University of California, Santa Barbara professors have mixed feelings about the past year, with the one-year anniversary of the election of President Donald J. Trump, Nov. 8, on the horizon.
Professor Andrew Norris, of the political science and philosophy departments, teaches pre-political science majors about political philosophy. The ten-year professor said that the past year prompted him to consider whether academia was skewing too far to the left of the political spectrum.
“A lot of my colleagues at this University seem to believe that is their job to help students find ‘the good life,’ or the ‘good political life’ — the ‘good political system,’” Norris said. “So they teach in a way that is very slanted towards their particular political opinions and their beliefs, and a lot of times that turns into a kind of leftist politics and I think that is really inappropriate.”
Norris offers his students a range of texts from all sides of the political spectrum. He assigns libertarian texts by authors like Friedrich Hayek, liberal literature by authors like John Rawls, and even authoritarian voices like the writing of Carl Schmitt.
“I think that that’s the best thing for the students,” Norris said. “And that’s most likely to help them develop as individuals and to figure out themselves how they want to live — to be autonomous moral creatures and also good citizens.”
Although Norris is usually committed to a strict impartiality in the classroom with regard to politics and the president, he believes the current presidency presents a special circumstance.
“I really have tried to keep my political views out of my teaching,” Norris said. “With Trump, I can no longer do that, and sometimes I will say what I just think.”
“Donald Trump is a liar,” Norris said, an atypical thing for a professor to say about a president. “He displays a consistent disregard and disdain for the truth … he deceives people, and I will say that in the classroom.”
Whether saying all of that is justified, Norris isn’t sure.
“I do worry that I think my students think that I am going beyond the limits that Max Weber tried to set down, and I’m not just making statements about facts,” Norris said. “I worry about that but I feel like it’s my responsibility. So my teaching has changed in a big way, and I am very uncomfortable with it, but I do feel that it is part of my job.”
Professor Eric Smith, another political science lecturer, said students have an increased urgency and willingness to be involved in politics, seeming more interested in the subject in general.
“One of the things that both Barack Obama and Trump did, I think Trump more so, is heighten people’s’ interest in politics and their willingness to participate in politics in a variety of small ways,” Smith said. “I’ve seen a bunch of people be more interested than I think they would have been a year or eight years ago — in the first year of Barack Obama.”
Smith teaches environmental politics. Having studied climate change and environmental policy himself, he sees less need for ambiguity when it comes to matters related to the planet.
“Climate change is real,” he said. “The fact that we’ve elected a president who at various times has said that it’s not — he’s not been consistent about that — that doesn’t change the science or the politics surrounding it.”
Smith doesn’t expect his “personal values” to get in the way of his teaching, or his ability to inform students. He expects students to ask more relevant questions about impeachment and anything relating to the current administration.
“I’m pleased by students responding to politics,” Smith said. The current administration has caused more people to realize that Washington politics has an impact on their lives.
“They’re becoming mobilized, they’re more likely to participate; they’re looking for ways to participate. So I think of that as a very positive sign.”
A version of this article appeared in Volume 12, Issue 5 of The Bottom Line.