Column: Voting for your major

By Craig Colbrook

I’ve been on this campus for over three years now, and I’ve been reading columns, going to rallies, and listening to speakers for almost as long. But, for the life of me, I still can’t understand the obsession with the political views of our professors.

Now, I know the argument from the other side. Activist professors will force their extremist ideology on young, impressionable students who have neither the forum nor the intellectual capacity to disagree with them. Any dissent will quickly be silenced, and the remaining students will grow up to be activist professors themselves, ready to brainwash a whole new generation.

It is, of course, almost always liberal professors who do the pushing, and almost always conservative students who get oppressed. It’s an interesting idea, and not just because it has been more than 50 years since Orwell wrote “1984.” But isn’t it a little paranoid?

If this is a grand conspiracy, it’s a pretty bad one, seeing as how we already know so much about it. For example, we already know what our professors’ views are. University of Illinois professors vote for democrats? Knock me over with a freakin’ feather. The more formal education you have, the more likely you are to be a liberal. “Voters with post-graduate degrees” is just about the only segment of the population that Kerry won last year. My grandma would tell you this is because anyone with half of a functioning brain would vote for a democrat, but she’d also tell you that remote controls are tools of the devil, so she’s probably not the best source.

More importantly, though, what professors think doesn’t matter. We don’t look to them for our political opinions. Come to think of it, we barely look to them for our opinions on how to pass their classes. Even if many of them are liberal, many of them also teach things like engineering, math, or physics – things where it’s very hard to push any sort of ideology beyond “Mass times velocity equals force.”

My point is, there’s no such thing as the liberal way to design an airplane wing or calculate the volume of a square. There’s no conservative viewpoint on astronomy, aviation, or biology. (Well, OK, there’s the evolution thing, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish that over a period of many thousands of years grew legs and moved onto land.)

As for the other subjects, you just have to trust that your fellow students are smart enough not to take everything at face value. Don’t worry; when someone’s trying to sell us something, we can almost always spot them from a mile away. We are aware that our professors harbor diverse political ideologies. Discovering what those ideologies are is one of our favorite pastimes, right after “Family Guy”-based drinking games.

We keep the professors’ ideologies in mind when they make a political statement. Is a cinema studies professor harping on Michael Moore? OK, we already knew he was Republican. Is some philosophy TA complaining about Bush’s unjust war? Well, come on, she voted for Nader! What does she know? We are more than capable of thinking critically and articulating our own viewpoints.

As for the conservative oppression, that’s a little bit trickier, especially when students get kicked out of class. Obviously, no one should get kicked out of a classroom for political beliefs. But I know more than a couple of loud-mouthed conservatives, and while they’ve said plenty of stupid things in class, they’ve never been kicked out. Also, I’m a pretty loud-mouthed liberal, and while I’ve said plenty of arrogant things, I’ve never been kicked out, either. So it seems like a pretty isolated phenomenon, having to do more with the professor being pompous and throwing a temper tantrum than the professor being liberal. Being an ass, after all, cuts across party lines.

Craig Colbrook is a senior in Communications. His column appears every Friday. He can be reached at [email protected]