In our highly divided climate, it can be hard to escape political opinions. They crop up in work, at family get-togethers, and in social hook-ups. On the internet, there’s no escape.
To what degree political expressions belong in the college classroom has been an ongoing debate for decades. When training young people to enter their adult lives where engaging with people with different opinions, cultures, and methods is an essential life skill, eliminating political discourse altogether is unlikely.
Intelligent.com, an online magazine centered around helping students make informed choices about their college education, has released a series of surveys related to the ways political views manifest in the college classroom. For example, nearly half of students told Intelligent they may leave colleges located in states with abortion bans while 50% students were afraid to express their political opinions in the classroom.
In its latest survey on the topic, Intelligent wanted to know whether students believe the hyper political divisions in the country at the moment are seeping into their academic experience. The vast majority, 72%, say that they are.
According to the survey:
- 85% of students say some professors express their political views in class.
- 45% believe their professors have political agendas, and 72% say their professors influence other students’ political leanings.
- 59% of students fear expressing their political beliefs in class, and 31% have been ridiculed for stating a political view.
PROFESSORS TALKING POLITICS
Intelligent.com surveyed 1,000 U.S. college students between the ages of 18 and 25 during the week of August 19-24. All students were in at least their second year. Of respondents:
- 18% attend a community college, 24% attend a four-year private college, 54% attend a public four-year college, and 4% another type of school.
- 43% identified themselves as Democrats, 21% as Republicans, 28% as non-political, and 9% as other.
Asked if professors talk politics during class, a full 85% of respondents said that they do: 32% said they have a few professors who do, 41% they have some, and 13% say they have many. Two thirds of them say professors occasionally (52%) express their political opinions in class while 15% say their professors frequently express them.
“When students were asked which type of political opinions they have heard professors talk about during class, 77% say they have heard professors espousing liberal opinions and 42% have heard professors express conservative opinions,” Intelligent’s survey report states. “Of the 42% who have had conservative professors, 53% say they have occasionally (40%) or frequently (13%) witnessed or directly experienced these professors expressing racist and/or discriminatory opinions.”
PROFESSORS INFLUENCING STUDENTS’ VIEWS?
By definition, professors are meant to assimilate knowledge to their students. That’s why they’re there. Whether they should or should not use their platform to spread political ideology is another question.
But, according to the survey, most students believe that’s exactly what’s happening.
Nearly three fourths of students (72%) believe that their professors have influenced other students’ political viewpoints, and 45% believe their professors have a political agenda when teaching.
Some 26% believe their own views on political or social issues have changed because of a professor while 49% say a professor’s influence has led to their participation in social activism.
IS POLITICAL DISCOURSE APPROPRIATE IN A COLLEGE CLASSROOM?
Political discussions aren’t inherently a bad thing, particularly in a college setting where young students are learning to interact in an adult world. Political discussions make absolute sense for some classes and majors.
However, the degree and context matters to students.
“Of the 85% of students who say their professors have talked about politics during class, the majority would rather that they didn’t. More than half of this group said that professors discussing politics while teaching makes them somewhat (40%) or very (13%) uncomfortable,” the report states.
DOES COLLEGE RADICALIZE LIBERALS?
If you ask conservative students, it does.
According to Intelligent’s survey, students who identify as conservative somewhat (53%) or strongly (24%) believe that higher education radicalizes liberals, echoing the views of many right-wing politicians.
Further, 79% believe schools should enact policies that prevent professors from expressing political views in class. In fact, 33% of conservative students strongly believe this.
About a third of survey students, 31%, believe they have been ridiculed by professors for their political views in class, regardless of political affiliation, and 22% believe they have suffered tangible consequences for expressing beliefs that differ from their professors.
That includes receiving lower grades, in the students’ opinions.
The full survey report is available here.