Just walking into writing, rhetoric and American culture professor Phil Bellfy’s classroom on the first day could raise some eyebrows. “I tell my students on the first day of any class that I teach, that it is my responsibility to piss them off because if they are not challenged, they will not think, and I will not allow my students to walk out of my classroom without the assurance that they will think about everything I say for the rest of the day, maybe even the rest of their life,” Bellfly said. [prof]
Political issues resonate in most classrooms on MSU’s campus and the professor’s ideas of teaching a subject could challenge their students\’ political views or could let them decide for themselves.
The recent controversy on UCLA’s campus, involving a Republican association planning to pay $100 to students, who taped their “radical” professors, sparked the already controversial topic of higher education professors being “too liberal” in the classrooms.
History junior Jeff Wiggins sat patiently in a U.S. Constitutional History course where his professor dedicated the first 15 minutes of class to how Dick Cheney intentionally shot his hunting partner while looking for quail. “He didn’t come out and say that, but that’s basically what the first 15 minutes were about in an hour and 15 minute class,” Wiggins said. “I mean you’re entitled to your political beliefs but to sit there and insinuate that the Vice President actually tried to shoot this guy purposely is ridiculous, and if you believe that you shouldn’t be preaching to a room full of sophomores and juniors.”
Although the professor may not have intentionally tried to push his view upon his students, Wiggins felt he was. Some might view this as being too radical or one-sided for the classroom.
When a student feels threatened by the political views of a professor, one might argue that the professor is stepping over the line. But, since politics can be an emotional issue for many, is it right for professors to express their own political beliefs to college-age students trying to figure out what they believe?
From a college student prospective, Wiggins believes professors should only teach what is in the curriculum of the course. “All the classes [at MSU] are supposed to teach how to interact in certain courses, the facts and what you need to be doing,” he said. “[Students] should take knowledge from the classes and use them to promote [their] views, whether they are liberal or conservative, it doesn’t really matter. This university needs to give the tools, not the views.”
Students think they come to college to learn and that professors should teach their students new ways of looking at all subject matters. Should that apply to political issues? Bellfly thinks so. “Almost all classes should contain all of the strong political views of the teacher, the only exception that I can think of is mathematics- it’s pretty hard to politicize 2+2=4,” Bellfy said. “By bringing politics into the classroom, the experience of the student can only be enhanced, for the simple reason that politics is an inherent component of every subject.”
But, what if the professor’s views are constantly one-sided? Can a professor’s view challenge the student’s idea of what he or she thinks in a way that is good for the learning environment?
International relations junior, Erin Fish, believes the political views of professors are already integrated into their curriculum and those beliefs only enhance the subject matter. “[Their views] are what shape how [the subject] is taught,” she said. “Sometimes the way a curriculum is shaped, it’s impossible not to at least have your political views shape or at least guide discussion. I don’t think professors should get up on the soap box and give their political rant outright, but I think that sometimes it helps provoke discussion.”
[prof2] Being an economics professor and James Madison College Dean, Lisa Cook would disagree with using her own political beliefs to challenge student’s political views in the classroom. Cook doesn’t express her political views in the classroom in order to create a safe place for her students. “I try to make sure that [my political beliefs] don’t [come out], in the sense that I would like to protect the environment in the classroom,” she said. Cook believes there is little room for the discussion of political issues since there is more of a need for math and problem sets in her classes, but when it is appropriate she encourages her students to express their opinions.
Academia is arguably dominated by lefty\’s across the country, but classroom discussions would never be beneficial if they were completely one-sided. Should professors include their political bias into classroom discussions?
Fred Fico, a journalism professor, believes it unnecessary for any professor to express one’s political beliefs unless politics is an important part of the class. “[A professor\’s] job is to do the mission, which is to teach the subject matter, it’s not to take digressions to talk about current events or [their] world views. I teach journalism and what’s important for me to do is to teach students how to cover politics not how to have political opinions themselves or express their own political opinions,” he said.
In his classes, Fico said it is unreasonable to discuss daily political issues. “I can’t see the context for why it would be a valuable use of class time,” he said. “You get a limited amount of time in a class and you really do during that time what gives the students value, and simply people spouting off isn’t likely to use that time well.”
But Fish disagrees. “These [professors] are professionals, and some of them are experts or scholars and know what they’re talking about,” Fish said. “Sometimes one just needs to sort out the bias. It’s just like if you were reading The New York Times vs. The Washington Post, one is at one end of the spectrum and the other at the other.”
On MSU’s campus, professors and students have varying views as to whether professors should express their political views. Our country is simply split on this issue as well. Of course the conservatives, liberals and moderates tend to disagree on many issues; classroom discussion of political issues is just another barrier to climb over.
Mairin MacDonald, a journalism sophomore, said it doesn’t matter whether a professor is conservative, liberal or moderate because their opinions shouldn’t influence what the students learn from their classes. “As a college professor, as a figure of authority in general, you are allowed to have political beliefs, you are allowed to express them, but when you start forcing them is when you need to draw the line,” she said. “Professors are a figure of authority and kids do look up to you and whether or not [professors] recognize it or not. [Students] take into consideration what professors say and their actions do affect them. As a professor you shouldn’t push your political beliefs on anyone else.”
The debate over whether professors are too liberal in the classroom will continue, but hopefully a conservative association on MSU’s campus doesn’t start paying students to sniff out and tape the people who teach us how to survive in the world.
“One of the most troubling trends in so-called higher-ed is the recent, and growing, attempt to silence anyone that the American Taliban thinks is too radical and is trying to brainwash their students into thinking that maybe the world really isn’t flat,” Bellfy said.
Besides, if we\’re already in college we should be able to defend our beliefs while shaping them further – no matter which side we\’re on.

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