Professors talk politics

Ferris professors discuss restrictions on political classroom discussion

How much is too much when it comes to professors discussing their political views?

Today’s news is composed mostly of presidential debates—with candidates such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, how could it not be? Controversial topics like this call into question what Ferris professors are allowed to discuss with their students, both by their own standards as well as the university’s.

“Ferris’s Board of Trustees has created (in the past) an academic freedom policy,” said Ferris history professor Dr. Jana Pisani. “The policy does suggest what while they do have academic freedom, professors are supposed to show various views on a particular topic, which in my mind means that if discussing politics you would be obligated to discuss not just your own view but also the views of other politicians. I like to present various sides of events and issues when I can.”

The academic freedom policy mentioned states that “academic freedom is granted to all full-time and part-time teachers” and that “the right to academic freedom shall include the right to support or oppose political causes and issues outside normal instructional activities.” The policy goes on to explain that teachers are entitled to discuss in essence anything they deem fit in reference to their subjects without restriction.

However, with free speech comes responsibility. Though professors are legally unrestricted in discussing politics in the classroom, they may morally choose otherwise.

“I follow the advice of Enlightenment thinkers in allowing students the freedom to form their own views,” said Ferris humanities professor Robert Quist. “I may discuss candidates or events, but I do not divulge my current political party affiliations. It is not a good teaching environment to press political or hot-topic social issues that are outside the course content. It tends to alienate the students who may disagree.”

Despite the university policy, professors seem to choose not to discuss their affiliations of any kind with their students. Academic freedom provides teachers with a very open playing field for discussion as well as the option to choose their own personal policies.

“I filter myself to a good extent,” said Pisani. “I never tell students my political affiliation nor do I tell them my religious affiliation unless I am asked directly. I believe Ferris’ policy is very fair, and my own policy to allow students to think for themselves on these things makes sense, too.”