Profs. bring personal opinions to class

Students have mixed views on opinion sharing in the classroom.

by Megan Holden

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents policy on academic freedom and responsibility allows instructors to discuss their opinions with their students without fear of repercussions.

Whether professors choose to discuss their views on politics or social issues is, however, entirely up to them.

English professor Maria Damon had no problem telling her class she was a “third generation Massachusetts Democrat.”

“It wasn’t really part of the content of the course on that day,” Damon said. “It really was just playful.”

Some professors, like Damon, say their personal opinions come naturally into class, while others, like Jerry Broeckert, bring them up to “get them thinking.”

Broeckert, a journalism professor, isn’t shy about telling his students which political party he affiliates with.

Openly Republican, Broeckert joked to his students after Obama was re-elected, “I hope you and your kids are ready to pay for the next 200 years.”

Broeckert said he has been known to throw out a lot of “one-liners” about politics in class.

Sophomore Margaret Richardson said she enjoys when her professors state their views in class.

“I like it if I agree with them; it makes it more engaging,” she said, adding that she likes her professors more when their views align with hers.

However, some students feel uncomfortable when their professors have opposing views.

“Most of the time it’s hard to be personable with professors,” said global studies and Spanish and Portuguese senior Samantha Mascari, “so when they state something that I don’t agree with, I’m really not going to try to talk to them or ask them questions after class.”

This is one reason why some professors choose to keep their opinions to themselves.

Political science professor W. Phillips Shively makes it a point not to reveal his own views while teaching.

“The reason I do it,” Shively explained, “is because a professor is unavoidably kind of an authority role in the class.”

Shively said the classroom relationship makes it difficult for him to express his views without feeling like he’s influencing his students.

Child psychology sophomore Colleen Fahey agreed with Shively’s approach.

“It’s important to keep the class neutral,” Fahey said. “It makes every student feel more comfortable.”

Professors said problems rarely arise when a student disagrees with a professor on an issue, but during a clerical workers’ strike at the University in 2007, English professor Paula Rabinowitz found herself at odds with one of her students.

Rabinowitz would not cross picket lines and come onto campus, so she held her classes elsewhere. One of her students refused to meet outside the classroom because he said he was paying to take his class in the school building, Rabinowitz said.

Because of the student, Rabinowitz said she received calls from her dean complaining about her holding class off campus.

The dean asked her to talk to the student, but Rabinowitz refused, saying she had academic freedom and the First Amendment “on her side.”

Damon and Broeckert said they have never had a student confront them about sharing their views.

Broeckert said he would be happy to talk to a student if they felt he was being biased based on his views, but it would not bother him if a student did not respect him because of his opinions.

“Welcome to the real world,” he said.

Damon said she has seen some students who have been “hurtful” with their comments about her on

“Now I just laugh when I read these comments about how I go on and on about politics,” she said. “It’s like, it doesn’t take much if you’re a woman and you have a mouth to be considered out of line somehow. The bar is very low.”

Damon, Broeckert and Shively agreed that when professors do talk about their views in class, it should be made clear that they are expressing opinions and not facts.

“Do it with care,” Shively said. “Just doing it casually can be very insidious.”

“I think that professors should express their political opinions,” said landscape and architecture grad student Dan Stark, “but in the context of ‘this is my opinion’ and be open to discussion about other opinions.”