Prior to the upcoming election, some professors at Temple have been speaking freely about their political affiliations in the classroom setting. Naturally, this has raised the question of whether this is appropriate.
To me, a big consideration is context. It may be acceptable for the discussion in a class related to politics, but it still remains a very sensitive topic. While some may try to give an unbiased opinion on both candidates, it is very difficult to keep from unintentionally favoring the one that they prefer. The bias may not essentially be a bad thing, since we all have our own political views, but changing the minds of students isn’t part of the role as a professor. Whether it is a politics class or not, this isn’t what the class is for.
If politics is not a common theme in the classroom conversation, then it doesn’t make sense for such a subject to come into play during a lecture. It sidetracks the main issues that are supposed to be taught, and can negatively affect the students’ take on the lesson, the teacher or the class as a whole.
Creating a heated political discussion that doesn’t impact the intended lesson plan may take up a significant amount of the time allotted for the class. During this time in the semester, it is crucial that adequate time is spent talking about the topic on which the class is based, because upcoming midterms and other exams need time for clarification.
“It wastes time because I’m not there to listen to their opinions about politics. I’m there to learn about what the class is actually about,” Cigdem Erkan, a sophomore English major, said.
Furthermore, a teacher has quite a lot of influence on students. Last I checked, professors aren’t hired to be political advocates for either side of the election campaign.
However, some professors see this differently. They believe that speaking about the importance of voting is important to encourage students to vote. Talking about the teacher’s own affiliation is meant to inform their students about the reality of the presidential candidates, and which side would be the better choice for office in the next term.
“I think that professors who don’t do this with students are doing them a disservice,” said Wilbert Jenkins, a professor of history. “It is important for professors to talk to students about their political views to give them a better understanding on which candidate has more to offer.”
While this opinion may have merit, it can still cause problems. Some students are bound to have different views, and an argument can easily develop. This situation can lead to some serious tension.
I saw this before in one of my classes. The teacher endorsed one candidate and lambasted his opponent. It dissolved into a huge argument between him and several of the students. In the end, one student stopped the professor and asked him to just return to the original lesson plan. The student was later reprimanded for speaking out.
Granted, it was a little rude, but the professor’s ongoing argument perpetuated it. I believe that, while the student should have been more respectful, it was necessary to turn the professor’s attention back to the subject at hand. This was especially important at the time, because we were supposed to discuss the upcoming midterm. The professor should have been focusing on that for the benefit of his students.
The election is a very sensitive subject to visit in class. Even if the professor is not trying to impose his or her own opinions on the students, it is difficult to remain unbiased when speaking about both candidates and their policies. Extensive arguments can develop because both sides may be passionate about their own views and refuse to give in. The lecture isn’t an ideal time for these things to come out, as the time should be dedicated to more important things, such as the subject being taught.
Hend Salah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.