Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics

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Truth or Prejudice: When do a professor's in-class comments cross the line into improper advocacy?

INTRODUCTION:

Have you ever had a professor or teacher express his or her personal opinion on a controversial political, religious, or moral issue in class? Was it proper for them to do so?

Some hold that professors and teachers should be free to express their opinions, that it is disingenuous for them to teach “balance” when they believe a particular viewpoint is more convincing, and that doing so deprives students of important information about the topic. Others believe that because of the authoritative role professors play in the classroom, such revelation of personal opinion can intimidate disagreeing students, stifle the exchange of ideas among students, and undermine a central educational aim of helping students develop the skills necessary to intelligently reach their own conclusions on controversial topics.

When do a professor's in-class comments on political, religious, and social issues cross a line into improper advocacy?

 

INSTRUCTOR PREPARATION:

  • Reading of suggested materials below
  • General understanding of the major issues in question:
    • Ways professors can advocate for positions in the classroom
    • Claims by students of liberal or conservative bias shown by professors 
    • Educational goals and effective teaching

 

LIST OF SUGGESTED MATERIALS TO BE READ BEFORE CLASS:

Most of these are short and intended to give the reader an introduction to the problem.

 

 

 

 

 

IN-CLASS ACTIVITIES:

 Watch:

 Do: Ask students to think about and discuss the following questions:

    • In what ways can professors disclose their personal and/or professional opinions in class on controversial political, religious, or moral issues?

 

    • What does it mean to expect professors to teach all views equally?

 

    • Are there some moral, political, or religious issues that can not be taught well from a neutral perspective?

 

  • What has been your personal experience of the way controversial topics were taught in the classroom?
  • Should professors state which views or arguments they personally find most compelling?
  • Does knowing the professor’s opinion make a student feel that she needs to agree with the professor to receive a better grade?
  • Does the nature of the academic institution (e.g. public/private, religious/secular, etc.) make a difference on what opinions professors should or should not express?

 

* For additional ideas on assignments and lesson plan you might develop with this material, visit our suggestions for incorporating lessons ethics into your course page.