Friday, September 29, 2006

Results on our Poll: Professors and Politics

We've had a good response so far to our poll on the place of politics in the classroom, with 15 votes registered so far. Interestingly, of these 15 votes, no one believes the professor's lectern is to be used outright to support a political candidate or party. Also, everyone who voted has probably already given some thought to this issue, since there were no undecideds.

The two middle options are fairly close: a little more than half of you voted: "You can certainly discuss politics, and perhaps get away with 'indirect' endorsements." A little less than half of you voted, "No, tax exempt institutions can never endorse candidates or parties." Let's pause for some reflections. As always, I would be most interested in your comments (just add them to the end of this post). Let us agree that we are not talking about posting political views on personal blogs, personal-car bumper stickers, and the like. This is about what is said in the classroom, posted on one's office door, or preached in the seminary chapel.

First, let me say that I believe that this issue should be given extra thought for members of a theological faculty. (Extra thought, that is, beyond the threat of the recent crackdown by the IRS on non-profits who are entering the political fray vocally.) I believe that seminary faculty should pour their energy into getting students to think theologically. If one jumps to identify theology with a given political ideology or platform too soon, you have shortcircuited your calling as a divinity professor. Do others agree?

Yet, I can agree with the 53% who vote for indirect endorsements from the professor's lectern. Perhaps especially in Old Testament studies, we know that our subject matter impels us all, liberal, moderate, or conservative, to take a stand, act on our beliefs, and make a difference in the real world of politics. You can model that for students, as long as the students know they are free to concretize this move in their own way, respecting their own political decision making.

I must say that another part of me fully agrees with the 47% who voted against endorsing political candidates or parties. Doing this even indirectly can often have a chilling effect on academic freedom and dialog at one's school. Recently at my school, a solid group of students has felt that their (more conservative) views are disrespected. I am sure they are not making this up. I won't name names, but I have heard some very strong and specific messages from the seminary pulpit at times and I can see plainly what people are posting on their office doors...



Blogger Dan Trabue said...

I found the question limiting, I fully agree with "No. They can't endorse candidates or parties." but voted the other way because I think professors can and sometimes should discuss politics - even condemn specific policies of specific candidates. We do this at church all the time and rightly so, I believe. While some might interpret an attack upon a specific candidate's policies as an endorsement for the opponent of the candidate, it's not.

I would not want to see that academic freedom to talk politics squelched.

The line that can't be crossed is specific endorsements for specific parties/candidates. As I understand it, that's pretty specific. Churches and schools/teachers can say "Woe to us as a nation for allowing Bush to invade other sovereign nations. It is a wrong policy." They can't say, "Therefore, vote for Kerry."

Fri Sep 29, 09:56:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing this up...I am one of the 47%. As a student at your seminary, I have also heard very strong political statements from the pulpit (not really from the lecterns, though), and it bothers me. I feel at our school that liberal views are considered more Christian than others. And as a family member of someone in the military, I am particularly dismayed because I often feel that the culture of the school is somewhat hostile to the military. I think I will sign this anonymously...

Fri Sep 29, 05:41:00 PM GMT-5  

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