Politics and the Professor · 05 June 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage

When the Classroom Becomes the Pulpit

The Yale Free Press--November 2004

Do Yale Professors and TAs Misuse Politics and Religion in the Classroom?

Back in September, the Yale Herald noted, "it should come as no surprise to find that ... mentions of the election-both direct and peripheral, both serious and glib-seem to be creeping into classes all over campus, regardless of subject." The deeply partisan tone of this election season has made many Yalies question the role of political ideology in the classroom.

To determine how these issues affect daily campus life, Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) at Yale took to a table in Woolsey Rotunda during the week of the election to administer an undergraduate survey, gathering 155 responses. SAF at Yale is a newly founded chapter of a national coalition of independent student groups, each working to promote intellectual diversity and protest political and religious indoctrination. SAF takes no stance on any specific political issue, nor does it encourage a "thought police" to monitor political statements in the classroom. Rather, it strongly believes that students ought to be treated with respect by faculty and administrators, regardless of their personal beliefs.

The remainder of this page shows the comments and anecdotes students provided on their surveys. In publishing these results, SAF hopes to foster discussion of the important issues surrounding academic freedom at Yale and make students aware of one another's experiences.

"My teacher came into class the day after the election proclaiming, 'That's it. This is the death of America.' The rest of the class was eager to agree, and twenty minutes of Bush-bashing ensued. At one point, one student asked our teacher whether she should be so vocal, lest any students be conservatives. She then asked us whether any of us were Republicans. Naturally, no one volunteered that information, whereupon our teacher turned to the inquisitive student and said, 'See? No one in here would be stupid enough to vote for Bush.' "

"Last year, my Spanish teacher only presented readings against Bush's trade policy in Latin America. My Economics professor this year mocked Bush. My Spanish teacher also actively silenced people who disagreed with her. I could list many more occasions, but I have to run to class."

"In my German class, the teacher was expressing her political views and said, 'They [people who vote for Bush] are sheep! They're blind sheep!' When someone protested her comment, she said in front of the class, 'How could you vote for him?! He's so scary!' The following assignments were translating German articles that bashed G.W. I've had other experiences in my chem class as well."

"In many cases, I've had professors write on essays that they do not agree with a statement made or the viewpoint of my papers. In terms of analyzing a piece of literature, this may be acceptable. However, I've had this occur when writing on topical issues or opinions. And when asked why I received a certain grade, I've been told, 'I don't agree with your position.' " "In conversational Spanish, the professor constantly insults Bush and his policies. This has no relation to the class content."

"In the lecture, the professor made Christianity out to be something that doesn't make sense believing in."

"A poli sci TA implied that President Bush was single handedly responsible for radical Islamic hatred of the U.S., and then proceeded to mock all of his foreign and domestic policy initiatives."

"Our textbook is pretty blatantly biased toward a socialist role for government in the economy. ... During one class about retrospective voting, the professor began to speak about how voting for Bush would be crazy, and how those who would vote for his policies are completely misguided. He proceeded to ask for a show of hands in the class of who was planning to vote for Bush, and asked each student who raised their hand why they would vote that way."

"My English teacher talked about the upcoming election in relation to Chaucer and Edmund Spenser. The author of a paper introduced political beliefs in that class and was applauded for having shared the same beliefs as the teacher."

"One of my professors has consistently expressed the opinion that 'conservatives want people to die' rather than provide any drug addiction or AIDS treatment. He has also written on an essay I wrote about needle provision that I didn't have a coherent thesis; it's my opinion (prejudiced or not) that he simply didn't agree with. It's a lecture, so there's no chance of discussing his opinions."

"It's not so much that I feel indoctrinated as I feel intimidated. In a small class, English class of 15, current political issues and figures are often discussed, with one side being ridiculed by the prof and students. I am the only one who doesn't share those views, but won't say so."

"This was in a Psychology class…where I suppose everything is subjective. We were definitely compelled to take the view of the professor when anything remotely related to his research came up. His research about depression also seemed to come up in every lecture no matter what it was about. I also had an English class with a female professor who would always be the power feminist in our readings. We definitely did not feel like we were allowed to interpret readings any other way."

"In the first day of section, when going around the room and introducing ourselves, our TA made it clear that he was heavily involved in GESO. Throughout the semester, he made several potshots at my friends who had publicized their views against GESO, and even reported one student to the professor for being 'disruptive' in section, which was an outright lie. He found our writings against GESO and demanded explanations for the 'controversial' material, which was completely irrelevant to the class."

"Consistently reading from Right Wing magazines. Last week we had a discussion about war songs in English, and it quickly fell into a heated argument about the war."

"In all the Political Science classes I have taken (three), the TAs tend to be looking for a specific angle on answering the prompt and that angle is usually in the form of an argument by someone like Huntington on B. Lewis, so it's politically tainted."

