Don’t buy the hype

Sunday, the American Federation of Teachers released “The ‘Faculty Bias’ Studies: Science or Propaganda?” John B. Lee, an education researcher and consultant, conducted the AFT-commissioned study.

Lee took eight studies that analyze professors’ politics and its effect on the way those professors teach. Those eight studies based their results on professors’ party registration, professors’ responses to surveys or ratings of their syllabi.

The result of most of these studies were that higher education professors are liberal and/or students with conservative views are uncomfortable and sometimes punished. The general conclusion drawn from the studies broken down in the AFT report is that higher education has a “systematic liberal bent,” according to Lee – providing nothing but ammo for those students who are always complaining about how “unfair” a professor is. Additionally, media, Web sites and TV show personalities are presenting these conclusions as fact.

The new study, however, is proving them flawed.

The studies were evaluated by their research methods to determine if the authors were “overgeneralizing based on limited or flawed collection and interpretation of data.” Basically, were those conclusions valid?

AFT says no – kind of.

The first idea that professors are liberal did carry some weight. “Taken together, these studies at best suggest that college faculty members are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans,” Lee wrote. The second idea claiming that students with a conservative ideal were docked, unaccepted or punished did not receive so much support from the AFT study. “These claims, however, are not supported by the research,” he wrote, blaming “methodological flaws.”

We’re not paying tuition to learn a professor’s political or religious view. Sure, professors are people too and are certainly entitled to their own belief system, but the moment it overpowers and overshadows the learning or grading experience, discipline should be enforced. We can only hope the faculty at Kent State abide by these ideals of fairness and freedom of speech. We also hope (and suspect) that Kent State does not promote professors solely on their liberal or conservative viewpoints but because of their professional and academic capabilities.

The first point of this editorial, however, is that it is important that the AFT study was performed at all. It is necessary that professors’ work and teaching methods be evaluated because we are giving so much to receive the education, but performing biased and un-grounded studies (such as those looked at by the AFT study) defeat the whole purpose of conducting a “professor bias” study.

Lee said it best: “Until studies are conducted that provide a more grounded and systematic approach to understanding the subtle relationship between political beliefs and professional academic responsibilities, it is irresponsible to suggest that the conclusions reached in these reports represent a scientifically derived set of facts.”

The second point of this column? Stop complaining about your teachers having a liberal bias. Just because a professor says offhandedly, “I don’t like President Bush,” doesn’t mean he or she is a horrible teacher who doesn’t deserve to be in a college classroom. Same goes if they utter a conservative viewpoint.

If you believe it’s causing a problem, there’s always someone higher up you can discuss that professor with. In fact, the student ombuds office is designed to help with such complaints.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.