- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Professors expressing their political views in class cause discomfort among students who believe otherwise, in some cases stifling open political debate while influencing student perspectives, according to a new survey of students interning on Capitol Hill.

Nearly three-fourths of professors directly state their opinions in the classroom, and the number of students who feel “very comfortable” voicing their political beliefs in discussions drops from 60 percent to 42 percent once they learn their teachers hold different views, said the survey set for release today by the Independent Women’s Forum.

“Obviously, if nothing else, it’s hindering free and open debate,” said Kristen Richardson, IWF’s campus program manager, of the “shocking” findings.

“It’s all fine and good for a professor to have a political opinion, except when it affects a student’s education.”

Bearing the negative brunt of the politically charged classrooms are conservative and moderate students who lean right. Professors viewed as liberal outnumber conservative professors nearly 2 to 1, and 53 percent of survey respondents — including some Democrats — say their professors are more liberal than them, the survey found.

The findings, with a 6 percent margin of error, formally appear today at the IWF’s third annual She Thinks Campus Sex and Dating Conference at Union Station. The 26-question survey was limited to students interning on Capitol Hill, which the forum chose because they represent “the brightest and best” who are most in tune with politics, Ms. Richardson said. The group questioned, with a makeup of students from 41 states, was 41 percent Democrat and 48 percent Republican.

During the war with Iraq, some professors went so far as to offer extra credit to pupils who attended antiwar rallies, Ms. Richardson said.

The result, she said, could prove damaging considering that “in some cases, their academic futures lay in these professor’s hands.”

“That shouldn’t be happening,” she said. “If professors are going to do that, they should encourage their students to challenge them. In a sense, students are just seeing one side of the story.”

Students also responded that they feel intense social pressure from classmates to agree with popular political opinions in discussions, said Ms. Richardson, whose job entails interacting with college students across the nation.

That seemed to be the case when Isabel Mueller, a 21-year-old rising senior at Georgetown, tried to take a pro-life stance during a class about women in the law.

“I couldn’t even open my mouth,” said Miss Mueller, who will speak as one of three intern panelists at today’s forum. “Many students today can’t say anything unpopular without being labeled oppressive.”

Liberal dominance in academia is nothing new. A recent study conducted by the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture found an overwhelming majority of faculty at U.S. colleges and universities lean left. At Cornell University, for instance, the left exceeded the right by a 166-6 margin. Schools including Harvard, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Texas at Austin had comparable ratios.

The University of California, in a move criticized as opening the door to further liberal dominance, also plans to cut parts of its 69-year-old academic freedom policy that protects classrooms from politically biased teaching.

Laura Ferrell, a senior at Dartmouth College who will speak on the forum’s student panel, said she witnessed classroom bias firsthand when a professor in her Spanish literature class veered off topic to show images of civilian causalities in the war against Iraq.

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