate and promote discussion. To facilitate dialogue, instructors should be well-informed and open-minded, accepting different points of view and conducting classroom discussions that not only allow conflicting arguments but also encourage them. Articulating many sides of an issue helps clarify each point of view and forces advocates to think through their positions more thoroughly.

For good discussion to occur, professors should come from all walks of life. Diversity of thought is key, and colleges around the country constantly recruit professors with different backgrounds and ideologies. In any field, professionals tend to veer left a little, and professors are no different. This so-called “liberal bias” is hardly the terrifying threat right-wingers claim it is-if anything, more liberals on campus is a good thing.

Conservatives toss around rhetoric like “left” and “liberal” as though they are evil, radical terms, akin to Marxism. They argue that to be liberal is to be pro-communism and against everything American (democracy, baseball, apple pie). A closer look reveals that often, left-of-center leanings are noticeably accepting.

The Web site www.dictionary.com defines liberal as “favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behaviors of others.” Synonyms include “broad-minded” and “free thinking”-commendable qualities in anybody, but especially appropriate (even essential) for meaningful discussion in the college classroom.

Neither right nor left extremes of the political spectrum deserve to dominate higher education. Conservative whistle blowers offer heated rhetoric about Marxist teachers and ignore that only 2 percent of professors nationwide consider themselves “far left” or “far right.”

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, more than one-third of American college professors identify themselves as “moderate.” This number conflicts with exaggerations about left wing professors dominating discussion. In fact, this statistic reflects the American public, many professors identify with neither extreme and have chosen the middle of the road. To say otherwise is deliberately misleading.

Freedom of political thought continues in the academic world as students examine different positions and form their own ideologies. In higher education, the classroom setting becomes a unique forum for dialogue. Professors who articulate distinct points of view spark passionate discussion-young people learn to think for themselves.

Most professors have spent decades studying and working in their fields. Consequently, they naturally form opinions in their areas of expertise. To argue that they are unfit teachers because they hold opinions with which conservatives disagree is ridiculous.

Conservative concerns about liberal professors come close to hysteria-a frenzy of fiery rhetoric with little factual basis. They make it sound like being liberal is unreasonable and dangerous. Truth be told, to be “progressive” is to move forward, and that is the point of education.

Academia has long had slightly liberal leanings without calamity. In fact, with the presidency and both houses of Congress in GOP hands, the alleged liberal indoctrination of every American in college hasn’t exactly stifled national conservative thought into oblivion. College Democrats and College Republicans alike are flourishing on campuses nationwide.

And how about a little academic freedom? Within reason, a professor has a right to teach as he or she sees fit, and to argue otherwise is an unashamed flashback to the iniquities of McCarthyism.

If conservatives are worried about diversity of thought in higher education, perhaps the ironic answer is something they publicize as evil: affirmative action. The so called “liberal bias” encourages tolerance, but if acceptance strikes some as abominable, perhaps they’d like schools to stop hiring professors based on experience or education and start hiring based on political leanings: promote diversity at the expense of quality.

Most professors, whether politically identified as right or left, are relatively moderate. The alleged “liberal bias” is exaggerated and the claims of its harms are misguided.

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