In a new piece at the John William Pope Center, writer Robert Weissberg examines the politicized environment in which most professors work and how it affects teaching.

The Limits on “Telling It Like It Is”

In today’s quarrels over politicized instruction, it is always assumed that eschewing ideological bias is pedagogically possible. That is, a professor, regardless of personal ideology, can instruct objectively. Yes, that’s wonderful in principle, but perhaps no longer possible. Some professors are too immersed in the current politicized environment to try to teach objectively, while those who try are likely to be condemned for “telling it like it is.”

When I began teaching government in 1969 at Cornell, bias was not an issue. Professionalism reigned and ideological bias was almost too faint to detect. Decisions regarding course readings reflected the value of their content, their readability and brevity. Balancing was about explicating scholarly debates, such as (in my field) disputes over whether voters choose rationality or not.

As I neared retirement in 2003, matters had changed. Because the professional political science literature had grown indecipherable, I had to rely increasingly on textbooks or, frequently, on textbook excerpts collected into copy-shop-produced course-packs. Ideological biases were by then almost inescapable (though, I suspect, barely noticed by my left-leaning colleagues). In some instances, bias took the form of neglecting aspects of an issue—ignoring the dangers of burgeoning public debt, for example. In most instances, however, ideology mongering was more barefaced.

Publishers encourage this one-sidedness. Regardless of personal views, publishers know that being politically incorrect will kill sales. This is especially true if textbook adoptions are decided by committees. What profit-minded publisher would ever allow an introductory sociology textbook to cite a study suggesting that heterosexual parents outperform gays in raising children? And since those seeking textbook riches know this reality full well, self-censorship is widespread.