Study: Students who resist change see teachers as biased

By Muriel Kane
Friday, June 10, 2011 22:37 EDT
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It has become a truism among conservative activists that college professors typically have a liberal bias which causes them to give lower grades to students who express right-wing opinions.

In 2005, for example, when Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) was a Minnesota state senator, she and another Republican legislator called for a law to forbid this sort of alleged bias.

As reported at the time by the Associated Press, “Their bill would require public colleges to adopt policies prohibiting political, ideological or religious beliefs from being used in grading. The bill would also demand that personal beliefs be excluded from hiring or firing decisions of faculty.”

Now a study has concluded that this sort of bias does not actually exist and that the students who perceive it — whether coming from the left or from the right — are those who are most resistant to change in their own lives and attitudes. In contrast, students who are open to new ideas, no matter what their political persuasion, show little perception of faculty bias.

According to Inside Higher Ed, “The study examined 148 female students and 123 male students at a land-grant university in the Southeast where political attitudes among students are fairly evenly split. The students were given two sets of questionnaires — one on how settled and resistant to change they were (in politics and the rest of their lives) and the other on their perceptions of bias from their faculty members.”

The study found a high degree of correlation between the two sets of results. The researcher, Darren L. Linvill of Clemson University, also conducted follow-up interview with students who claimed to have experienced bias and determined that although their feelings of being discriminated against were very real, there was no evidence that their instructors were actually biased.

In reporting this story, Gawker.com led off with the condescending headline, “Study: College Kids Who Detect Bias in Class Are Mostly Dumb.” It justified this conclusion by arguing that “since the student is paying money to the professor to teach the student with the implicit understanding that the student knows far less than the professor about the subject at hand, these findings indicate that the students in question—who mistake the educational process for ‘bias’—are dumb.”

Linvill himself, however, arrives at no such conclusion, but he does suggest that many professors make a practice of deliberately playing devil’s advocate to challenge their students’ preconceptions and that “this is a foreign concept to many entering college students today.”

A more effective approach for those students “who arrive in class determined not to hear new ideas,” he believes, would be to ease them gradually into the routine of academic give-and-take.

Photo by hager.angie (Strom Thurmond Center Uploaded by Spyder_Monkey) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane is an associate editor at Raw Story. She joined Raw Story as a researcher in 2005, with a particular focus on the Jack Abramoff affair and other Bush administration scandals. She worked extensively with former investigative news managing editor Larisa Alexandrovna, with whom she has co-written numerous articles in addition to her own work. Prior to her association with Raw Story, she spent many years as an independent researcher and writer with a particular focus on history, literature, and contemporary social and political attitudes. Follow her on Twitter at @Muriel_Kane
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