UCSB Professors on Teaching Under Trump

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Professor Andrew Norris has had to make some changes to his teaching strategy. (Alex Meinhof/The Bottom Line)

Dylan Goldman

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.

1 COMMENT

  1. Well prof, your side lost the election. Get over it. And get over yourself. You are apparently committed to a specific political party with an agenda, and happy to dish your opinions to your students as fact. Others are committed to other political parties with other agendas. I’d remind you that your party did not win the Senate or the House either. And your party did terribly in the states in this election.

    Us Deplorables aren’t buying your line of bs. They want our borders closed, the economy and our military strong and the end of regulatory capture by your political party. Partisans of your ilk don’t like that and want different policies. Let me remind you of what Obama said “Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kinda cool.” Now your political enemy has the pen in his hand and you might just have to rethink the value of federalism and limited government, eh?

    You call Trump a liar. Let me remind you about the 36 times Obama said “If you want to keep your doctor…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpa-5JdCnmo Was that a lie or not? Hint – it was a lie told and retold by your lightworker. And as for Felonia von Pantsuit, this is a former presidential candidate who traded US foreign policy for money ($500K for Bill to speak in Russia, while the deal was under government review? yeah, sure) – can you say Uranium One?

    For those of you intent on the usual slurs for those who disagree with your party line here, let me say I’m a UCSB alum with a masters degree (so uneducated does not apply). Further let me add I’m multi-lingual and have traveled and lived in 3 continents (so uncultured does not apply either). And I’m likely worth more than you and earn more than you (currently > top 5% of the US). And I have children, so I’m invested in the future of this country as you likely are not. My values are not your values is true.

    Get out of your bubble and see what the rest of the country is like. It might wake you up even at your advanced age. Or you can scream at the sky on the 9th of November. And after that too, for all we “Irredeemables” care.

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