California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

    Professors, Voice Opinions with Caution

    Everyone has an opinion, and professors are no exception. Outside of their professional capacities, professors should express these opinions as they wish. Although recently it feels like everything’s become politicized, I believe professors should minimize their own political biases in the classroom so as to foster a dynamic and diverse learning environment for their students.

    It’s true that there’s no such thing as an unbiased human. We all see the world through a certain lens, and inevitably a professor’s lens will affect their teaching.

    “I don’t think any information that you are presenting in class can be completely neutral, because even from the get-go what you have students read, what you choose to cover in your classes is a product of whatever the professor thinks is important or valuable,” said Haco Hoang, a political science professor at California Lutheran University.

    However, just because some level of bias is unavoidable doesn’t mean that professors can’t strive to present their material objectively. Journalists may have their own thoughts on a story, but when it comes to the news, the goal is to give the public the facts they need to make their own judgments.

    Professors, like journalists, should present hard facts alongside diverse commentary. These tools, along with moderating discussions where students can test out their own perspectives, allow students to make their own informed decisions.

    While Hoang says that she doesn’t feel the need to tell students what she thinks, she believes we should be less concerned about bias and more with fostering “truly informed discourse.”

    However, the two go hand in hand. When faculty share their own opinions, they risk isolating students and shutting out viewpoints that could have enriched everyone’s understanding. Paula McAvoy, who co-authored a book on politics in the classroom, said in an interview with NPR that teachers can create “a kind of insider/outsider feeling” when they are too overt with their own views.

    Fears regarding academic freedom and censorship often surround conversations about professor’s political views. Cal Lutheran endorses the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom of the American Association of University Professors according.

    “We’re always kind of navigating this delicate space between freedom and responsibility,” Associate Dean of Students and Faculty Affairs Sam Thomas said.

    The policy permits faculty to teach as they see fit when “speaking to areas that lie within their professional confidence,” Thomas said. It does not ban professors from using any specific language, or from displaying their viewpoints through memorabilia or clothing.

    “Faculty are free to do those things. Whether that’s in the best interest of the learning environment for their students is a question that faculty members should always consider,” Thomas said.

    While professors should maintain the legal right to express political views on campus, to recommend that they keep bias to a minimum is not a call for censorship or for politically “safe spaces” where students don’t have to encounter controversial material. Rather, letting students have opinionated discussions without feeling judged or like their professor has already provided them with the “correct” answer raises the chances of encountering diversity.

    A final challenge in keeping bias out of the classroom is the question of what counts as political.

    “So many issues now that we didn’t think were political have become politicized,” Hoang said.

    One distinction that Hess made when speaking with NPR is the difference between settled and open issues. Professors can state that climate change is real because that has been settled by scientific data. However, a professor should not say, for example, “We should address climate change by immediately banning all fossil fuels.” The professor should present students with the data and the arguments for how to address climate change and allow them to decide for themselves what should be done.

    There is certainly a gray area surrounding which issues are settled versus open. When it comes to these issues, faculty should always come back to the question of what information they need to provide students with for them to seek the truth for themselves.

    There is never going to be a firm line of what professors can and cannot say on campus. But in politically chaotic times, professors should remember that their role is not to preach but to instruct, not to avoid controversy but to create a place to discuss issues civilly, and not to pass their perspectives onto students but to allow them to form their own.

    As Hoang puts it, “I don’t care what you think, I just care that you think.”

    Ellie Long