Higher learning institutions are accused of liberal bias about as often as the media, and just as erroneously. Sure, many professors have viewpoints that fall left-of-center, but the notion of vehement, ideological professors proselytizing their students with leftist ideas in the classroom is simply false.
But lo and behold, a study from the Institute for Jewish and Community Research has supposedly legitimized the long-held belief in the campus liberal bias, going one step further by declaring the lack of diversity of ideas harmful to academia. Sounds serious, no?
Hardly. The Institute's definition of liberal bias is preposterous. They claim a college is liberally biased if it exhibits "criticism of many American foreign and domestic policies, propensity to blame America for world problems, a tendency to strongly support international institutions such as the United Nations, strong opposition to American unilateralism, criticism of big business [and] skepticism about capitalism's ability to help address poverty in developing nations."
These criteria sound like a conservative caricature of liberal ideals. Moreover, if Tuesday's election is any indication, plenty of conservatives have their own criticism of American foreign and domestic policies. Perhaps they, too, are liberally biased. According to the Institute, you're liberally biased if you get your news from anywhere other than White House press releases.
In fact, university professors should be encouraged to promote such criticism of American policy. Academia serves as an influential check against bad governance and evaluates politics under a lens that most of us are simply not capable of wielding. Sometimes academicians are the only force left opposing inept decisions in the halls of government. Need anyone be reminded of the weeks and months before the Iraq War when Congress and the media lay prostrate before the executive. Yet there was vigorous debate within academia. If only those professors' views were granted greater consideration at the time.
If we allow for an instant that this supposedly "damaging bias" exists, then we must ask, what is the solution? Should universities recruit professors who preach conservative ideals in the classroom, thereby propagandizing students back to the middle? Obviously not.
The bottom line is that a professor's political slant should not affect his or her teaching. Most professors have ascended to the highest levels of academia by being thoughtful, considering diverse viewpoints and arriving at positions based on rigorous study, not ideology. Even if professors are liberal, it is of no matter so long as their political leanings are given no place in the classroom. They are teachers, not opinions columnists; their job is to provide students with the tools to make their own decisions, not make the decisions for them. Hopkins professors certainly seem to respect that boundary.
Perhaps the Institute for Jewish and Community Research needs to give students a little more credit. We know the difference between even-handed information and preaching. We make our own decisions, and we do so thoughtfully. So if making those decisions requires a critical analysis of American policy and that constitutes left-wing leanings, then maybe we really are liberally biased. And happily so.