UMN professors contend with discussions about impeachment in political science classrooms

Professors are weighing how to have balanced discussions on the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

Sarah Mai

Sarah Mai

Jasmine Snow

As classes begin to tackle conversations on impeachment, professors are weighing how best to incorporate current events into lesson plans.

In light of the recent impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump launched by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, political science professors at the University of Minnesota are bracing for the impact these events will have on classroom climate. All students should have a chance to voice their opinion in the classroom, said Paul Goren, chair of the political science department at the University. 

Goren teaches a class on public opinion and polling. He said conservative students may feel uncomfortable giving their input in the more left-leaning environment that upper-level political science classrooms have to offer. 

“[Conservative students] already know they’re kind of outnumbered numerically by their peers in class,” Goren said, “And so you need a strong individual. … People who are numerical minorities often don’t speak up.”

Goren takes a more clinical approach to his discussions, which he said helps keep partisanship out of his classroom.

“We don’t get these passionate debates in class that might be interesting,” Goren said. “I try to focus a little more on kind of the science part more than the politics part. [It’s not] conservative versus liberal or Democrat or Republican. But instead … we learn about whether voters make good decisions or bad decisions or are voters smart or are voters fools.”

Political science professor Christopher Federico, who teaches a class focused on racial attitudes and party identification, tries to create a similar environment despite the more left-leaning environment in his upper-level classrooms. 

“I try … [to] make it as clinical as possible,” he said. “It’s not an exercise in just talking about what I think is right or what anyone else thinks is right politically. It’s a rundown of what empirical research says about what people believe about certain things.”

But Federico sees an opportunity in the impeachment have a relevant conversation on politics and identity with students.

“[The impeachment is] going to be an opportunity,” Federico said. “Party, race, religion and ideology — that’s going to make how we deal with impeachment much more fraught and, perhaps, much more hostile than it was even during Watergate.” 

Michael Minta, a political science professor who teaches classes on congressional politics and advocacy, offers a different approach than Goren and Fedrico. He encourages more opinionated discussions and student input. 

“I let the students know to feel free to articulate their concerns and views but that’s difficult,” Minta said. “I think students, from what I’ve been told in the past … are afraid [of] how they’re going to be viewed by their peers. I’m sure there are people … that are probably Republicans or against the impeachment. … They’re not going to say it in the classroom. No matter how much I tell students it’s OK, … they’re not going to do it.”