As the push for standardized education increases, there is concern among students that professors are pushing their own agendas instead of inviting ideas in the classroom.
It is a concern because it contradicts the belief that universities are institutions where students can improve their critical thinking skills through open debate and discussion with peers and professors in a presumably unbiased environment.
Both students and teachers are supposed to have the ability to freely express individual thoughts and feelings on any given subject without fear of oppression or retaliation. This is what the American Association of University Professors calls Academic Freedom.
Adjunct Professor Keith Kelsch said professors have two responsibilities when it comes to inviting ideas in the classroom.
“They have to invite ideas from the student, and they have to invite ideas outside the classroom,” Kelsch said.
He said professors pushing their own agendas is destructive culturally and intellectually and is not in the spirit of a liberal education.
“A really liberal education in a classical sense is a professor who asks questions,” he said “They don’t force feed ideas on the student, they ask them questions — constant questions to get them thinking, so the student has a solid foundation of mindset, so they know what it’s like to think for themselves, stand for themselves [and] have a self-starting, self-nourishing mind.”
Kelsch said students can prepare themselves to be informed and responsible citizens.
It can be difficult to see how asking students questions is different than pushing an agenda when professors ask questions with a specific result in mind.
This is because professors need to present some form of structure in their classes, or they risk going completely off topic and per the definition of Academic Freedom: “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment” (1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, AAUP).
If these words still hold true today, then students like Amber Foster, a sophomore dance major from Bountiful, should not have to be concerned that their professors are going to try and tell them that there is only one way to successfully perform a pirouette — a spinning move in ballet.
She said: “If I have a professor telling me ‘this is the only way that you can do this,’ then I’m going to be like, no I’m smart. I’ve been dancing for 18 years; I think I know what will work on my body versus what worked on you back when you danced 20 years ago.”
The effect of inviting students to openly discuss topics and express their opinions is evident in the experiences they have in those classrooms where debate and individual thought is encouraged by the professor — even at Dixie State University.
Brianne Burt, a freshman business administration major from Layton, relates an experience she had in English class last semester. She said her professor allowed the class to write a research paper based on concepts in their individual fields of study.
“That makes it to where I want to be a part of that essay. I actually want to learn about that essay because it’s going to help me in the future,” Burt said.
The issue at hand may not rest solely on the professors, but instead on the administrators who decide how and what professors can teach or even say on or off campus.
In a Washington Post article titled “Professors Are Losing Their Freedom of Expression,” Howard Gillman and Erwin Chemerinsky outline instances where professors were either fired from their positions or had offers taken away from them because they expressed views that were seen as controversial and not in keeping with a particular university’s own political point of view.
The education received at a university is not for the professor’s advancement, but for the students to become true professionals. By inviting ideas and not pushing individual agendas, professors can ensure that college students will obtain the education they are striving for.