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Hold on a minute

Reader comment on item: Profs Who Hate America

Submitted by Stephen Walton (United States), Nov 18, 2002 at 12:48

As a professor of astronomy at a large state university, I take some exception to some of the comments I've read here. Yes, many departments are dominated by people whose views are more liberal than those of the public at large. My university has a large, left-dominated ethnic studies program. However, some of the posts here come dangerously close to advocating making political views a condition of employment at universities. Is that really what you want? I think this is all much less sinister than some of you seem to think: Because of tenure, universities tend to be lagging indicators of the political views of the country, much as the courts are. During the 1950's and early 1960's, most university professors were staunch defenders of the status quo and strong supporters of the Cold War, even as manifested in Vietnam. Now, a lot of professors are of an age where their political views were formed during the late 60's and early 70's---a period, need I remind you all, when the US government was lying to its citizens about important issues on a virtually daily basis? I don't excuse my fellow professors for not keeping up with the times, but, well, we all get old, and our views become more impervious to change as we do.

Conservatives have no monopoly on truth. As an astronomer, I have come into occasional contact with creationists of various flavors. They are almost all politically conservative Christians. Should I tar all Christians with a charge of anti-intellectual, anti-science bias? At the other extreme, I also come into contact with ESP or UFO true believers, whose fuzzy political views tend towards the left end of the spectrum. Both are wrong. Honestly, my students are far more disturbed by what they learn about evolution in an astronomical context than by any political view I might express.

It should be patently obvious that when a professor speaks out on an issue outside that professor's area of expertise, the opinions are not necessarily any more well informed than those of anyone else. By the same token, the professor has the same right as anyone else to express those opinions. Those who take those opinions as truth have only themselves to blame.
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