"General ridiculing of Bush and his policies that seems to bear no relevance to discussion. Offensive to me even as a Kerry supporter."

"Anthropology professor comparing pre-homo sapien beings to George W. Bush. Chemical engineering professor says-on his weekend plans-he'll be 'celebrating the last week of the Bush presidency.' "

"In a class in which the professor took very conservative viewpoints on all the issues, he was ineffective in providing both sides. It was especially annoying when he said it wasn't a big deal that people don't vote. He makes the statement fully aware that most of those who don't vote are poor, often minorities who are undereducated or don't have time."

"Was talking about Bush's failures in domestic and foreign policy as he saw them and saying Bush policies 'were stupid!' "

"Went to a lecture on HMOs and the lecturer tacitly implied that all those who are interested in health care should vote for Kerry."

"A professor leading a class on population growth made derogatory comments on the Bush administration's stances on birth control, sex ed., etc. Also made fun of and mocked undeveloped nations, sounded patronizing."

"Professor compared murderous rampage to Bush administration tactics. Numerous flippant comments in reference to Kerry flip-flopping or Bush incompetence."

"I was once assigned a Paul Krugman article to read in an intro econ class. It supported rescinding the tax cuts. There was no alternate point of view given and it didn't seem to relate to the class material that well."

"Almost all of my professors or TAs make a comment on how Bush is incapable of holding president status. They ridicule him, a lot. In one instance, a teacher said he should have taken more mid-eastern/public affairs classes here."

"A teacher in a language class tried to convince us that there is one correct way of interpreting a piece-the traditional way, regardless of possible evidence in the text for a contrary interpretation."

"TA discouraged me from expressing a view he didn't espouse." "Professors in Biology were extremely anti-religion and mocked it openly. Pro left-wing jokes/anti-Bush jokes abound."

"A professor of mine gratuitously singled out for ridicule the religious belief that says sodomy is a sin, which I don't agree with anyway, so I wasn't offended. I personally haven't been offended by my professors' liberal views, but others might be."

"One of my Classics professors frequently mocks President Bush and voices support for John Kerry. However, if anyone is offended he or she does not speak up."

"History class section was very leftist and any right-wing issues were considered 'unimportant.' "

"Sometimes, professors and TAs unknowingly ridicule G. Bush."

"My professor mocked the Pope as related to Spenser's Faerie Queene, which makes fun of the Pope."

"Wow! There are probably too many times to count! Lots of Bush mockery, etc."

"My history professor last year hated the Supreme Court and would constantly belittle the institution, going off on tangents all the time."

"Cog Sci often seems very one-sided. Perhaps it is the nature of the material, but I felt that religion was unduly criticized as an uninformed view. Readings seemed very one-sided (not in a religious or political stance), not reflecting the full spectrum of Cog Sci theories."

"Professor spoke pejoratively about feminist interpretation of texts- mocking any who might align themselves with it."

"A few years ago, some of my TAs passed around petitions for GESO for us to sign during section, offending students who may not have been supporters of their cause."

"A professor used an analogy between the murderous Levites of Exodus and the Bush administration. But it was rather insightful despite the bias, and was humorous too, so I didn't particularly mind. Also, some occasional asides by my Latin teacher, but it wasn't that much, and it was while we were still settling down before class."

"Professors/TAs/students often mock the Bush administration in class- made jokes, sigh/shake head/etc.- which doesn't bother me personally but must make those with different views feel uncomfortable."

"Test grading based on giving info given in the reading that was biased."

"A few teachers made jokes or side comments, mostly directed towards political conservatism, assuming the class agrees with their point of view. These comments were not meant to offend anyone, but display ignorance in assuming a politically homogeneous atmosphere."

"President Bush was mocked, but the professor followed his comments with a disclaimer about not discussing politics in the classroom."

"In a few classes, the professor or TA will make sincere remarks or joke about general conservative positions or candidates. None have been vitriolic to the point of offense, just mild annoyance."

"Not direct mocking; just implicit disapproval of a political figure in a joking fashion."

"I'm Group IV so there's not much room for this, but everyone complains about G.W. every once in a while."

"Jokes made about the intellectual capacity of the various candidates." "Making fun of Bush's having gone to Yale and the grades he got, etc. It was funny."

"A professor of the environment spent some class time devoted to reducing emissions through regulation, but did not deal with issues related to market-based trading."

"Directing class in a direction where it looks like Left is better than Right, making fun of Bush."

"They weren't particularly insulting to me but often, there are jibes at the current administration and semi-liberal statements that often change people's views of issues."

"It was an extremely valid five minutes of jokes on national elections (i.e. ridiculing both the Republican Party and Democratic Party). I very much enjoyed it."

