Albrecht Classen

HANDOUT

Years ago, one of my former professors outed himself to me when he opined that universities should hire more Republican professors. I was aghast, and still am, since no university hires are made based on the candidate’s political viewpoint.

I have been involved in most hiring processes in my department over the last three decades, and politics have always been strictly excluded. It would be absurd and totally detrimental to everything we do at the university.

It is true that a majority of professors today leans left, demonstrating a social consciousness, a care for the environment and the well being of our world, obviously because they are learned, have studied the issues carefully, and have reached their understanding by meticulously evaluating all sides to an issue.

We simply call this scholarship/science, aiming for objectivity based on critical approaches to the aspect under investigation. True research has contributed essentially to the growth of our society and to the building of a better world, whether we work on medieval heroic epics or on black holes.

In a letter to the editor that appeared Jan. 1, a writer charged virtually all major news outlets of spreading fake news, apparently Fox News excepted. Since many journalists are millennials and have received their education at a university, so the argument goes, they are basically brain-washed and extreme liberals, a danger to our world. If the news media spread only lies, then the professors are to be blamed who have educated the new generation of reporters.

Such syllogistic thinking is astounding and cannot be supported by any facts. For instance, when a future science journalist takes a college class on environmental issues, then there is no question that the issue of global warming has to be addressed since 99 percent of all scientists agree on this dire observation. Studying evolution at the university is a basic requirement for all biology majors or minors, and would have no bearing on any religious thinking.

Freedom of the press means, first and foremost, that we receive the best and most reliable information based on objective investigations. We educate the present generation to acquire the fundamental skills in doing research and to formulate their findings in an objective and scientific manner.

I cannot speak for the many different news media, but the constant barrage of public tirades over allegedly fake news is ultimately an attempt to silence the very news sources that inform our worldview, both past and present. Uncomfortable or difficult truths must be formulated and brought to the public attention since we live in a complex and often contradictory reality.

Teaching foreign languages and cultures, for instance, provides our students with the necessary skills to read widely and also outside of the U.S. comfort zone, gaining new insights essential for the effective handling of problems.

The letter writer, like many other critics of the university, claims that professors indoctrinate their students, when they only urge them to become objective, critical researchers.

Racism, for example, continues to be a sad fact of our lives today, and it does not matter whether a professor is a Republican or a Democrat when s/he is teaching about this issue in medieval, early modern, or contemporary literature because we approach it in a scholarly fashion.

Cut out those charges of “fake news” and accept the challenges all humanity is facing. Higher education is not a pampering industry, and if subsequently producers of news report about disconcerting aspects in our society, let’s face them resolutely and courageously, and not by demonizing the messengers.

Albrecht Classen is a professor of German studies at the University of Arizona and a humanist, both professionally and personally.