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Professors: Where's the line between opinion and bias?

  1. Mar 27, 2016 #1
    With social science courses, there's lots of opinions and perspectives. I think it's inevitable that the professor will lean one way or another, and I don't think having an opinion is bad insofar as you're overall fair about the class.

    One professor I knew taught in Introduction to Global Economies class, and 10 out of the 13 books he's basing his class lecture on are anti-capitalism books. Thankfully, he is a very nice guy and he has allowed his students to write papers disagreeing with his thesis, giving most of them A's insofar as they back up their thesis with sources.

    The problem, of course, is that most of the text of the class leans toward one viewpoint. In a 100-level introductory gen ed class, the goal is to usually give the students a breadth of different opinions. I think his class would have been great as a "The Problems of Capitalism" class as an elective for an economics major to take, in which that information is within the context of studying the pros and cons of numerous economic systems.

    But ultimately, even if what they are saying is true, professors should try to be as neutral as possible.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 27, 2016 #2
    As a student, I have politely called professors out on their biases before, and they've usually been very nice about it (particularly the politics/history professors).

    Generally, as a student, what I've found is the best way to solve this issue is to be very polite and professional. Just raising your hand and calling them out during the first class is going to be met with equally brash feedback. What I've generally done was, for the first few classes, I would complete all the homework assignments, participate in class a lot, go in their office and ask them for their insight. And then, a few classes into the semester I would say something polite such as "I have a lot of respect for you, but I think it would be best if the class was based more on the textbook and less on your personal opinions", and usually they've responded very well. With super-ultra feminist professors too, instead of saying "oh thats a load of crap", it works better saying "I agree with this aspect of that view, but I disagree with that aspect of it because..."
  4. Mar 27, 2016 #3
    In social sciences, there is ALWAYS some opinion present. It is impossible to present social subjects without any ideology. This is in what they differ from science.
    As far as the professors allow expressing opposite opinions, it's OK.
    I understand your point with studying mainly anti-capitalistic textbooks. But hey, most of the courses are 99% pro-capitalist, without even mentioning there might be some problems with capitalism. Would you consider such classes biased as well?
  5. Mar 27, 2016 #4
  6. Mar 27, 2016 #5
    That's good, then :)
    Your approach to teachers is very good. That's how it should be. It is very common for teachers of social studies/ humanities to have their favourite theory or ideology. It is not ideal, but it happens quite often. If the teacher gives an A to a student with opposite opinion, I think it's not a huge problem.
    You can express your opinion and suggestions both during the semester as you already do and in the final feedback that most teachers accept in their last lesson. If you feel that the content of the course or the teacher's behaviour is highly problematic you can contact the head of department (economics department in this case).
  7. Mar 27, 2016 #6


    Staff: Mentor

    Please back up this statistic with some evidence. I believe that 99% is wildly inaccurate, at least in my country (the U.S.), as well as much of Europe.
  8. Mar 27, 2016 #7
    OK, it wasn't meant to be statistically accurate. I was only trying to say that most courses I attended or heard of were like that. I had two very anti-capitalistic courses at the Uni, but we were both told by the proffessors as well as confirmed by economics students that such courses are not common. On one occasion, "real" economics students attended and started arguing with the professor and basically rolled their eyes and sighted all the time claiming such a course could never be taught at the faculty of Economics where mostly mainstream neoclassical economics is taught (this anticapitalist course was in the faculty of Social studies, meant for Environmental science students). It was in the Czech republic. I don't know, maybe it's caused by post-communist fear of everything left.
  9. Mar 27, 2016 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    I took a course in public opinion and propaganda and in one class, my professor set aside his lecture to tell the story of how he got Christmas banished from campus. When your bias/beliefs interrupt your teaching, that's going too far.
  10. Mar 27, 2016 #9
  11. Mar 27, 2016 #10
    As someone who would be considered a liberal in this political climate, I'm not sure what's so important about banning Christmas. It's only going to validate the uber-conservatives who say that liberals are trying to steal Christmas.
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