Should professors talk politics?
Last week, 60 students and faculty members gathered around the fountain outside of Maher to discuss political and social issues. The discussion covered topics from the immigration ban, indigenous peoples, and the need for democracy. While the discussion was open to the public and all points of view, some students expressed that it marginalized them for their conservative ideologies.
Standing in front of a banner titled “Public Academic Assembly” along the shrubbery, English department chair Abe Stoll and ethnic studies professor May Fu introduced the event, inviting students and faculty to speak on the open mic.
Faculty from the English, ethnic studies, environmental studies, political science, humanities, religious studies, and anthropology departments were present and spoke about a variety of issues surrounding the University of San Diego campus and the nation as a whole.
Two days later at the Associated Students Senate meeting, sophomore Tyler Warren, an AS Senator, spoke about the assembly.
“[The faculty] did it in the wrong way,” Warren said. “They were comparing our current state with Germany in the 1920s.”
Warren did not agree with how the university professionals approached the situation, voicing their opinions in a public forum.
“As a Republican, we’re not all supportive of the President right now,” Warren said. “A lot of people feel that they are being oppressed. I’ve been called a racist by some of my best friends because of my political beliefs.”
Warren voiced the opposing opinion regardng to the a liberal-leaning assembly, showing that there is room for more dialogue on campus. Warren has not responded to requests from the USD Vista to make an additional comment.
Professor Stoll spoke about faculty practicing political action. He asked the assembly if it’s appropriate for faculty to lecture on political issues.
“Right now, there’s stuff going on that’s outside the political norms,” Stoll said. “These include actions against immigrants, women, and the judiciary. If these behaviors keep happening, we have to call them out. We can’t let them become normalized.”
Stoll continued to urge faculty to talk, reflect, and then take action.
“Our actions mean a lot,” Stoll said.
This statement was met with support from the crowd on the day of the assembly. But in response to Warren’s concerns, Stoll stated that he did not think the assembly was unprofessional.
“On the one hand, a real liberal arts education cannot be insulated from politics,” Stoll said. “It’s not only about beauty or past history or what’s under a microscope; real intellectual inquiry will inevitably blend into the complex and living issues of the political moment. So I do not think the Public Academic Assembly was unprofessional. In fact, it would be unprofessional not to have an open mic.”
Stoll continued by recognizing that when politics are discussed, people may disagree with their professors or peers.
“If we do this right, conservative students will be invited into the discussion, and we will all talk politics together,” Stoll said. “But it’s hard to do it right. We should keep trying. I hope at the next open mic we can hear from some conservative voices.”
Stoll also gave advice on how faculty should approach the subject of politics in the classroom.
“I think we should distinguish between what is normal policy, and what are outside of those norms,” Stoll said. “Normal policy issues are things like whether to cut taxes on the rich, or what to do about healthcare. I do not think faculty should stand at a lectern and tell students what to think about those sorts of things.”
Sociology professor Thomas Reifer echoed Stoll’s comments.
“The central value of a democratic society is the freedom of discussion and debate,” Reifer said. “Professors talking on their own time is totally allowed. A lot of people who spoke [at the academic assembly] didn’t take a position but took a position about the importance of democracy.”
In his classroom, Reifer encourages his students to speak their own viewpoints.
“I think you want to create a situation where students feel comfortable sharing views and disagreeing with their professors,” Reifer said. “The faculty is responsible for presenting facts, which is different than taking an official point of view. We need more vigorous presentations of points of view in respectful ways.”