And The Jury Is In: Professors Have Little Effect On Students

November 3, 2008, 2:11 pm

Just a day before the election, another piece of scaffolding invented out of whole cloth by conservative liars — I mean, intellectual activists — crashes to the ground: the notion that liberal college professors are indoctrinating their students. So sayeth the New York Times. According to an article in today’s paper about a book just published by the Brookings Institution:

The notion that students are induced to move leftward “is a fantasy,” said Jeremy D. Mayer, another of the book’s authors. When it comes to shaping a young person’s political views, “it is really hard to change the mind of anyone over 15,” said Mr. Mayer, who did extensive research on faculty and students.

“Parents and family are the most important influence,” followed by the news media and peers, he said. “Professors are among the least influential.”

A study of nearly 7,000 students at 38 institutions published in the current PS: Political Science and Politics, the journal of the American Political Science Association, as well as a second study that has been accepted by the journal to run in April 2009, both reach similar conclusions.

A second study, co-authored by conservative researcher, Matthew Woessner, confirms these findings. The bad news from my point of view is Mayer’s view that changing the mind of anyone over fifteen is difficult. So much for the importance of Western civilization — or any kind of civilizing influence — in a college curriculum, something that has been a mainstay of conservative and liberal curricular conflict for several generations now.

Honestly, despite my naturally liberal desire to gloat, I find this all a little difficut to believe, which may mean these researchers are also wrong about me not being a radical ideologue who indoctrinates my students. In truth, the whole conversation is — and always has been — hogwash, intended to divert most of us from the great economic rip-off of America engineered by Republican operatives (oops! liberal cant! keeps slipping out!) Just try teaching Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of A Conservative to an average group of undergraduates. They love it. They don’t love it, however, because he was a conservative, or because he wrote about things that were eternally true, or because Goldwater appeals to the political sensibilities of your average fifteen year-old, but because the ideas are so fearless and it was such a bold attempt to alter the political landscape. Students want to do something that significant too.

And you know what? Students respond approximately the same way to the work of radical left intellectual Angela Davis, who was once fired by Ronald Reagan for being a bad ideological influence in her university classroom. This all leads me to the (unscientific) conclusion that most students are more interested in how to grow up to be significant, unique people who are effective citizens of the world than they are concerned with where to place themselves (or their professors) on an ideological spectrum defined by conservative academics.

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