The Real Bias in the Classroom

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A new study — soon to be published in PS: Political Science & Politics — finds that students are the ones with bias, attributing characteristics to their professors based on the students’ perceptions of their faculty members’ politics and how much they differ from their own.

he authors of the study say that it backs the claims of proponents of the Academic Bill of Rights that students think about — and are in some cases concerned about — the politics of their professors. But the authors also say that the study directly refutes the idea that students are being somehow indoctrinated by views that they don’t like. “Students aren’t simply sponges,” says April Kelly-Woessner, part of the husband-and-wife team of political scientists who wrote the study. Further, she adds that the study suggests that not only do students not change their views because of professors, but may even “push back” and judge professors based on politics, not merit.

The study — which will be presented this week at a legislative hearing in Pennsylvania — ends with a strong call for professors to be willing to present ideas that may upset some students. “College is not Club Med. As instructors, we ought not to refine our pedagogy exclusively for the purpose of making students comfortable or improving course evaluations,” write Kelly-Woessner, who teaches at Elizabethtown College, and Matthew Woessner, who teaches at Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg.

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