Policy of political neutrality seeks to pacify confrontational election

By Grace Moody, The Miami Student

This fall, Miami’s Office of the President sent an email to faculty and staff reminding them of the university policy that restricts professors from sharing their political beliefs in the classroom, anticipating political tensions on campus.

Some professors and students have voiced concerns that this policy of political neutrality has been breached this election season.

Douglas Brooks, a professor in the College of Education, Health and Society, said students have been coming to him with concerns of professors sharing their political opinions in the classroom.

and, as a result, making students feel uncomfortable.

“I’m always mindful of students when they are uncomfortable, so students tend to come to me when they are uncertain about something,” Brooks said. “I try to be sensitive to the student culture and what students are experiencing here at Miami.”

Brooks serves as a understanding voice to talk to when students are frustrated by politics in the classroom.

“My number one motive is students,” Brooks said. “I don’t care who gets elected president, I don’t want university policy abridged in the classroom above students.”

During an interview with The Miami Student, Brooks received a phone call from a student who said she felt one of her classes was a shrine to Hillary Clinton.

Brooks spoke with another student who told him he feels uncomfortable when one of his professors starts each class with a tirade of Donald Trump.

“Students shouldn’t have to listen to diatribes from their professors for or against either candidate,” Brooks said. “No matter what they’re teaching, professors can’t weave this presidential race into assignments and hold students accountable if they don’t agree with their particular philosophy.”

Brooks said the policy restrictions were not designed to prohibit professors’ freedom of speech, but rather, to help them recognize their audience.

He said his concern stems from students being a “captive audience” because they are required to gain credits and enroll in particular classes to fulfill major, thematic sequence and Miami plan requirements. University professors, he said, shouldn’t take advantage of their “captive audience” by sharing political views in the classroom.

“I just don’t want students to feel diminished or silenced because the professor has a political stand and feels comfortable sharing that with the class,” he said.

Based on student concern he has heard, Brooks said often the problem starts with a phrase a professor says, which then leads to a class discussion. The most problematic issue, he said, is when students fear their grades will be negatively affected if they hold different political views than their professors.

Brooks said he has talked with a few students who are sometimes reluctant to attend class because of a discomfort with the professor’s political comments.

Brooks said professors and students alike are obliged to honor university policies of teaching and learning. Too often, he said, professors are “washing their hands in impropriety.”

“If a student has become uncomfortable attending the class because of the political activity of the professor then something’s out of whack,” Brooks said.

When students voice these concerns, Brooks directs them to submit an anonymous report. This form is hosted on EthicsPoint Inc. and ensures anonymity for students.

At the beginning of the semester, all students received an email from Student Affairs explaining how to make an anonymous report on the EthicsPoint platform if a problem arises. The university then decides if it wants to investigate and follow up on the report.

Provost Phyllis Callahan said has not yet received any anonymous reports from students regarding issues with professors sharing their political views in the classroom.

The Office of the President did not return request for comment by the time of publication.