What, Me, Politically Irrelevant?
Wait a minute, what’s that “whhhsshhht” sound I hear? No, it’s not the economy deflating, silly; it’s a law professor’s ego coming back down to earth. The NY Times reports today that “[t]hree sets of researchers recently concluded that professors have virtually no impact on the political views and ideology of their students.” Apparently the American Enterprise Institute’s fear of the “liberal thugocracy” of academia is overblown; parents and family are a much better predictor of an individual’s political predilections. Indeed, one study author goes on to assert that it’s difficult to change the political views of anyone over fifteen years of age. So much for inspiring social justice crusaders through Civil Procedure I or public defenders through Evidence. I’ll just crawl back into my little cave and watch some more YouTube videos mocking Sarah Palin.
Seriously, while I would hope that most law professors would agree that it’s not our mission or even our intention to change the political views of our students, I was surprised that college professors didn’t have more influence over their students’ ideology. Perhaps it’s because I attended that bastion of left-wing thuggery, UC Berkeley, but I suspect that my college professors had far more influence over my understanding of the world and thereby my political views than anyone before or after, including my parents and my law school professors. Certainly, I chose a particularly liberal school because of my pre-existing political leanings, but I do think there’s something to the idea that the person who provides the framework through which one views the world has a tremendous influence over one’s ideology, and that college professors are the most likely candidates to provide such frames — both because creating analytic frames is what they do for a living and because college students’ minds are relatively spongy and thus open to such frames. Were others as surprised by the outcomes of these studies as I was?