Do Left-Wing Professors Really 'Proselytize' on Campus?
Thursday, April 11, we learned -- thanks to an intrepid student who recorded the rant -- that University of Southern California's "Adjunct Assistant Professor" Darry A. Sragow doesn't like Republicans. He asserted that Republicans are old, angry, racist white guys. He sanctioned a proposal to deny Republicans the right to vote.
Sragow's hostility toward Republicans reinforces a widely believed perception in the U.S. today: a majority of professors subscribe to über-left-wing ideologies and seek to proselytize students into an ultra-leftist mindset.
To mention just a few examples: Bill Ayers, the unrepentant SDS Weatherman terrorist who recently retired as a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Ward Churchill, who lost his tenured professorship at the University of Colorado because of academic misconduct, not because he called those killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11 "little Eichmanns"; Kathy Boudin, another Weatherman extremist who was convicted of participating in a 1981 robbery during which three men were murdered, but was hired as an adjunct professor of social work at Columbia; and now Sragow. All of these individuals buttress the belief that American universities are hothouses of ultra-leftist ideology.
Because I taught university students for over 35 years, I write about Sragow and his ilk from firsthand experience.
How typical of the professoriate is Sragow? Beyond a doubt, some of Sragow's peers proselytize their students, and, given the imbalance of left-wing ideology on campuses, that means some students are indoctrinated to become leftists.
Maybe I'm naïve, or just misinformed, but during nearly 35 years of teaching, I did not see or hear about many faculty who used their classes to indoctrinate students. When it happened -- which wasn't often -- the teacher in question lost her/his peers' respect.
When I was in graduate school -- many, many years ago -- attempts to propagandize students were regarded as unprofessional. I recall that, when several of my graduate school cohorts met at an academic conference a few years after we matriculated, one bragged that he used his classroom to propagandize his students. Virtually all of us looked at him in stunned disbelief and reproof.
Yes, some professors -- not all, happily -- use their classes to propagandize students on behalf of left-wing ideas and causes. How successful are they? Not as often as the left hopes, and the right fears.
How can I reach that conclusion? First, while a few students are susceptible to persuasion, most are not. By the time kids go to university, they are 17 or 18 and already have formed belief systems that are barriers to communication. Most people do not blithely accept what they're told; rather, they filter influence attempts through a prism created by what they already believe, accepting that which is compatible with what they already believe, and rejecting, or at least distorting, that which is not.
The best way to enhance the possibility that a student will not be swayed by a radical professor is for parents to alert her/him to what might go on in classes. If an individual realizes that another will try to sell her/him something -- be it a tube of toothpaste, a car, or an ideology -- "sales resistance" dramatically increases. Once classes have begun, parents should ask their collegiate offspring what's going on in class.
If professorial indoctrination is suspected, parents -- who in at least some cases pay at least a portion of the student's tuition -- should speak out. At the very least, get the student out of that class.
If an administrator -- a department chair, a dean, whatever -- observes a pattern of multiple withdrawals from Professor X's classes, questions may be raised. (I've seen it happen.)
Another aspect of classrooms that works against someone who wishes to proselytize in class is students' limited attention to, but nearly unlimited skepticism of, their professors. Students' resistance to professors' attempts to proselytize them is significant. A few years ago, I taught a class which was scheduled right after another department member's class held in the same room. Several students were taking both courses. During the interval between the other professor's class and mine, students would talk among themselves, paying virtually no attention to the geezer setting up for the next class. As I listened with one ear -- OK, I snooped -- I was struck by how much of the previous professor's attempts to sway them to her/his way of thinking fell flatter than the proverbial pancake. From what I could tell, several students claimed they "talked the talk" to stay on the other professor's good side, but they didn't "walk the walk." Most of those kids seemed to think the whole episode was a joke. All I could think of was, once my class would begin, how much of my breath over the next 55 minutes would be wasted.
"Professor" Sragow might want to think about that.