The Corner

Education

The Scholarship/Activism Balance — A Rejoinder

Former University of Missouri professor Melissa Click. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Martin Center recently published an article by sociology professor Fabio Rojas, in which he argued that professors should maintain the right balance between their teaching and scholarship on the one hand, and activism on the other. In today’s article, the Center’s Jay Schalin pushes back somewhat.

Schalin writes,

Rojas attempts to finesse the stricture against teaching opinions by saying that it is acceptable if the professor explicitly declares that he or she is doing so, rather than providing research-based information. At first glance, this may seem to be a reasonable solution. Yet it brings a whole host of problems. For one, it can be used by the professor to subtly signal his or her preferences to the class (or can be taken by students that way regardless of the professor’s intent). It also enables the teacher to express his or her preferred opinions without providing alternate valid perspectives. And doing so repeatedly can cloud the difference between information and opinion.

I think that’s right. Many professors take advantage of their positions by loading the dice in favor of their own opinions. Few students will dare question them; most will just absorb whatever the prof tells them. If the prof says, “It’s my opinion that raising the minimum wage does not cause unemployment and those who use that argument are against helping the poor,” that idea is going to stick in the heads of numerous students.

Shouldn’t we trust profs to strike the right balance? Schalin doesn’t think so, writing, “Rojas, in defining his ‘scholarship-first, activist-second’ paradigm, suggests that a professor should exercise ‘moderation, self-restraint, and professionalism’ concerning classroom activism. Unfortunately, this admonition is too vague to provide much guidance.” Yes, and that invites the zealots who have invaded so many academic departments to push the boundaries.

Schalin concludes,

It is unfair to taxpayers to have their money taken from them so that activist faculty can promote activism against their interests. Just as it is unfair that students who pay tuition are taught opinions rather than scholarship when their expectations are the opposite.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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