The Corner

Education

Scholarship or Activism?

Quite a few educators these days think of their jobs as platforms for their political activism. They’ve been hired to teach a subject, but that gives them the opportunity to shape young minds so they’ll support “good” political causes and view the world’s problems the same way they do. The Left has been at this for more than a century.

In today’s Martin Center article, Indiana University sociology professor Fabio Rojas pushes back against this idea. His ideal: scholarship first, activism second.

Rojas rejects the “scholars should be activists” concept for several reasons:

First, the “activist-scholar” model invites bias. If one believes that their political preferences must be reflected in research, we may begin to ignore evidence that our views may be erroneous. Second, we undermine the credibility of the academic enterprise when we erase the distinction between activist and scholar. When someone reads an article by a professor, they should believe that the professor is making the best argument given available methods and data, not the arguments that support their preferred side in a political debate.

Good points. More and more, Americans look askance at everything associated with “higher education” because it has been so poisoned by “progressive” politics.

But Rojas doesn’t think that there should be anything like a Wall of Separation between academia and activism. Professors often have good contributions to make to society. Of course they should be free to participate in whatever issues interest them — but never to let that shoulder aside their obligations as educators.

About a decade ago, Stanley Fish wrote a book entitled “Save the World on Your Own Time,” making the case for teaching your subject, not teaching equality or peace or justice or any other lofty goal. I think that Fish and Rojas are in agreement.

“Academia,” Rojas concludes, should be “a meeting of the minds, not a political battlefield.” Agreed — but what do we do about those who insist on using the classroom as a personal soapbox?

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

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