Political Anglings of College Professors Questioned · 10 February 2004

A Tech professor says the political spectrum of faculty is fairly balanced

By Claire Compton--The Collegiate Times, 02/11/04

When does a professor's political view become a political bias?

Students for Academic Freedom, a non-profit group, is rallying students nationwide to combat what they say is a liberal bias in faculty and on campuses of institutions of higher education.

Recently, Republican Colorado legislators introduced the Academic Bill of Rights into the state legislature, a document created by the SAF that outlines what they say are important changes needed to create more politically neutral colleges and universities.

Edd Sewell, a Virginia Tech communication professor and past president of the faculty senate, said he knows professors who ascribe to both ends of the political spectrum and professors who are overly political in class come from both sides.

"I've heard of incidents going both ways," he said.

Sewell said he valued hearing professors' opinions when he himself was a student.

"One of the greatest things for me as an undergraduate was I had teachers who were conservative and teachers who were liberal and I learned from both," he said.

Sara Dogan, the national campus director for SAF, said the organization doesn't demand a greater conservative presence on campuses, but wants to ensure no student or faculty member is adversely affected by a political bias from either side.

"(The Academic Bill of Rights) is an enumeration of the rights we think students and faculty should have," she said. "It's really basic stuff, nothing controversial."

The Academic Bill of Rights wasn't created solely for students - the document also calls for politically unbiased hiring practices in relation to faculty.

"No faculty member will be excluded from tenure or search and hiring committees on the basis of their political or religious beliefs."

Stipulations that would protect students sound like a response to the age-old fear that disagreeing with a professor equals academic suicide in their class.

"Students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs."

Sewell said he realized this was a common but regrettable fear students often have.

"Students are often fearful, and this is unfortunate, that if they express their opinion and the professor doesn't agree, there may be negative consequences," he said.

Sewell said it was important for both professors and students to express their ideas but learn to back up defensive arguments with evidence.

Valerie Szybala, president of Tech's political science club, said any perceived bias is probably a result of the material professors teach, which may lend itself to a liberal slant.

"I would have to say if there is any bias, there's a liberal one," she said.

Dogan said SAF doesn't lobby state legislatures or take legal action on its own, but advocates politicians who support the cause of the Academic Bill of Rights.

"We do support the efforts of Colorado state legislators trying to introduce the Academic Bill of Rights into legislation," she said.

Dogan also expressed enthusiasm for the quick pace at which the organization has grown since its foundation nearly a year ago.

"There are currently 123 campus chapters and (SAF) is very rapidly growing," she said.