Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Professors' Influence Overstated

According to an article in today's New York Times, professors have very little influence over their students' political beliefs. In fact, according to Jeremy D. Mayer, one of the authors of the new book, Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities, "'it is really hard to change the mind of anyone over 15 ... Parents and family are the most important influence,' followed by the news media and peers ... 'Professors are among the least influential.'" This rather ego-deflating statement (at least for those of us who teach) would seem to undermine the stereotypical fear among conservatives that their children will go off to college and be radicalized by their liberal professors. The conclusions of Closed Minds are confirmed by two other studies that are discussed in the article. While it is true that college professors as a group are more liberal than the general population and that students tend to become more liberal while they are in college, it is not true that there is any cause and effect at work. Personally, I like to see students engaged in the political process, whatever their party affiliation. It will be fascinating to watch the election results tonight and see if young people turned out to vote.

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