It's 'both' sides for UMass poli-sci department
| Amherst, Mass.
The six University of Massachusetts political science professors lunching at the faculty club agreed on a need to present students with "both sides of the question."
But every professor coast to coast seems to know at least one colleague who doesn't agree and who asks "Why should I waste half my time?"
Polical science chairman Glen gordon isn't worried about such ideologues slipping into his 32-strong departments. With the national shortage of teaching slots, universities are in a buyer's market. Professor gordon has one opening, his first in five years, which he will fill in a very deliberate way.
He's not worried about whether or not to add to the minority radical wing of his department -- so a candidate's political stance won't affect the appointment. What matters is that the University of Massachusetts political science department has one woman member, no blacks, and has just lost its congressional specialist.
So a black, female congressional specialist is a shoo-in for the post, whether or not she happens to be a Marxist-feminist.
Yet Professor Gordon does have some strong opinions of his own about a faculty member's political opinions. He believes there is an increasing need for teachers to present a balanced view because today's students seem to be naive, cynical, alienated, and "coming to university knowing that politics is all opinion."
Unless a teachers is careful, warns Professor Gordon, he can reinforce the undergraduate's tendency to believe that there is no room for honesty in politics.
"You want to impart to students the need to see things from other points of view," he says, "but you do not want to leave them thinking that allm points of view are equally valid."
So, hiring some faculty from the left and some from the right to achieve a left-right balance within a department would add to the problem. It would encourage students to think that "anything goes, and nothing's right." Instead, Professor Gordon Explains, "We expect every professor to reach a balance within himself in some way." He stresses that most often the goal is not a left-right balance, but a balance between the various methodological approaches.
Professor William Connolly, the department's leading radical spokesman, disagrees. "American institutions are consistently biased in one direction, and a good university should present powerful arguments which challenge established thought," he argues, adding before any of his colleagues have put down their sandwiches, "but of course that is the minority view here."
Professor George Sulzner insists that undergraduates no longer have a sense of basic democratic values and therefore "if you just critique the system, you reinforce their cynicism." He believes there is a growing need to stress values and that the professor should test his teaching against the question, "Does it promote democracy?"
"Students comes here so ill-prepared that they don't know what you are criticizing," Professor Sulzner says. "But you have to know the mechanics of how a bill becomes law before you can criticize the system."
The professors find they can agree again when the discussion turns to parents' complaints that universities are turning their children into left-wing militants.
"When things go wrong in the United States, it's traditional to blame the educational institutions," Professor Connolly says. "But I've found that when students go home they are trying out extreme views on their parents, to see if they can break the confidence their parents have in [their] views. So parents get a distorted view of what is being taught in universities."