March 5, 2017

GROSKAUFMANIS | Pursuit of Perspective

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I think the “we all need to talk to people we don’t agree with” conversation has been beaten to death from every angle, but I also think it’s really true, and can be hard to do here at Cornell. I’ve always known that Cornell’s student body and faculty are overwhelmingly liberal, but I only recently took a look at how the composition broke down in numbers. If I’m being honest, I’ve never cared about the political leanings of my professors because I haven’t given it much thought in the first place — most likely because they’ve always been subtle or consistent with my own. If you’ve ever read this column, you know that I’m a pretty liberal person. In my time at Cornell, I’ve found that there’s something comfortable and satisfying about hearing my convictions confirmed in the classroom. On the other hand, I think an argument can be made for the merits of learning from faculty with whom you disagree. For the overwhelmingly liberal population at Cornell, that means conservatives.

I understand that hiring more “conservative” professors isn’t a straightforward initiative, particularly because conservatives in the United States are overwhelmingly white — a group that certainly has not been barred from representation in academia throughout history. But assuming we could hire more conservative professors and professors who are diverse in other respects, why wouldn’t we?

As a student, I feel like I’m missing out on the opportunity to explain my thinking, because I don’t usually have to. In my experience, one of the easiest ways to determine where I stand on an issue or develop the logic behind an argument is to be challenged on it. While at Cornell, I’ve been lucky to learn from some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but none of my major assumptions have been challenged in the classroom in any capacity other than “devil’s advocate.”

The one concession I’ll make in defense of keeping the status quo is that I’ve never had a professor try to teach his or her opinion. For this reason, I don’t see the majority liberal faculty as an urgent issue or an assault on conservative students, but rather just an interesting phenomenon that could be looked into. I’ve been lectured on theories of democracy, the legislative process, mass incarceration and election strategy, but I’ve never learned “Trump bad, Hillary good.” Or anything close to that.

That said, a conservative student might receive the same lectures differently; I have no idea. The fact that I don’t notice the political leanings of my professors is probably a consequence of the fact that I most likely am in line with all of them. In fact, I don’t even know how to compare a liberal professor to a conservative professor because I’m not sure I’ve ever had a conservative professor. And while some may argue that this is irrelevant, I think that’s an oversimplification. In an intro biology class, sure, political leanings don’t matter, but in a class on presidential power, healthcare or global economics, it’s absolutely relevant — or at the very least, interesting.

A friend of mine who transferred to Cornell last year said that two of her economics classes — which covered relatively similar material — were taught in different ways, because one professor was expressly in favor of free trade and the other was openly critical of it. Both, she said, were legitimate academic perspectives, but the professor’s personal beliefs still framed the material in subtle ways. “I wouldn’t say it impacted the course, because they were pretty standard econ classes, but it impacted the way I used the information outside of class,” she told me. I don’t think the ideological leanings of faculty is something that necessarily needs to be fixed, in part because I don’t even know how this kind of reform could take place. But it’s definitely something that we should recognize, even if just for ourselves.

I believe in liberalism and progressive ideals, but, as a caricature of the Idealistic College Kid, I guess I’m still pretty sold on this whole “bipartisanship” thing. If the thought of adding one or two moderately conservative professors to a department that currently has none seems antagonistic to you, take a look at the ‘ideological pool’ that exists just miles from our upstate blue bubble. Besides, the hiring of conservative faculty wouldn’t mean the imposition of a conservative course load; it would just be an option for those who are curious. We all ultimately have say in what we study and who we learn from.

By the time students reach college — particularly if they’re studying political science —– they’ve developed their political identities. My guess would be that if a bunch of staunch Bernie Bros had a really awesome conservative professor, they wouldn’t all be going out and buy Make America Great Again hats at the end of the semester. On the reverse, I don’t think our liberal professors are “indoctrinating” us (contrary to what The O’Reilly Factor may believe). So why not put those political assumptions to the test? Ask a liberal to explain their logic, for a change, and give their evidence, and practice being the ideological underdog. I’d like to think that I know how to argue my points, but sometimes doing so feels like a monologue.

 

Jacqueline Groskaufmanis is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at jgroskaufmanis@cornellsun.com. The Dissent appears alternate Mondays this semester.

6 thoughts on “GROSKAUFMANIS | Pursuit of Perspective

  1. Why would conservatives come to campus? To get beat up by leftist thugs?

    Did you see what happened in Vermont recently? A female liberal Democrat professor was beat up and landed in the hospital with a neck brace because she was escorting a man (Charles Murray) whose writings make some people very angry – like drawing Mohammed cartoons.

    I’d argue that keeping campuses as far-left as possible has value like having the Soviet Union around had: it shows people what lunacy is and why it needs to be avoided.

    So please, let’s not hire anyone conservatives. Actually, let’s not hire moderates either, and populate campus exclusively with far-left loonies.

