Professors Indoctrinating Students? Not in Our University

A New York Times article reporting on studies that purportedly show that professors' ideological views -- overwhelmingly liberal -- have no or negligible impact on students' opinions has been plastered triumphantly on college bulletin boards across the land.

Conservatives' worries about political indoctrination, according to reporter Patricia Cohen, are "overwrought," indeed "fantasies." The reactionary Don Quixotes have instigated a culture war, going so far as introducing "intellectual diversity" legislation and recruiting volunteers to monitor classrooms. At my community college, the headline, "Professors' Liberalism Contagious? Maybe Not," was circled in red magic marker, as if to suggest that those who still believe that our educational system harms young people might be ready for the meds.

I wonder which of my colleagues posted this article. Was it the one who wears the yin-yang ring, who one day during election season pulled a email blast about Palin's "Troopergate scandal" from the department printer, asking if I had seen this "news" item? Or was it the instructor who posted next to her office door a photo of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, signed by Biden with, "Thanks for your help!"? Or was it the instructor who shows Michael Moore and Al Gore movies as "documentaries"?

I am sure that none of these professors would go so far as to browbeat her charges and tell students whom to vote for. What with camera phones and all, there might be some backwards homeschooled kid who might send the video to Fox News.

In the interests of scholarship, though, the instructor would feel duty-bound to inform her charges about the nefariousness of the Bush administration -- just as "facts" and background, mind you -- along with the long litany of criminal acts and attitudes of the West, particularly the United States. All that she would say in this vein, whether in the context of history or literature, would be backed up by the "factual" support in textbooks.

So when students participate in the "studies" cited in the New York Times article and are asked on a questionnaire whether their teachers attempt to impose their ideology, they will probably say no. Asked whether they are vulnerable to persuasion by professors' political views, today's college student, steeped in self-esteem and flattery about his abilities as a "critical thinker," is, of course, going to say that he came to his political views on his own, on the strength of the evidence before him and the critical powers of his own mind.

And this is the kind of interviewee a student reporter for the University of South Carolina's Daily Trojan will quote for a concluding salvo to a syndicated article about "the results of studies ... [that] refute the belief held by many conservatives that liberal college professors politically indoctrinate their students." Freshman Christopher James's assertion that "kids are way too smart to let themselves be swayed in one direction or the other" adds to the chorus of self-evident truth from desk seats in campuses across the country.