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Professors influence student’s thinking

Last week, I stood outside University of Oklahoma’s Price Business College with a professor and two other students. Our class had just been dismissed, and we were talking about whether or not the Bible should be interpreted literally (the class was a religious studies class, so it was a natural topic to pursue).

After we parted ways, I was struck by the reality I had just witnessed: While professors are commissioned by OU to teach a particular subject area, some students glean much more from them. Faculty set examples in their evaluations of world events and media, as well as by their opinions on politics, work ethic and religion.

I say only some students are thus impacted because this is by no means a law. Many students go through college without conforming (at least consciously) to the image of their instructors. There are a few reasons for this.

A lot of the influence occurs on a peer-to-peer basis, rather than in teacher-to-student relationships.

Depending on class size and subject, it may be harder to transmit these extra-curricular lessons from teacher to student.

Also, some teachers organize their profession in such a way that makes the passing-on of character and ideas almost impossible. They place ‘values, etc.,’ in a compartment outside of the classroom and ‘facts, etc.,’ within.

That being said, the fact remains that many students are shaped by their teachers, which I think is a topic worthy of discussion.

‘This great Western institution, the university, dominates the world today more than any other institution,’ said the now deceased Charles Malik, former president of the United Nations General Assembly and co-drafter of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

Washington Monthly magazine calls the university a place that ‘molds the minds of future leaders.’

Professors and other instructors are key tools through which ‘this great Western institution’ ‘molds the minds’ of the students who pass through it.

Evan Coyne Maloney paints a negative picture of this influence in his documentary, ‘Indoctrinate U.’ Maloney argues that the increasingly left-leaning university serves as a place where students are surrounded by liberal ideologies and pressured to adhere to them.

Others contest this argument.

New York Times writer Patricia Cohen reported in November 2008 that three different groups of researchers indicate that professors do not significantly impact students’ political views.

I think it is true that many college students are ‘more firm in their political beliefs than conventional wisdom suggests,’ as one research team put it. But I think it’s false to deny that teachers influence their students’ ideologies in light of that fact.

Looking at my time at OU, I’ve noticed that the potential for influence certainly does exist, especially (as my roommate suggests) if the student is new to the subject at hand.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. To a degree it’s probably unavoidable and can most definitely be beneficial.

The good/bad distinction lies in the actual example set by educators, as well as how they set it.

I am thankful that our instructors here would not pass on ideas that they believe to be harmful, but I would still encourage students and teachers to observe how the ideologies of the educator affect his or her teaching.

If those ideologies are detected, we can enter the conversation of which ones should be affirmed and praised and which ones should not.

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