Professors nowadays have to think hard about how to educate their students without making opposition to President Trump part of the education. It comes so naturally to them that it’s news when they don’t.
Scott Talan, a professor of communications at American University, is exceptional. When he issued guidelines for how to discuss Trump in class, he said not to make a personal attack on Trump. Since students are in a communications class, he wants them to talk instead about how Trump communicates, and not make personal attacks on other students based on their politics.
Talan’s guidelines made a real difference. One student, Kira Zimmerman, compared it with “a political communications class last semester while studying abroad in Italy, ‘and most of the discussions were basically just bashing Trump for what he was doing or what he was saying.’”
But then there’s Laura Finley, who teaches sociology and criminology at Barry University in Miami. Finley will show her students “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” in her class on “perspective consciousness and social justice.” Finley said she “makes her own opinions clear,” but “assures students [they] are welcome to their own.”
Zachariah Messitte, a political scientist and the president of Ripon College in Wisconsin, tries to thread the needle. Messitte “advised professors to talk about Trump in class critically but with empathy for both his rhetorical targets and his supporters.” Dealing with Trump requires great delicacy.
Not all professors want to be delicate. Karsonye Wise Whitehead, who teaches communication at the University of Maryland, has posted a whole Trump Syllabus K12 with lesson plans
about resistance and revolution; about white privilege and white supremacy; about state-sanctioned violence and sanctuary classrooms; about fake news and Facebook; and, about freedom and justice. It is designed to transform our classrooms into liberated nonsexist nonmisogynistic anti-racist anti-classist spaces without any boundaries or borders.
Other faculty around the nation organized a “teach, organize, and resist” session for their classes to mark Trump’s inauguration. Still other faculty simply spend class time denouncing Trump, regardless of the subject. This includes Olga Perez Stable Cox, an instructor in psychology at Orange Coast College in California. Cox was recorded taking up much of her class to tell students that Trump’s election was “an act of terrorism.”
It’s newsworthy that Talan has decided to avoid politics in his class, even though that was once a minimum professional standard expected of college professors. It’s news because most of his colleagues have abandoned that traditional standard. That should be news—but it isn’t. America’s professoriate abandoned the ideal of disinterested inquiry long before Trump’s election. The only novelty is that they seem to have forgotten that this ideal ever existed.