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?

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4 Responses

  1. You mean telling my students to review their notes while they stand on line tomorrow before their test on Wednesday is all for naught? Alas!

  2. Jared says:

    As a Berkeley grad myself, I can attest that even those of my classmates who claimed that Vince Sarich “changed their lives” were already that way before they met him.

  3. matt says:

    I was more surprised by the, frankly, incredibly stupid claim made by “libertarian” Daniel Klein, economist at George Mason, in the NY Times article, that students are not exposed to “good stuff” like John Stuart Mill (among others.) Since Mill is covered in nearly every ethics, political philosophy, or philosophy of law class, and quite a few political science classes and even many women’s studies classes, I must say that I found this statement to be beyond belief. It the sort of thing that makes one think that professor Klein might not be an impartial straight-shooter on the matter and might in fact have a political ax to grind.

  4. lmt says:

    Another YouTube video for your list —

    “Hockey Mama for Obama”