Let’s get one thing out of the way: Most of the faculty of UNC-Chapel Hill are politically liberal.
Some members of the General Assembly and through their appointed representatives — the UNC Board of Governors — seem to believe that it means innocent students’ minds are being filled with liberal doctrine.
A new research study released this week calls BS on that conclusion.
“Like many universities, UNC has a faculty that leans substantially to the left. But for the most part, these views do not manifest themselves in the university’s classrooms in the way that many critics assume. As we discuss in Findings 2 and 3 above, politics is not a regular topic of conversation in most classes, instructors do not regularly offer political opinions, and even when politics comes up, most instructors are perceived—even by students who identify as conservative— as encouraging participation from liberals and conservatives alike.”
I teach writing courses in the journalism school, and I purposely do not discuss politics in my classes. While I have strong feelings about politics, it’s not why I’m there. (I do refer to President Trump, but as it relates to language usage. Specifically, when he says, “Believe me,” he is using a two-word command to be memorable and suspenseful. It’s a writing tool; short, direct sentences have power and credibility.)
Students who follow me on social media know that I’m liberal. (I don’t follow students unless they follow me first.) I don’t normally know the politics of my students, though, unless they tell me.
The research notes that many students come out of Carolina more liberal than when they entered.
“30.8% of students feel they have become more liberal during their college years;
15.9% feel they have become more conservative; and 47.8% feel their ideological
leanings have not changed.”
Twice as many students became more liberal as became more conservative. But before there are any conclusions, there is a huge caveat: “Research shows that major life
transitions likely influence individuals’ political ideologies, and the transition from adolescence to young adulthood might in itself be enough to shift people to the left. Thus, a trend toward liberalization might theoretically be seen not only among UNC students, but also among students who attended conservative institutions or among those who did not attend college at all.”
Carolina does have some issues it needs to address, including that many students don’t feel comfortable expressing their views, particularly conservative students. I’m not on campus that often, and I don’t mingle with random students outside the classroom so I don’t hear many student political discussions. But I can understand the discomfort.
The report has four major recommendations. The most important and effective is the second: “Support faculty by offering suggestions for and training on how to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment in the classroom.”
Every student sits in a classroom, presuming learning from lectures, observation, assignments and behavior of the teacher. If I learned better to “improve (my) ability to model epistemic humility, active listening, honest reflection, intellectual resilience, and constructive dialogue,” I would certainly be a better teacher and example to the students.
And while the report doesn’t mention it, that recommendation also applies to how we teach and listen to people with disabilities.