"I wasn't offended. A professor subtly invoked the lack of intelligence of President Bush. I agreed with the prof's comment."

"A professor ridiculed Mormons by calling them the religion with 'Joseph what's-his-name.' Various facetious anti-Bush comments."

"On several occasions in the sections of two history classes, the TA or professor held a one-sided view regarding certain issues and was unwilling to hear another view. The one-sided view resulted from extreme feminism. On another occasion, a professor joked about people who took the Bible literally."

"My professors have brought up political or religious views to use as examples. But they usually are not in a mocking or influential (such as ideas or grading) way. The examples used have been relevant." "One or two comments mocking Bush; don't remember specifics. For the most part, my classes have been pretty apolitical."

"I have had minimal experience with professors who gratuitously express political views irrelevant to subject matter. Most of the exposure to politics in the classroom has been highly relevant to material covered- i.e., in a poetry class, comparing the revolutionary inclinations in those of certain political groups today. The occasional distasteful joke still slips by some professors, but rarely in the context of a large lecture."

"All that's happened is a general discussion of issues in my poli sci and English classes. No side was limited, although most expressed a pretty liberal viewpoint."

"Professors often have a slant in the readings they choose. As long as you're aware of it, you can prepare against it."

"None of these things have ever been a problem for me. Maybe it's just because I'm a music student …"

"Fortunately, I haven't had any negative experiences with TAs being overtly political. If anything, they have attempted to curb religious/ political discussion in section and encouraged us to be mindful of other people's opinions."

"To a large degree in all of my classes, my professors have shown a great effort to be as non-partial as possible, and to ensure that their political beliefs do not influence their students."

"Actually, I think my profs and TAs have all been amazingly fair and careful to keep their personal beliefs out of it."

"I am impressed with the effort to be impartial by my professors."

"I haven't seen much of any unfair political discourse in an academic atmosphere."

"None of these things have happened. Open atmosphere; no inappropriate comments."

"As a matter of fact, none of the above applies to me."

"None. I think the teachers try to be impartial as they can and in my opinion raise political issues only in readings any other way."

"In the first day of section, when going around the room and introducing ourselves, our TA made it clear that he was heavily involved in GESO. Throughout the semester, he made several potshots at my friends who had publicized their views against GESO, and even reported one student to the professor for being 'disruptive' in section, which was an outright lie. He found our writings against GESO and demanded explanations for the 'controversial' material, which was completely irrelevant to the class." the context of lectures."

"I have not encountered any offending event."

"I have been pleasantly surprised to notice that all of my teachers have made serious efforts to not 'politicize' the classroom. None of the above things have happened to me as of yet."

"Never experienced or heard of anything remotely related."

"I have never had a serious problem, but I recognize that there is a problem. But what really concerns me is that the Right grossly exaggerates the problem, and that the fight for academic freedom is largely just a fight towards the Right, just like Fox News is not balanced."

"I see nothing wrong with a professor expressing his opinions on political issues, in any possible way available for any citizen- including mockery. Of course, if the line between academic and political fields is smeared-i.e. a professor imposes his opinions on the students while employing the leverage of grading-that is completely inappropriate."

"Although professors must be careful to encourage open discussion, politics and religion have an important place in class."

"Criticism of President Bush has made its way into my English class often; however, everything has been not only relevant, but well considered and carefully presented. At no time did it threaten my academic freedom. I think it is a mistake to blur political pressuring or indoctrination with thoughtful, necessary connections to the world we live in and will affect with our decisions. Politicians should not be exempt from intellectual scrutiny. Given that, you guys should better distinguish between what types of behavior you find problematic, because otherwise your good effort can be misread as anti-intellectual, protectionist, and close-minded."

"I believe limiting the right of professors to freely speak their opinions undermines the purpose of a liberal arts education. Any student unable to distinguish between opinion and fact should not be at an institution like Yale. Censoring professors accomplishes nothing but pushing able, intelligent experts away from the University."

"I believe that anyone who is of college age deserves to make their own decisions, and that 'indoctrination' is one of our greatest evils. However, these students are also mature enough to decide for themselves what is 'indoctrination.' Professors have the right to teach classes as they wish, and they have every right to speak on their opinions during lectures and discussions, and they should possess the faculty to be able to discriminate between them and facts. Give people a little ****ing credit."

"You revealed your bias, fools!"

"This survey represents an unfortunate attempt by SAF to stifle politics on campus. There is nothing wrong with professors and students expressing political views within the bounds of moderation and civility. Everyone here at Yale is an adult and is free to accept or reject ideas presented to them. Only (g) [allowing students' political or religious beliefs to influence grading] is grossly inappropriate; the rest of the items are fine to some extent."

"People have a right to express any views they want and don't try to silence intelligent people from expressing views.