  2. Well, there are plenty of conservative students at southern colleges that the author of this article could’ve chose to attend if they wanted to. There are northerners who do that (you can read their reviews, online), then some write about how isolating, lonely, and out of place they feel, because most of their peers are cliquey, are all white, and don’t want to make friends with people from other races or countries.

    Political topics always divide people, but my religious friends in Colorado only cared about the things I had in common with them: a love of playing sports and being a transplant from another state (therefore, knowing what it’s like to be a new student and wanting to make friends). That was nice and fine. However, when my parents and I moved to the south, I couldn’t help but notice the difference between religious people there and out west.

    It’s frustrating when everyone assumes that you attend church, grew up Christian (as though no other religion matters or exists), and Christian church solicitors always bother you with their leaflets. If you don’t, then you’re not accepted into their circle of friends: they might smile or speak politely to you, but they really don’t trust you, just because you haven’t been able to grow up with them through church.

    A few of my teachers at public schools even gave homework relating to “God,” wanting me and my classmates to write about “God,” and religion. Well, my parents had to remind and tell these grown adults who should’ve been educated enough to know better that not everyone attends church or has the same religion, that this is a public school, and that I was brought up atheist, so it was unfair and wrong for them to expect me to write an essay about God or religion when I wasn’t taught any of that, and earn a low grade because of it.

    It’s not fun being laughed at by youth and adults for appearing to be LGBTQA, just because they’re uneducated and assume that everyone should dress and act according to gender stereotypes, and aren’t used to seeing people who are different from what they’re used to.

    It was so bad, I dreamed of living up north, where I would be surrounded by a more variety of people and not be bullied or ignored just because I’m a transplant who wasn’t brought up with conservative southern culture.

    Any time LGBTQA people or activists try to educate or teach youth at schools about LGBTQA people (who exist in the world), reading youths’ stories of pain and struggling with finding friends and having their parents accept them, conservative southern adults and parents complain without attempting to understand or read the LGBTQA books, and demand that the schools and staff people be fired, not be given government funds, etc.

    Heck. It’s so bad that even other Christians are rejected by people with their own faith (read HUQueerPress).

    If any northerners or liberals really are yearning to come down here and experience adversity, you can. Be prepared to find few people who want to be friends with you, be rejected, ignored, complained about, and told to “go back where you came from.” Most people in the south aren’t open to strangers.

    I can’t assimilate to southern culture and forced myself to act like them, just to be accepted.

    • I forgot to add that my relatives and mother were born in different countries, so, naturally, I was brought up to learn about and accept people who were different from me. It hurt and was lonely to discover that not everyone is brought up that way. I enjoy learning about different people; I just don’t like cruel bullies or people who don’t even try to speak to me or get to know me and think it’s okay to laugh at me just because I look or act differently from them, when, yeah, duh, of course I’m a transplant and am not from the south. But what they don’t think about or understand is that I didn’t have any choice in moving there: employers kept downsizing and letting go of my father, so we had no choice to move.

  3. I forgot to add: many southerners own guns and have shot each other over disagreements; there’s also road rage. So, personally, I don’t want to have that happen to me. People are ridiculously angry these days, quick to want to physically attack others.

  4. I don’t think the author is suggesting that she wants Cornell to be Trump-Country U. She’s just saying a university as liberal as Cornell needs a little bit of diversity just to help take down the effects of the echo chamber.

  5. I give you (the author) a lot of credit for noticing that you are swimming in a liberal sea. Very few recognize it, and you have, and you are much more likely to achieve a well-rounded world view, whether it happens at Cornell or elsewhere.

    I might add that it is very difficult for a student to tell whether a professor is “indoctrinating” you. It isn’t always blatant. Just like the New York Times can slant its coverage by choosing not to cover a story, so can a professor slant his teaching by not presenting issues and arguments that go against his world-view. So, for example, you mention being taught about “mass incarceration.” I wonder if it would occur to you (or to your professor) to wonder if “mass incarceration” even makes sense as a concept, given that every individual person who is incarcerated was arrested, charged, and either had a trial or pled guilty. Would a liberal professor truly offer all the counter-arguments to his view of things?

    I had the fantastic experience of team-teaching a university course on environmental awareness with a biologist and an earth science professor. My role was to explain the perspective of economics, business, and government. I learned a lot about science, but I was constantly amazed at how my colleagues knew next to nothing about the economic dimensions of positions they believed in wholeheartedly, based on what they knew about the science. On issues such as recycling, nuclear power, toxic waste, resource scarcity, population, and others, they had opinions they were certain were valid, until they ran into a whole new way to think about those issues.

    In the same way, professors who are ideological wouldn’t even think to present arguments and ideas that would never occur to them, or if they did, would not be given a moment’s consideration.

    The fact that you intuited much of this speaks very highly of your intellectual acumen.

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