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Professor: My Students Can't Handle Opposing Political Views Anymore

3 ¼ min

As a college teacher, I try to listen to all points of view, and I want students to feel they can speak up in class to express their own thoughts, and to challenge anything I say in class. I tell them, “Don’t believe anything I tell you. This is college and you should be thinking for yourselves. If what I say doesn’t seem right to you, speak up and I will strive to give you a respectful hearing.”

Last week, early in the semester, a student abruptly left my classroom. I didn’t think too much about it. (This happens more often than you would think. Often, students will go to the restroom and come back in a few minutes later.) Later, a colleague in the hall who saw the student leaving told me the student was swearing, was visibly agitated, grousing about the politically liberal views of college professors. While evidence supports this, this is the first time to my knowledge that someone has included me in that group.

What caused this student to categorize me as a liberal professor? The topic we were discussing was the federal budget. I mentioned that it was balanced when Bill Clinton left office, and the deficit has grown ever-larger through the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations. I also mentioned that tariff revenue was around 5 percent of total federal tax revenues, and that tariffs were mainly employed as trade barriers rather than as a revenue source, citing President Trump’s tariffs as an example. And, I mentioned President Trump’s request to Congress for funds to build the border wall between the United States and Mexico. When he was campaigning, Trump said the Mexicans would pay for the wall.

I’ll admit that last one about the wall was a bit of a poke at the president, but the growing budget deficits and the tariffs seem like important budgetary issues, and President Trump’s part in them seem reasonable to discuss, because the Republican Party historically has supported balanced budgets and free trade.

I’m not the first one to observe that politics seems to be increasingly polarized these days, and it seems clear to me that the student who abruptly left my classroom characterized me as a liberal professor because of my comments about the president’s policies. Except for the wall comment (was I going too far there?), I didn’t even view them as critical, but just statements of fact. Deficits have been rising throughout the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations, and President Trump was enacting tariffs as trade barriers. Those are facts. Am I blind to my own liberalism?

Look at the Supreme Court appointment processes for Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Seems to me those appointments would have been pretty smooth sailing some years ago; now they have become partisan issues. And in my own state of Florida, the primary winners who will face off in the race for governor in November were the most extreme candidates: Trump supporter Ron deSantis, and Bernie Sanders-endorsed Andrew Gillum. We Floridians will not have a middle-of-the-road governor.

With polarization has come intolerance: people abandon their friends and family when they seem to have the wrong political views. And, I had a student storming out of my classroom, angry at liberal college professors, because I questioned President Trump’s policies. I’m not confessing to being a liberal—not yet, anyway—but at least one of my students has spotted some leftist tendencies in me.

When my class meets again, I don’t plan to moderate my “liberal” views on budget deficits, trade policy, and immigration, but will try to encourage my students to speak up rather than storm out if they question something I’ve said.

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This article was republished with permission from The Independent Institute. 

[Image Credit: Oikonomia1, CC BY-SA 4.0]

Randall G. Holcombe

Randall G. Holcombe

Randall G. Holcombe is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas.

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Mnfraser
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Good lord what a poser! You leave out that GOP refusal to even review Merrick Garland’s nomination arguably hijacked and overturned 200 years of precedent on how these appointments are done. That is not some small detail! Your omission of this context tells me all I need to know about your pretend-liberal status. You are an establishment hack through and through. But hey, if you are a ‘liberal,’ then the gop is all set, isn’t it?
 
 

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Narebman
Easy fella. This article was about students’ refusal to hear opposing viewpoints. The justice nomination thing was incidental.
Michael.B
This article is about the lack of interest of the professor to hear opposing viewpoints. He places ex-catedra his own views in the classroom instead of inviting anybody to eventually oppose them, without fear for retaliation. Since viewpoints are essentially subjective _ look for this in the platonic dialogues - and nothing of what he told could be held else than a very selective representation of reality, he should - if wishing to be a serious teacher - invite to reactions.
Michael.B
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No problem, that you have certain opinions as a professor, but you must than offer space to others to challenge yours. Yours can be shaped too. I do not see for example any sort of logical constraint, that a party, in this case the Republicans, should not abandon the once held position concerning free-trade or balanced budgets, in a moment, when holding to these credos would be directly suicidal both for America, which has ever less to export to the countries to which it once opened its borders and for the republican party, if with every term the democrat party offers an all drinks free party to take over large parts of the voter pool. I am an European and do not see the democrats not in the least as liberals. They are not. They buy segments of population and catter to the billionaires to keep wages low. By any definition is this in our old Europe a fascist party, like Francos Spain or Portugal under Salazar. Not anymore Covid enough to kill people by the millions, but suffieciently in a cognitive reality dissonance, to do anything for power and instinctively against its own population. This is the simplest business modell for any party. As a matter of fact, I am a liberal, was even party member of the German liberals, till they decided to campaign with an antisemitic platform. I can only look with contempt at what is happening in America and with fright, concerning the consequences for us, the Europeans.
 
 

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JustBrowsing
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The discussion would have been better if the professor or instructor better prepared for class. It's easy to list facts in a biased way and omit facts that can fuel opposing viewpoints. What are the main drivers of the budget increases and who is responsible for them? The professor clearly communicated his own bias. What is the student's story? Depending on the administration, the professor will be pulled in to the Dean's office for offensive behavior or the student will be completely ignored. Perhaps, this situation should be discussed in class after all parties agree to make it a teachable moment. Then, a genuine neutral position classroom would approach reality and neutrality would be realized as more than biased perception.
 
 

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Softclocks
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A stab at Trump? How brave of you!
 
 

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