Working to keep war bias out of the college classroom

Sunday, August 17, 2003

It's a commonly held notion among conservatives: Liberal professors on liberal campuses instill liberal biases into the heads of impressionable young students.

It's a question that has been raised perhaps more frequently since the beginning of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, especially since several Southeast Missouri State University professors can be seen protesting the war each Thursday during weekly vigils on Broadway.

Three professors -- Alan Journet, Bob Polack and Marcus Bond -- are all at the protests most weeks, and all are vehemently against the war. But they all said they try to keep their opinions out of the classroom.

"I made a rule not to mention anything related to the war in class," said Polack, who teaches social work classes. "I teach global social justice as its relates to the global economy. It's kind of hard not to talk about the war, but I didn't. I didn't talk about it all last semester."

Polack said that students have approached him outside the classroom to talk about the war.

"I don't think anything's wrong with that," he said. "I do think you have professors all over campus who have done that and presented their views and biases all the time. But I went overboard not to talk about the war."

Polack felt especially vulnerable, considering that he and his wife are the chief organizers in the weekly protests.

Marcus Bond, who teaches chemistry, said that his field is traditionally conservative because it has been closely allied with industry.

"But I try to avoid talking politics," he said. "It's just the old rule, never talk religion or politics. That way you avoid losing friends or making enemies."

He did note one exception: "For a few months during the 2000 election, I did," he said, laughing.

Journet, who teaches biology, said he tries not to be blatantly partisan.

"I try not to do it that way," said Journet, who considers himself a political independent. "I try to make it a situation where I'm asking the students to do the exploration themselves."

He admitted there is one exercise in which he asks students to evaluate their elected federal officials -- U.S. Congress members and the president -- about their attitudes toward the environment. He gives them Web addresses to look at in helping the students make their determinations.

One of those sites is the League of Conservation Voters.

"Some people will say the places I'm suggesting are Democratic entities like the League," he said. "I would disagree with that judgment. It's a bipartisan organization, they endorse Republicans and Democrats. It just happens these days they don't endorse near as many Republicans."

Polack said these are all principles of a liberal arts education.

"Students are exposed to all kinds of perspectives and views and biases," Polack said. "That leads to critical thinking. They sort out for themselves what they believe."

But wouldn't it be better to avoid the appearance of a bias and avoid protests? Bond said he could never do that.

"I want to be a voice of change," he said. "When the history books are written, I want to make sure I'm not the one that sat on the sidelines."

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