Thursday, August 30th, 2012
Over at The Chronicle for Higher Education‘s “The Conversation” blog, Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, takes aim at partisan activity in the college classroom. Four years ago, Wood argued against the practice of some colleges awarding class credit to students who volunteered on a presidential campaign, worrying that “when the distinction between academic study and political activism is lowered, political activism tends to dominate, and real education is thrust aside.”
Now Wood makes the case against professors allowing campaign officials into their classrooms to encourage students to vote and join the campaign–which a professor at Ohio State encouraged his colleagues to do just last week.
A senior English professor invited his colleagues to open their classrooms in the weeks ahead to organizers in the Obama campaign. They would first encourage students to register to vote and then, if the instructors were willing, encourage students to volunteer for the Obama campaign.
But don’t take my word for it. Here is the memo, from Brian McHale, with the subject line “How to turn students into voters”:
I’ve been in touch with a couple of campus organizers for the Obama campaign, who have asked me to pass along to all of you a request for access to your classes in the next few weeks. If you were willing, they would send along a volunteer to make a pitch to your students about registering to vote. This would involve five minutes or less of class time, at the beginning or end of class (whichever you preferred), and the volunteer could make him/herself available after the end of class to sign up students who wanted to register on the spot.
If you were willing, the volunteers could also take a couple of extra minutes to see whether they could interest any of your students in volunteering for the Obama campaign themselves. If you weren’t comfortable with this, however, you’d only need to say so, and the volunteer would limit his/her presentation to voter registration, and leave the recruitment pitch out; it would be your call. […]
Democracy: love it or lost it.[…]
Most states discourage faculty members at public institutions from using their classrooms for partisan political purposes, and I doubt Ohio is an exception. College courses at public universities generally should not be used to troll for votes or campaign volunteers. In any case, Ohio State has its own particular rules (see here) that encourage faculty members to “differentiate carefully between official activities as teachers and personal activities as citizens, and to act accordingly.”
But never mind the rules. The whole idea of professors’ subjecting their students to this sort of cajolery has the fragrance of abuse.
The pressure would be the same regardless of the political affiliation of the candidate. Rousting students for Romney would be as wrong as booking them for Obama. The point is that the college classroom should be reserved for the subjects that the students signed up for, not for the political enthusiasms of their teachers. The student who enrolls in first-year English composition ought to be learning to compose essays, not campaign fliers. […]
Professor McHale closed his memo with the words “Democracy: love it or lose it.” It’s a civic-minded sentiment, but he seems confused. We don’t preserve democracy by undermining the independence and integrity of higher education. Preserving democracy sometimes requires the sterner stuff that it takes to say no to your political pals.
Read the whole thing here.